lack of small-cap height lining numerals

jlt's picture

Can anyone tell me why so many of the new "all inclusive" pro opentype faces from a variety of foundries are being released with old-style numerals as part of the small-caps set?

I understand that there is a certain stylistic flair to using non-lining numerals with old style caps on title pages and in other decorative settings. However, it seems to me that small-cap heigh lining numerals are far more useful as part of the sc set/selection; 9 times out of 10, those will be what a typesetter wants when he or she is setting small cap text.

The most ironic part is that a few of these faces HAVE such numerals in the font, but just not assigned to the small cap set!

I assume I am missing something and everybody else in the world works very differently than I or any of the typesetters and designers I know. That's the only explanation I can come up with.

JLT

crossgrove's picture

How would the features be named? If the SC feature has OSFs as default, how to get the lining SC figs to be included? One of them has to be default with small caps....

jlt's picture

I think it's ridiculous that SC has OsF as default. We only think it makes sense, I think, because they've been packaged that way for so long - many decades. But I think that was a marketing decision; certainly, even the metal typesetters I know pick those numerals and the SC apart when they distribute the type into a case, and don't use them side by side very often - especially not at text sizes.

I'm assuming that the current custom to attach OsF to SC is simply a carryover from this, and from here it seems somewhat ridiculous - OTF sets should be organized around use, not arbitrary convention.

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jlt : http://www.hewnandhammered.com : rnrmf!

Miss Tiffany's picture

From a design point of view I agree with you Josh. I don't know the technical side well enough to understand the limitations.

I'll second the desire to have smallcap height figures. Dolly, for instance, has gorgeous smallcap lining figures. (Although it isn't opentype so it is off-topic.)

William Berkson's picture

Old style figures are near the small cap height normally. So they would suit the small caps better than lining figures.

Aren't small cap height lining numerals a new thing?

Also are they actually useful? How often do you need to set numerals with small caps outside of lower case text, where the OSF should work well?

jlt's picture

William: I am constantly called upon to use numerals with small caps in technical manuals, textbooks and government documents. I would say that I need them perhaps 50% as often as I need OsF, and just as often as I need full-height lining numerals.

I do not think they are necessarily a new invention, as some of the first Italian faces to have small caps as part of the metal family included them (as far as I remember; I think several cuts of Bodoni included them). They are fantastically useful, imho, but even more than that, not having them when you need them is tremendously disruptive.

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jlt : http://www.hewnandhammered.com : rnrmf!

William Berkson's picture

Ok, let me ask another question then. Are OSF that are monospaced actually useful?

Maybe sticking monospaced lining figures at smallcap height in that slot--which exists in InDesign--would work and serve all practical needs. Then you could just formulate a character style with both small caps and lining cap-height figures. How does that sound?

crossgrove's picture

So replace monospaced OSFs with the preferred lining SC figs? Is there anyone on here who uses tabular OSFs?

dezcom's picture

I have never heard of using tabular small caps figures. If I were to do tabular work, I would just use the standard figures in a smaller point size if needed--but I have never needed.

ChrisL

dan_reynolds's picture

Linotype's done a few type families with these. Avenir Next has them. A small display family I'm finishing up also has them. Most of the time, whether these are designed comes from whether the designer sees them as important or not. I also think that this is sort of a "new" (but good) thing. I seem to remember old, "classic" typography mixing SC with OsFs all the time. In fact, I never had even heard about SC figures before I came to Linotype. But maybe I was just living under a tree or something…

William Berkson's picture

Yes, Carl put my question it more succinctly.

As Chris has never heard of it, Joshua, can you show us come examples of where the lining small cap height numerals are much better?

dezcom's picture

Paul Rand used tabular OSF in some old Westinghouse annual reports.

ChrisL

dezcom's picture

Lining smallcap height proportional is different than lining smallcap height tabular. It's the tabular that I have not seen. I have actually designed 2 faces with smallcap height proportional figures.

ChrisL

William Berkson's picture

>It’s the tabular that I have not seen.

Oh, I see. The question is really: What is useful? and Can you fit it into the existing programs so it is accessible?

