Finessing Typographic Details: Positioning Punctuation
by Ilene Strizver
Sometimes a subtle adjustment in a character’s position can make a big difference in the visual balance of your typesetting. Case in point: hyphens, en- and em-dashes, parentheses, braces and brackets will often look fine in lowercase settings, but can appear too low when set next to caps and lining figures. The larger the setting (in headlines, for example), the more noticeable this will be.
Why is this?
During the production process, the position of punctuation marks is determined by the lowercase x-height of the font, since that’s the context in which these characters will most often be used. Unfortunately, this leaves them a little “depressed” when used within ALL CAP settings or with lining figures (keep an eye out for low-riding parentheses and hyphens in phone numbers, for example).
What to do about it?
Use the baseline/shift feature of your layout program to slightly raise the offending character until it’s optically centered against the caps or lining figures.
If you’re using an OpenType font in Adobe InDesign CS2 or QuarkXPress 7.0, you might be able to adjust punctuation positions automatically by applying All Caps formatting to your text (note: this is not the Change Case command, nor does it mean to use the Caps Lock key!). However, not all OpenType fonts are programmed to take advantage of this time-saving feature. The easiest way to find out if your font is so equipped is to give All Caps formatting a try.
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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.