How to balance small caps - Gotham Narrow

pault's picture

Referring to the image, which do you feel is the most pleasing treatment for small caps?

1: Caps and small caps using default weight & size settings.
2: Caps are dropped from bold to medium. Small caps unchanged.
3: Caps are dropped from bold to medium. Size is dropped from 16 to 15. Small caps are unchanged.

hrant's picture

It depends.

Lacking context, I would say the bottom one. If you want it to look a bit traditional/old-fashioned, the middle one. If you want the acronym to stand out, the top one (with the middle one doing this more than the bottom one).


pault's picture

Yes. The top one looks unbalanced to me. The initial letters in the default settings feel too heavy. Curious that this is how H&FJ ship the font. A nod to traditional use? The context is: usernames in an application (first name, second name).

marcox's picture

Paul, are you sure that you're actually using the small cap characters, accessed through the OpenType palette, in Gotham Narrow? The top example is what I would expect to see when the application scales the glyphs in a face that doesn't have true small caps included.

Nick Shinn's picture

As Hrant says, context is important.
Small caps are a contrast style, so what are you most likeley to be contrasting with?
If you intend to use it primarily for, say, acronyms in running U&lc text, then you should consider the options in that context.

Another alternative to changing weight is to apply a stroke value in InDesign.
It may also be useful to add a little horizontal scaling and extra tracking.

R.'s picture

As far as I know, neither width of Gotham comes with small caps, so what paultype seems to be trying is to emulate the look of true small caps by using scaled full caps. I think this does not work at all. In all three cases, the artificial small caps look too narrow and I doubt that this can be remedied by stretching them. If it is just one or two words at a fairly small size, go for the third option.

pault's picture

thankyou for everyone's expertise. I had assumed that gotham included small caps and that the examples above were created as such (not with full caps scaled down). Yes I was using otf character panel. Thankyou all for the guidance.

R.'s picture

If a font does not include small caps, scaled-down full caps are what InDesign or Illustrator give you without even showing a warning. They expect you to notice yourself—and in 9 out of 10 cases you really should. As a Gotham alternative with small caps, Proxima Nova might be worth a try.

pault's picture

Thanks for all of your help R.

charles ellertson's picture

I would say they are also a bit too small. If they're fake, you can change the general scaling used in the "typography" (if that's the name) pallet, but I usually set up a character style, and give a different percentage to height and width. So far, nothing you can do about the weight with InDesign -- smallest you can stroke them is .25 points, and that's usually too much.

You can also get into disagreements (watch the responses here!) about the right size. For acronyms, I like small caps to be just a touch larger than the x-height of the lower case letters. They should stick out without calling attention to themselves. Yeah, that's a long way from giving a cookbook answer.

In your case, you're using cap-small cap, and again, I'd set them a little bigger. They don't quite balance, to my eye.

One problem with using a character style where horizontal-vertical scaled is applied: kerning will be broken where the scaled letters fall next to an unscaled glyph -- if you set "RCA's" and apply scaling to RCA but not the following apostrophe, the automatic kerning with the A and the apostrophe will be lost. Have to do it by hand, with each occurrence.

I use this trick with true-cut small caps if they're not to my taste as well. You can't go very far before you mess up the weight enough to look bad, though. Maybe a 5% to 7% change is all that won't show -- depends on the font.

BTW, I've used Thomas Phinney's Hypatia Sans where others might use Gotham. I know they're a bit different. I usually prefer Hypatia Sans. Which, BTW, has small caps. No condensed, though.

R.'s picture

Quite valuable insights, Charles—thanks! Let me add the following:

So far, nothing you can do about the weight with InDesign -- smallest you can stroke them is .25 points, and that's usually too much.

It is possible to add strokes of .01 points (and probably less, but I couldn’t see these) in CS5, so you actually can beef up light small caps. I do this all the time.

charles ellertson's picture

Ah, thanks.

We still use CS4. Tried to go to 5.5, but it had a bug that made it not useable with our workflow. Don't ask, it will just get into a litany of InDesign bugs. That particular one's gone in CS6, but we've not completely wrung 6 out yet. Anyway. something to look forward to. Another example of something you can do in either a font editing program or a layout program, unless the silly font license requires you to do it in the layout with all H&FJ fonts...

Thanks again.

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