WORKING WITH CAPITAL LETTERS

If you want to emphasize certain text parts on a flyer, poster, website etc., some people tend to simply format everything bold; or putting the text in majuscules (= capital letters).

All big = all important, no? Well, it‘s not that easy. Every font has its micro-typographic characteristics (letter width, cap height, baseline, midline, counter etc.) which you want to use for your advantage.

On this page, you can find some things you should take notice of when working with capital letters.

THE GAP BETWEEN EACH LETTER

 

A well made font should have a good tracking that supports good readability. (tracking, also known as letterspacing or character spacing = the gap between each letter)

AVATAR

"Adam.CG Pro",

good tracking

AVATAR

"BorisBlackBloxx",

good tracking, a bit tight though

AVATAR

"Acappella",

bad tracking,
see A-R gap

As majuscules are big and big things need space to breathe in order to take full effect, it makes sense to space capital letters. This means that you manually extend the empty space between each letter. When working with a lot of copy, it makes sense to set an automatic letterspacing in the paragraph styles (i.e. Adobe Indesign) so you can use this paragraph style for all your majuscule copy with ease. However, the gaps between words should always be de-spaced again afterwards.

Another thing to consider: You should never letterspace too wide in order not to affect readability. But how much should you letterspace, is there a golden rule? No, not really, it always depends on the look of the font. In the end, you want to have a harmonious whole, sometimes a spacing of only five percent is enough, sometimes 80 percent are okay too. Good graphic designers and typographers recognize the ideal "dose".

If you want to have a perfect look (very important for logos for example), you should look at the spacing of each single word and always manually optimize the spacing between each letter. I tend to zoom in and out and even print fonts to achieve a perfect letterspacing (things look different when printed compared to on a screen!).

Letterspaced majuscule text looks better than without manual spacing:

Original logo "Tommy Hilfiger" with wide letterspacing

Logo "Tommy Hilfiger" without manual letterspacing (normal spacing)

A very wide letterspacing without de-spacing the gaps between words often destroys the readability. But the exception proves the rule. This effect can be used on purpose for a logo, seen in the logo of Victoria Beckham‘s fashion label "Victoria Beckham". As her name was well-known before her fashion career, people would have no problem with reading the logo. Leaving out the crossbar in the A majuscule, the M majuscule‘s reduced simplicity, that would be a W majuscule if turned upside down, and the extremely wide letterspacing make the logo a strong and confident trade mark which is dominantly taking up a lot of space, but is still subtle and reduced to the basics. This is exactly what Victoria Beckham‘s fashion embodies and this message is transported in the logo.

Original logo "Victoria Beckham"

Fonts with a spacious letter width are very suitable for capital letter copy, in my opinion. Attention: Fonts with a very slim letter width should not be spaced too wide because the letters can easily look "lost in the air".

SCHRIFT SPATIONIEREN

"Avenir" (medium letter width)

normal letterspacing

SCHRIFT SPATIONIEREN

"Avenir" (medium letter width)

spaced by + 20 %

(word gap de-spaced)

SCHRIFT SPATIONIEREN

"Broadsheet" (wide letter width)

normal letterspacing

font with no good letterspacing

(see P-A-C gaps).

SCHRIFT SPATIONIEREN

"Broadsheet" (wide letter width)

spaced by + 60 %
(word gap de-spaced)

SCHRIFT SPATIONIEREN

"Akrobat Regular" (narrow letter width)
normal letterspacing

SCHRIFT SPATIONIEREN

"Akrobat Regular" (narrow letter width)
spaced by + 60 %
(word gap de-spaced)
A bit difficult to read due to a too wide letterspacing and a too narrow letter width.

SCHRIFT SPATIONIEREN

""Akrobat Regular" (narrow letter width)
spaced by + 20 %
(word gap de-spaced)
Better readability due to a minimal letterspacing for these narrow letters.

Black letters, italic styles and hand letterings are less suitable for putting them in capital letters:

SCHRIFT SPATIONIEREN

"Gothic Regular DB" 
black letters

SCHRIFT SPATIONIEREN

"Brush 77 Regular"
hand lettering

If capital letters are spread over several lines, you should also consider the leading. (leading = empty space between two lines of text). The example below shows a leading that is so small that even the Ü dots (a typical German character) of the word "drüber" extend into the D majuscule of "reden". Not good for the readability, but in this case it might be a style effect consciously chosen by the editorial designer:

Quote from the magazine "Barbara" (No. 22), serif font with a high contrast in italic style in capital letters. (contrast = the lines of a letter show different thicknesses. Example for a strong contrast:  Männer; example for no contrast:  Männer.)

Header in the magazine "Barbara" (No. 22), sans-serif font without contrast, without visible letterspacing. Places framed by red rectangles should have been letterspaced, I think.

EMPHASIZING PARTS OF TEXT

 

When text is put in capital letters, you might ask yourself: How can I emphasize certain parts of text within capital letters? There are different methods to do this.

 

USING DIFFERENT FONT STYLES AND/OR FONT SIZES

Print advertisement "Nivea Mizellen Shampoo"

 

In this example, the corporate font is used in a bold ("Neu", "Mizellen Shampoo") and in a light style ("Extra gründlich. Extra Mild."). In addition to that, the raspberry pink box ("Neu") with white, bold font stands out nicely, still looking subtle and in line with the corporate design.

By the way: The corporate font of the trade mark "Nivea" is very distinctive as it‘s mostly used in bold style, it looks very strong due to the lack of any contrast and some majuscules like "M" or "N" go beyond the cap height (= upper end of a capital letter) and the baseline (= imaginary line which a letter "sits" on).

Print advertisement "2. Tiroler Lange Nacht des Sports", using different font styles (regular and bold) and font sizes

When working with different sizes within the same font, I recommend to work with symmetric values. The human eye likes symmetry which is also why people with symmetric facial features are considered to be very attractive. So don‘t simply make a word bigger than another one, but make it bigger by i.e. 50 % of a square. (Square in typography: If you place an imaginary square on top of a capital letter, whereas the height-width-relation of the letter should be covered. It‘s basically a symmetric size, a square with four equally long sides that displays the "size" of a capital letter.)

When working with squares or square parts, you make sure to introduce a certain consistency in your copy and design. This improves the overall look.

 

 

USING DIFFERENT COLOURS

 

You can achieve interesting effects by deleting the gaps between words and using different colours for the words. But be careful: Two colours are enough in most cases, don‘t overdo it here. Having every word in a different colour makes the copy (or the logo) easily look cheap and unprofessional.

"Haus der Begegnung" in Innsbruck, photo: Diözese Innsbruck.

MIXING DIFFERENT FONTS

 

Mixing different fonts is a bit delicate. If you are not familiar with how to mix fonts professionally, you might want to not even do this and use other methods of emphasizing capital letters. Otherwise, it can easily look cheap and unprofessional.

"Avenir Roman", + 10 % letterspacing, de-spaced word gaps;
"advent Bold3", + 10 % letterspacing, 125 % letter width

positive example of font mixing (same letter width, manual adjustment of cap height and baseline)

"Avenir Roman", + 10 % letterspacing, de-spaced word gaps;
"Source Code Pro Semibold", + 10 % letterspacing, 100 % letter width

negative example of font mixing (different letter widths, different cap heights and baselines)

By the way: Many interesting facts and insights about fonts can be found in the German Typolexikon by Wolfgang Beinert from Berlin. I can really recommend his typography workshops, too.

You can also download this article as a free whitepaper.

Find out more about the power of typography in this article.

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