Miguel Sousa's picture

Here's the Adobe insight on this one:
-- (You're right that) oldstyle figures are the traditional form to be used with small caps, and that's what Adobe does in our fonts' small-cap layout features.
-- Any font developer who wishes to can easily add lining figures of small-cap height to their fonts' small-cap layout features
-- Font developers can also add such figures as a stand-alone feature (a stylistic set)*. Both approaches are well-supported in InDesign & Illustrator.

* or "hook" the glyphs directly to the features 'smcp' and 'c2sc'

crossgrove's picture

Clearly a lot of us are unfamiliar with small-cap tabular (monospaced) figs. But Tiff's question, and one I would like to pursue is: Does anyone use tabular Oldstyle figures? Because it would be convenient to put the "new" tabular small cap figures in those slots, if nobody's using them.

jlt's picture

Sorry, need to be more specific. I do not need tabular sc-height figures! In the books and government reports I usually set, proportional but lining small cap height numerals would be fine.

Yes, if you like, I can find some examples of work I've done that would have benefited from such figures. And Carl, please do not delay anything you are working on because of me! I'm thinking out loud about little things that might take advantage of the OTF technology and make my work a bit easier.

Miguel, is there a way for a USER to override the stylistic sets? Custom sets, maybe? That way, one face I work with regularly, which does indeed have small cap height proportional lining numerals (from here on referred to at SCHPLN, pronounced "askdjadlkjhsdkjfh") but which does not have them as the default character set for small caps, would be able to be used in the way I'm wishing for.

Wow, that was a good run-on sentence.

Anyway. Basically, here's all I wanted to say:

I would like to see more lining small cap proportional numerals in text faces, and I would like to see them as the default figure style in the small cap stylistic set, and barring that I'd like a way to customize stylistic sets so that I can use them with small caps without changing sets/fonts/whatever.

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jlt : http://www.hewnandhammered.com : rnrmf!

Thomas Phinney's picture

A couple of things:

- people do use tabular OsF. I've used them in real work. They're not as common as the other permutations. More importantly, hijacking a feature for some other usage is generally a dubious choice, IMO.

- although InDesign supports stylistic sets, AFAIK neither Illustrator nor QuarkXPress does, as yet.

- jlt: No stylistic sets are on by default. The way you override a stylistic set is to turn it (back) off. Stylistic sets are a group of 20 features, numbered 1-20. Small caps are not a stylistic set (unless you wish to make them so, but I can't see why).

Oops, gotta run and go get some stitches out. Maybe somebody else can explain stylistic sets better to Joshua. Or maybe just reading the right section of the OpenType spec will help: http://www.microsoft.com/typography/OTSPEC/features_pt.htm#ssxx

Cheers,

T

hrant's picture

> Are OSF that are monospaced actually useful?

All kinds of things are useful.
And fixed-width OS numerals can certainly look awesome:

hhp

Miguel Sousa's picture

> Miguel, is there a way for a USER to override the stylistic sets? Custom sets, maybe?

You mean, as a user you want to change the behavior of a particular stylistic set of a given released font?* The answer is no.

* let's suppose that a font's stylistic set 1 changes the double-story 'a' to a single-story 'a', and open 'g' to a binocular 'g'; and you only want 'a' to change.

crossgrove's picture

"And fixed-width OS numerals can certainly look awesome:"

But what about the USER's needs, Hrant? This is design, not art! ; )

jlt's picture

I just want lining numerals that match my small caps, that's all. nothing fancy... not OsF, not tabular. Just lining numerals that don't look out of place with small caps.

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jlt : http://www.hewnandhammered.com : rnrmf!

dezcom's picture

My wishlist would be for OTF sets to have names defined by the type designer instead of numbers. This would make what the set does be more apparent to the user. There could be a stylistic set called "Small Cap Lining figures" or what vere descrptive name.

ChrisL

paul d hunt's picture

My wishlist would be for OTF sets to have names defined by the type designer instead of numbers. This would make what the set does be more apparent to the user. There could be a stylistic set called “Small Cap Lining figures” or what vere descrptive name.

I believe the thinking on this is that it is impractical to expect this to make any more sense to non-English users, unless the type designer interprets these descriptions into every language which the font might be used in.

hrant's picture

Carl: Very. Funny. Ha. Ha.

