Using Swash Characters
Swash characters are those with embellishments that extend off the standard character. A swash character is usually – but not always – an alternate to the regular, unadorned default letterform. More and more typefaces are designed with swash characters, thanks to the expanded character capacity of OpenType® technology.
Swashes come in several varieties. They can be simple or intricate, subtle or dramatic. There are beginning and ending swashes, as well as swashes that can be used anywhere, including within a word. They are most widely designed for script, handwriting, and calligraphic typefaces, but are also available in some more traditional typefaces, including historical and period designs.
Swash characters are useful for enhancing and customizing many typographic applications, such as headlines and titles in articles and books, ads and catalogues, posters and brochures. They are also extremely effective when applied to logos, signage and packaging, which often benefit from a customized treatment. In text settings, swashes can also be used for initial letters, and chapter headings, as well as on announcements and invitations.
Certain swashes are intended for word beginnings or endings. Generally speaking, a swash designed for the beginning of a word will not flow properly in the middle or at the end, because of its size, spacing or ornate design. Choose swashes with their location in mind.
- Make sure swashes do not disrupt word spacing within a line of type. Save the more decorative forms for the beginning and ending of lines, sentences and titles.
- Arrange swashes with visual and typographic balance. Create a harmonious effect, rather than having “dueling swashes.”
- Setting swash characters in all caps is never a good idea. It’s too much of a good thing, and hard to read.
- Less is more when it comes to swash characters. A few go a long way.
- Readability should remain paramount. Swashes should not undermine or distract – they should enhance.
Some OpenType fonts with numerous swash options for a given character are programmed to “decide” which might look best in combination with other characters, and will insert them as a default when the Swash option is selected in the OpenType panel. This feature, called glyph substitution, can be extremely helpful and timesaving. Note that it can always be overruled, either for a single character, or many characters.
- 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, 4th edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.