By Allan Haley
Sometimes “the standard” just isn’t good enough. Sometimes we need special tools to do the job right. Type designers understand that graphic communicators often want more choice of characters than the standard font set contains. As a result, more and more fonts are being released with large, non-standard character sets.
Since a digital font is still (technically) limited to 256 characters, additional letters and characters are frequently put in another digital font file. However, if there are additional characters that complement the font, these are provided in a “linked” font at no additional charge.
Additional characters usually fall into one of several categories: swash or alternate characters, expert set characters, custom ligatures, or logotypes.
Swash letters were born out of calligraphic lettering. These characters have fancy flourishes that replace terminals or serifs, and usually come in one of three varieties.
Beginning and ending swash letters are specifically designed to begin or end a line of copy. These are usually designed for cursive or calligraphic type designs. Avalon, Civilité and Ludovico have a variety of beginning and ending swash letters.
Demonstrative swash letters show an open regard toward surrounding letters and characters. Character strokes that wrap affectionately under or over adjacent letters are typical of these forms. You can find lots of these in fonts like Cruz Swinger, Longfellow, and Fineprint.
Fancy caps are uppercase letters with one or more swash characteristics. Buccaneer, Loire, and Buccardi are just a few of the Creative Alliance typefaces that have fancy caps in their fonts.
Alternate characters are usually meant for display typography. Like swash letters, alternate characters can also be divided into groups.
Biform letters are either capital letters with lowercase letter shapes or lowercase letters with capital letter shapes. The Monolith and Planet families possess two very different interpretations of biform characters.
Alternate characters also include simple substitutions like the sets of R’s and K’s in Diablo; or characters in typefaces like Epicure, Kolo, and Little Louis, in which each character is a creative tour de force.
Expert Set Characters
These are important characters for setting fine text typography. They usually include lowercase numbers, small caps, and ligatures.
Numerals are commonly available in two styles: uppercase and lowercase, sometimes also called “lining” and “oldstyle.” Most of us use the uppercase variety more frequently.
These numbers all have the same height, and match the uppercase letterforms in weight and proportion. Lowercase numerals are designed to be used in blocks of text copy. The main body of these numerals is generally the height of the lowercase x-height, and some of the forms have ascenders and descenders.
Small caps are letterforms drawn to approximately the x-height of the lowercase letters, but with the design of full-height capitals. They are, however, much more than merely downsized capital letters. Small caps are designed proportionally wider and heavier than the full-size capitals so that they create uniform tonal quality when set with lowercase letters.
Standard ligatures are joined, or linked, letter combinations many of which are associated with typesetting specific languages. Ligatures commonly used in setting English and German are shown below.
Custom ligatures, on the other hand, are much more diverse. They take the idea one or two steps beyond what you get in average character sets. Custom ligatures found in Aeneas, Palazzo Caps, and Gill Facia are shown below.
Even complete logotypes can be included in a font. These are usually short words that have been designed as a complete unit. The most common are shown below.
Other kinds of additional characters are available. For example, there are faces like Industrial Gothic that provide the tools to make a variety of banners and institutional headers; and Science and Martini At Joe’s come with great sets of retro ornaments.
There are scores more “big fonts” and hundreds of special characters offered in the Monotype Imaging collection of fonts. Check them out!
- Allan Haley is Director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging. Here he is responsible for strategic planning and creative implementation of just about everything related to typeface designs. He is also responsible for editorial content for the company’s type libraries and Web sites.
- Prior to working for Monotype, Mr. Haley was Principal of Resolution, a consulting firm with expertise in fonts, font technology, type and typographic communication. He was also executive vice president of International Typeface Corporation.
- Mr. Haley is ex officio Chairman of the Board of the Society of Typographic Aficionados, and past President of the New York Type Directors Club. He is highly regarded as an educator and is a frequently requested speaker at national computer and design conferences.
- Mr. Haley is also a prolific writer, with five books on type and graphic communication and hundreds of articles for graphic design publications to his credit.