BTW, what's ironic about the rarity of fixed-width OS nums is that they're actually easier to make look nice* than proportional OS nums! I have to think that people naively migrated Regularity from the horizontal dimension (where it can very often make sense) to the vertical dimension (where it typically backfires, except for all-caps setting).

* FYI, all your base are belong to us.

hhp

dezcom's picture

"designer interprets these descriptions into every language which the font might be used in."

Bundle Babelfish with FontLab? :-)

ChrisL

Village's picture

To respond to something Dezcom posted above: font families' tabular figures should all have the same tabular width in all weights. This is very important when setting financials in annual reports, where font weights, underlines, and alignments are actually dictated by SEC standards. So, to simply use a smaller point size would result in a narrower setting, breaking the tabularity. (Also useful in timetables, listings, etc, etc.)

In my experience, it's a challenge to get an OsF "2" looking good. The other glyphs are all pretty self-evident.

FWIW, the Apex New family has small cap lining numerals which are turned on with the small caps, in both proportional and tabular versions.

hrant's picture

> it’s a challenge to get an OsF “2” looking good.

I've long said that the OS "2" should ascend. And there's one font that
has actually has that, and it's not obscure either. Yes, this is a test.

hhp

Choz Cunningham's picture

I believe the thinking on this is that it is impractical to expect this to make any more sense to non-English users, unless the type designer interprets these descriptions into every language which the font might be used in.

Really? I assumed it was an mistake. Since "Stylistic Set 1" doesn't mean anything in any language other than English, nor does "Default Ligatures", I'm not buying it. The inability to custom-name custom-use fields is probably my very least favorite aspect of OpenType. It makes no sense. English is the most international language, and there is other components of a font that support that.There are not specific fields for for every language for every other aspect of a font file's data (although there are some, which are customizable and optional). Additionally, not only is English used for the default names of existing explicit OT features, it is used for the standard glyph names, as well other aspects of fontery.

I think it would be a lot better idea to make the sets named (perhaps with a "Stylistic Set #:" prefix) and let the designers do the designing and naming in the file. A stylistic set being named in non-English would still assist me, speaking English, as I would learn to recognize foreign words if I really came across them a lot, and to speed up recognition of already known features of a font. Its a far more workable solution than expecting designers to put out a lengthy guide to each feature-rich font's intracacies. Then, what, translate that into several dozen tongues? And make the consumer track that added separate file? Yucky.

I think more likely, this was an oversight, low priority at creation, out-of-budget or a mistake. Since the current folk explanation are dubious, I hope when OT grows up, this will be one of several small refinements. So, here's my suggestion to the logical successor in today's technology trends, back-compatible ExtensibleOpenType. Or .XOT for short. :)

Choz Cunningham
!Exclamachine Type Foundry
The Snark

dezcom's picture

"...impractical to expect this to make any more sense to non-English users, unless the type designer interprets these descriptions into every language..."

There could also be a list of common features that could be selected from a menu in the language of the designer. These common names could then be translated via lookup tables to the default language of the user's computer. This may not be perfect but it sure breats the hell out of vague stylistic set numbers which communicate nothing. There could even be a script to look at what is in the OTF feature code and give a rough translation into the host language. If class names were standardized, this would be much simpler.

ChrisL

Thomas Phinney's picture

Currently, no names for any features are encoded in the font; only the four-letter code is. Because the features have static meanings, the application developer can translate them into whatever languages they need, along with the rest of their user interface.

I don't have any particular objection to a system that would supplement the existing four-letter codes for stylistic sets with desriptive text. The 'name' table is in fact designed to do a range of strange things that would easily encompass this. It would be the responsibility of the font designer to decide how many languages to translate this descriptive text into, and if they didn't cover a given language, it would be up to the application to determine a fallback or simply display something generic like "stylistic set #4" - which is no worse than what we have today.

If somebody wants to go to the work of creating a formal proposal in the appropriate language for the OpenType and/or Open Font Format specs, they should feel free. That's your next step, if you want to do something about what you see as a problem....

Cheers,

T

dezcom's picture

"If somebody wants to go to the work of creating a formal proposal in the appropriate language for the OpenType and/or Open Font Format specs, they should feel free."

