by Ilene Strizver
Oldstyle figures are a style of numeral which approximate lowercase letterforms by having an x-height and varying ascenders and descenders. They are considerably different from the more common “lining” (or “aligning”) figures which are all-cap height and typically monospaced in text faces so that they line up vertically on charts. Oldstyle figures have more of a traditional, classic look. They are only available for certain typefaces, sometimes as the regular numerals in a font, but more often within a supplementary or expert font. The figures are proportionately spaced, eliminating the white spaces that result from monospaced lining figures, especially around the numeral one.
Oldstyle figures are very useful and quite beautiful when set within text. Unlike lining figures, they blend in without disturbing the color of the body copy. They also work well in headlines since they’re not as intrusive as lining figures. In fact, many people prefer them overall for most uses except charts and tables. It’s well worth the extra effort to track down and obtain typefaces with oldstyle numerals; the fonts that contain them might well become some of your favorites.
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- Editor’s Note: Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 3rd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.