Type Crime? - Title in Small Caps

alfaiataria's picture

I'm relating to the definition of type crime made by Ellen Lutpon in Thinking with type book.
I've seen lately some work with small caps used in the title form and I believe it to be a type crime, but I haven't found a solid explanation, and therefore I hope to have some contributions on the subject. I'm not assuming a radical position, I believe it is possible to use it in very specific occasions, but with serif fonts titling texts, or even with names and identity it looks like it makes no sense, and I can't find a convention that backs this sort of usage. Was it possible to do in the old days of lead typesetting? Or it is just one of those features that everyone uses only because it is possible to do?

twardoch's picture

Do you mean all small caps, or small caps mixed with uppercase as you showed it?

dave bailey's picture

It's a crime to use faux SC, but I don't see any problem with Caps & True SC combo.

alfaiataria's picture

small caps mixed with uppercase as showed

Nick Shinn's picture

Small caps are optimized for use at text size.
So the effect might be a bit klunky at title size.

Often they are more horizontally extended than capitals, which might be apparent at title size, and look odd.

I think the best use of small caps for titling is to get the effect of optical scaling, one line of all caps followed by another of small caps.

Being a purist, I have never liked the mixture of caps with small caps in the same word. It just seems strange, I mean, there's no lower case with small lower case style.

I don't know why CwSC looks odd, but it may be to do with the awkward fit between the two, especially involving the T. if you look at the words "Type Crime" above, the TY fit is actually quite nice compared to CwSC in many faces, but the way they reach out to each other seems mannered. This is not a criticism of this particular face, but the alphabet.

Thomas Phinney's picture

> Small caps are optimized for use at text size.

Not necessarily. For example, in every Adobe Original typeface with small caps, the small caps are designed for use at the same size as the caps. In many of those cases, that may specifically be subhead or display size.

Personally, I think the caps-with-small-caps is most likely to look ungainly when the small-cap-height is relatively low, as in the example at the beginning of this thread. I am not against it in principle, myself.



Nick Shinn's picture

Small caps are optimized for use at text size.

OK. Let me have another go at that: what I meant to say is that small caps are optimized for use in text, with lower case.

It's true that display size small caps are available, but as can be seen in this example, the small caps are beefed up to hold their own against the lower case, with the result that they are slightly too heavy, and too wide, to fully harmonize with the capitals. This is not a criticism of Robert Slimbach's elegant design and draftsmanship, but the recognition of what is perhaps an impossible situation -- to design a small cap that perfectly matches both cap and lower case. But perhaps it is more feasible with certain type genres than others.

William Berkson's picture

James Felici in his 'Complete Manual of Typography' says that the combo of caps and small caps is often used for chapter headings. He does not censure them at all, but only has a few cautions: to take care about adequate spacing, to evenly space the transition from the full to small caps, and to avoid hyphens in titles.

Some small caps look better than others of course. I was intrigued to hear Matthew Carter mention at the TypeCon critique session that he thinks that the small caps are the 'best part of every font.'

paul d hunt's picture

I was intrigued to hear Matthew Carter mention...

william, i wish i had your memory for details. i had forgot that he had said that until you reminded me just now.

dezcom's picture

I remember that statement very well. Matthew made it while looking at text set on one of my fonts. It was set in caps with small caps by the way.

I use that combination frequently and like it. I can see how kerning issues can come up with certain glyph and font combinations--a serifed cap T might look uncomfortable nearly striking the smallcap Y when a large height smallcap font is used. This would be a case-by-case issue though.

I have no idea what Ellen Lupton meant. Perhaps you might look back at her book and see the context, even capture a large enough chunk of the text to show us what you mean. I don't have the book so I can't check.


alfaiataria's picture

Sorry, I was not clear in my statement, she didn't said that using caps with small caps is a type crime. The idea of a type crime is related to her book, she mentioned a series of type crimes. My question is if caps with small caps is a type crime that you already answered.


dezcom's picture

Thanks Rui


claes's picture

i believe it is generally considered a crime to use uppercase with small caps over here (in Sweden), but i think that mainly refers just to doing it in running text. i think it can be quite effectful in a display situation, but that certainly depends on the font and the design.

William Berkson's picture

Small caps are used conventionally in running text for the first word or few words after a drop cap. I think they can look classy by themselves also at the beginning of the first line of a chapter also, with the first letter as cap.

typequake's picture

I have a question: what do you do with a name like McLachlin? Do you use small caps only?

SuperUltraFabulous's picture

I think caps with small caps are classy if done correctly. As already expressed, if a word is set in a caps/small caps situation, it must be properly spaced. Also let's not forget about font choice. Using a font intended for long passages of text for display is a big no-no! For example using Hoefler Text in display setting when really you should be using the Hoefler Titling. (Yes there are caveats to this... and yes there are ways to make Hoefler Text look good for Titling but generally speaking its not advisable... its for TEXT!!!) Filosofia, pictured above, is a member of a choice group type designs where text/book faces scale well all the way to headline/display. When I go font 'shopping' I try to look for fonts that have this characteristic or they have 'optical' set like Adobe does.

All my best,

Mike Diaz

MHSmith's picture

In cold metal, C&SC titles were already pretty common ca. 1600. And before that, the combination has been around ever since ancient Roman inscriptions (at least the later ones).

Nick Shinn's picture

Here are some differing strategies for "Caps with Small Caps" titling.
I don't think any of them are ideal for this typeface.
In the designated small cap font the small cap is, as I said earlier, too wide.
You get better matched letter proportions by "faking" the display small cap with a downsized "normal" cap, but the stem widths don't quite match.
My preference for the best match is the Regular with SemiBold, although it might be a bit heavy overall.

To demonstrate that the situation is not a fault of any particular typefaces, but rather the outcome of the general habit of creating small caps primarily in relation to lower case, I've created an alternate small cap for Goudy, matched to the capital.

There may be other genres of type where the caps and small caps are better matched, and some typefaces where the small cap is matched to the cap rather than the lower case, but it is my opinion that in general, old style faces are configured like Minion and Goudy, making the use of caps/small caps in titling problematic, and requiring quite discriminating typography.

William Berkson's picture

Very nice post, Nick. I added it to the typowiki on Small Capitals.

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