Thomas, What is the appropriate language and format? Can anyone make such a proposal? To whom would I send it?

ChrisL

PS: I started a new thread on feature sets to address this concept.

http://typophile.com/node/29648

kris's picture

JLT— I have them in the regular weight of Feijoa…

—K

Choz Cunningham's picture

Aside from the use of stylistic sets for this, MS says they are eager to hear suggestions for new tags, and will handle all the technical bits if they approve. Not sure of how often they do this, or if they have that all sewn up without interacting with Adobe. There is also a way to register features as not Adobe/MS; Emigre has done this. Nevertheless, to mimic the existing feature names, I suggest <scln> for Small Capitals (sized) Lining Figures. Perhaps there should be a <sctn> for Small Capitals (sized) Text Figures, as well, so that one or the other could be included, complimenting the default choice.

Choz Cunningham
!Exclamachine Type Foundry
The Snark

Christopher Slye's picture

I just got around to reading this thread. I thought I would mention one more thing about tabular old style figures: One thing that has been interesting to watch is Robert Slimbach's evolving "design strategy" (to coin a phrase) for these glyphs.

When we began to convert our fonts to OpenType, the Adobe Originals which had old style figures to begin with (which then typically had tabular lining and proportional old style figures) all were upgraded to the full set of four number styles (adding fitted lining and tabular old style figures). We struggled for a while to adapt the existing old style figures to the tabular widths, and Robert or someone else would tweak a number or two to improve their looks. Robert, along with everyone else, would think of old style figures as "naturally" proportional. It seemed strange and awkward to try to shoehorn them into tabular widths.

Today, Robert simply designs all the figures in his new typefaces to be tabular. He's found that the numbers, both lining and old style, work with tabular widths quite well if they're conceived that way to begin with. It's much easier to design them that way and then re-fit them for their proportionally-spaced companions, rather than going the other direction.

hrant's picture

> He’s found that the numbers, both lining and old style, work with
> tabular widths quite well if they’re conceived that way to begin with.

Maybe he's found what he wanted to find? Just like with his non-trapping.
The numeral one does not work well in a tabular scheme, period.

Anyway, now that we know what Robert Robert Robert thinks, what do you think?

hhp

Christopher Slye's picture

Hrant, you're like one of those people who listens to a radio station they hate and then complains about it. If you're not interested in anything which originates with Robert, then just skip the post.

Here's the deal: I've worked with Robert quite a while. He shares some of his ideas with me, and sometimes they make an impression. Since Robert is not one to participate in Typophile threads and the like, I occasionally will pass on something I've learned or observed from him if I think it's relevant. I can tell that you're not interested in hearing about it, but it's not going to stop, so what's the point of being a grouch about it?

Anyway, back to the topic at hand:

Maybe he's found what he wanted to find? Just like with his non-trapping. The numeral one does not work well in a tabular scheme, period.

Duh. The point was that, if one has a font in which tabular numbers will be included, it saves time and effort to design them on tabular widths first, and then make adjustments for proportional versions, rather than the other way around. Obviously the 'one' will always be problematic, so the choice in solving that problem becomes either to not make tabular figures at all, or consider better ways to design them.

Anyway, now that we know what Robert Robert Robert thinks, what do you think?

Robert has far more experience with designing fonts than I do, so it seemed to me that his approach might be more valuable -- but since you asked, it makes sense to me. It's not that it's such an original or ingenious idea, but I find it interesting that one can become so accustomed to this notion that old style figures are inherently proportional, and exacerbate the challenge of fitting them to tabular widths. By changing one's habits, one can save some labor by approaching them from a different direction.

hrant's picture

This is not a radio station. Which is lucky for me, since I don't listen to radio.

> If you’re not interested in anything which originates with Robert

I'm sorry, I didn't realize you originate with Robert.
Sounds more extreme than the name of one of his fonts.

I'm interested in your opinion, not least because you're here. I'm also interested in the opinions of people who are not here, but when they're not here to elaborate and/or defend, it's kind of annoying when it's presented as authoritative. Yes, one shouldn't shoot the messenger, but shouting at the messenger can be therapeutic.

