Numbers are a frequently occurring element in text and design, from invitations to financial reports. They are used to specify quantities, dates, prices, measurements, phone numbers, and a myriad of statistics and other data. In typography, the symbols used to represent numbers are commonly referred to as figures or numerals. Lining figures are one of the two styles of figures, with the other being oldstyle.
Lining figures (also called aligning, cap, or modern figures) approximate capital letters in that they are uniform in height, and generally align with the baseline and the cap height. In some traditional typefaces, certain numerals extend slightly above and/or below the baseline and/or the cap height.
Lining figures are commonly offered in two spacing formats, proportional and tabular. [link to Proportional vs Tabular Figures article] Proportional lining figures are the preferred style for all-cap settings, such as headlines, titles, and such. They are also effective anywhere that additional emphasis is desired for the figures, even in running text. Tabular lining figures are the preferred style for columns of numbers, such as tables, price lists, financial data, and listings.
Prior to the OpenType font format, tabular lining figures had been the most common style in digital typesetting, as earlier font formats (Type1 and TrueType) only had “ room” for one set of numerals. Because OpenType can accommodate thousands of characters, many typefaces now offer both lining and oldstyle figures, each with tabular and proportional spacing formats.
At the beginning of a new design project, determine your preferred figure style(s) before undertaking a typeface exploration. You want to be certain that the type designs you are considering offer everything you will need. Taking advantage of all the appropriate figures styles will make your numerical information both visually harmonious with the text and easy to read.
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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, 4th edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.