Swash & Alternate Characters
by Ilene Strizver
Are you looking for a way to add flair to a typographic treatment? Try using swash characters. These extremely decorative letters have a flourish or extended stroke at the beginning or the end of the character. They are almost always capitals, and you’ll frequently find one used as an eye-catching initial letter at the beginning of a paragraph, chapter or article.
Swash characters can turn up as alternate characters buried within a font’s regular character set. They are also available in separate swash or alternate fonts. On occasion, the regular caps in a font will be swash characters. But no matter where you find them, swash characters should be used sparingly. A single swash letter can add grace, elegance, and visual focus to a page, but a dozen of them scattered about simply clutter the design and confuse the reader.
There are few hard-and-fast rules in typesetting, but one of them pertains to swash characters: Never use swash characters in all-cap settings. These letters are not intended to be used next to each other, and a word set all in swash capitals will be poorly spaced and virtually impossible to read. Unfortunately, some type novices will reason that if a little is pretty, a lot must be prettier, and it’s not uncommon to see an invitation, menu, or flyer set in this illegible fashion. Resist the temptation and remember that less is more, especially when it comes to swash 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.