> Obviously the ‘one’ will always be problematic

I'm glad you've now corrected "He’s found that the numbers, both lining and old style, work with tabular widths quite well if they’re conceived that way to begin with." which is something pretty specific you claimed above, and which was specifically what I was countering above. The numeral one (you know, the most frequently ocurring numeral) does NOT end up working "quite well" tabularly, no matter where you start what.

So now I'm not sure: what does Robert -really- think again?

> his approach might be more valuable

It is, but:
1) Yours is not worthless.
2) Again, you're here, and that's valuable.

> I find it interesting that one can become so accustomed to
> this notion that old style figures are inherently proportional

Indeed. Please re-read my second post in this thread.

hhp

hrant's picture

BTW, no takers on the quiz in my third post?

hhp

Christopher Slye's picture

Hrant, I know you've been through all this with practically everyone else here, but just for the record, I don't think your approach enhances or enriches the discussion here. I do not understand why you choose to be gratuitously argumentative when the meaning is reasonably clear. For example:

I'm sorry, I didn't realize you originate with Robert.

I don't. Obviously, the idea I was describing originated with Robert.

The numeral one (you know, the most frequently occurring numeral) does NOT end up working "quite well" tabularly, no matter where you start...

To fixate on the problems of a particular number is a valid discussion to have, but a distraction from my original point. Numbers are a set, and I am talking about considering the success of the set overall -- just like deciding whether an alphabet works "quite well" without fixating on some particular letter, the shape of which one is stuck with. "Quite well" is relative and subjective, so despite 'one' being problematic, one can consider the overall set of tabular numbers successful to some degree or another and fairly apply that description, I believe. If you don't agree, that's fine.

So now I'm not sure: what does Robert -really- think again?

As I said, I believe Robert is happier with tabular numbers when they are designed first for tabular widths and adapted for proportional spacing. "Quite well" is my characterization, but I believe it's fair to say he's "satisfied" and considers it an improvement over the previous practice of designing the old style numerals proportionally to start. I am not interested in becoming a middleman for Robert on this board, so I kindly ask that you consider the overall idea, which I believe is pretty clear without analyzing every word.

... it's kind of annoying when it's presented as authoritative.

I don't see how it's presented as more "authoritative" than anything else anyone says here. Really, I'm just trying to pitch in and contribute an interesting idea or two here. That you find this all so provocative is far beyond my intention, and also tiring.

Again, you’re here, and that’s valuable.

What I suppose will continue to be a problem for you is that I have spent the last nine years working here directly with Robert. It will be difficult for me to talk about type without occasionally referring to things he's said or done. If you are getting the impression that Robert is somehow hiding behind me or using me as a mouthpiece, I assure it's not so. I'm just sharing my experience.

hrant's picture

And elaborate defense to avoid admitting a mistake
is what's "gratuitously argumentative" in my book.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

Christopher, as one of my pet peeves is the conflation of argument and quarrelling, please allow me some some definitional clarification:

conversation = talk about any topic, often for the pleasure of it, changing topics at will.

discussion = conversation that sticks to one topic

argument = 1. a reason given for or against a claim concerning a particular topic. 2. a discussion containing such reasons.

quarrel = a personal dispute involving the alleging faults or wrongdoing of the other person.

insult = attack on the other person's character.

To me Hrant's arguing is a positive feature of his participation, as it is thought-provoking and interesting. He often has interesting points to make. And that is a valuable contribution even when they are mistaken points--which I think they are half the time.

In my view, what makes Hrant's manners barbarous is that instead of sticking to argument proper, he regularly resorts to insults and turns the argument into a quarrel.

This is to the point where I am resolved to avoid discussion with Hrant.

Hrant is a thoughtful and interesting fellow who is often the life of the party on Typophile. But he is also so relentlessly quarrelsome that he regularly spoils the party. An unusual combination--the one and only hhp.

twardoch's picture

You can have small-cap lining numerals in your font, but there is no need to hijack any feature for that. You just implement them the way they should be done, i.e. in the "smcp" feature (where else?)

I've posted an appropriate code snippet here:
http://typophile.com/node/29648/#comment-170126

A.

hrant's picture

Yes, only barbarians don't use press releases to manipulate people and cover up the truth. To remain civilized, one must ignore the fact that one is dealing with actual people, and focus on dead-end theorizing, with a smile. A cocktail party. Or a remote-controlled war. That is what ensures the status quo, the maintaining of Traditional Values.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

(where else?)

Small lining figures have to be made anyway, for arbitrary fractions, and for superior and inferior figures, so it's not much work to do a set that sit on the baseline and line with the small caps, and include them in the "all small caps" feature -- but the "caps with small caps" feature should use proportional OSF, shouldn't it?

Choz Cunningham's picture

I thought the point of the OP was that you couldn't put small lining and small text figures in the same smcp?

Choz Cunningham
!Exclamachine Type Foundry
The Snark

Nick Shinn's picture

There are two separate OpenType features:

c2sc -- this is in the "third level" InDesign menu, and only works for OT fonts.
smcp -- this in in the "second level" InD menu, and produces faux small caps if there are no true small caps in the font, and proper (caps-with-)small-caps if there is the smcp feature in the OT font.

So if the foundry doesn't include any figures in the smcp feature, the user will get the default figures; however, the foundry may have lining figures as default, and include OSF figures in the smcp feature. Whatever, if the foundry includes small-cap-height lining figures in the c2sc feature, then the user will get the 3rd style I showed above.

Christopher Slye's picture

And elaborate defense to avoid admitting a mistake is what’s “gratuitously argumentative” in my book.

Hrant, I was trying to explain the substance of my original point, which you have consistently ignored in favor of your own tangential arguments -- the pertinence of which I have yet to be convinced. This is the second thread in which I have tried to do so, and by now I am fairly well convinced I am wasting my time.

twardoch's picture

Nick,

it is indeed an interesting suggestion to associate old-style numerals with "smcp" (since this usually means mixed uppercase and smallcaps settings) while associating the lining smallcap figures with "c2sc" (because usually, this means that "c2sc"+"smcp" are activated together to get all-smallcap setting).

The code snippet I posted in the other thread could be extended accordingly.

A.

Christopher Slye's picture

It's an interesting idea, but personally I would be inclined to keep it simpler for the user and have both 'smcp' and 'c2sc' apply the small cap figures, and then have the various number features ('lnum', 'onum') change the style further if desired. It seems like it would adapt to the application UI's a little more naturally.

Nick Shinn's picture


Chris, I wouldn't privilege the functionality of a UI over typographic functionality. What you are proposing as a default for 'smcp' (centre example) is not very useful.

With regards to Joshua's and Tiffany's assessments of what the standard figures for use with small caps should be, based on usage situations, it's debatable but certainly varied. IMO the primary usage of small caps, across the board, is in Caps-with-small-caps settings. This applies to what I consider to be the two main instances: (i) With extended U&lc text, either for paragraph lead-ins (see example), or for highlighted names. Personally, I prefer all small caps in these situations, but my taste is somewhat old-fashioned and probably in the minority. In these mixed settings, OSF is surely the norm -- although I would be interested in seeing some of Joshua's typography. (ii) A complete setting in Caps-with-small caps, such as a subheading on a package; again, OSF seem to harmonize better in this more "decorative" situation.

In the second place, on a purely empirical analysis, surely caps-with-small-caps has a visual similarity with OSF -- both mainly occupy an "x-height", with the occasional extender. This is why I believe the centre setting above doesn't look as good as the other two, because the figures lack presence. So, to keep it simple for the user, it makes sense to pair the figure and SC styles on the basis of formal harmony, rather than arbitrarily assign one figure style to both SC variants.

In the third place, both the OpenType feature code, smcp, and Adobe's UI implementation of it, "small caps" are incorrect and misleading, They would be more accurately named as "cwsc" and "caps with small caps". By the same token c2sc should be "alsc" (all small caps).

Also, Adobe's UI implementation of the four OT figure styles (lnum, pnum, onum, tnum) is problematic, presupposing a set of four combinations of these. But what if a font has only lining figures? The OSF options still appear in the OT menu. (Quark does a more logical job of implementing figure styles in its UI.) So again, it's not a good idea to put a less than perfect UI in the driver's seat. And I hope that Thomas will agree, as his philosophy of "the fonts will survive" is part of my reasoning here.

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