Acronyms set as smallcaps?

theanorak's picture

I'm setting text featuring a lot of TLAs, and whilst I know that the perceived wisdom is to set the acronyms in small caps, in the fonts I'm using (FF Scala Pro and FF Scala Sans Pro), the small caps don't seem to work. SP and SSP don't have a "petite" cap option.

Based on the sample below, what do people think - am I so used to seeing the full height caps for these acronyms that my eyes are lying to me, or am I missing a third way?



Miss Tiffany's picture

I think the petite caps are too small.

charles ellertson's picture

This topic has been covered before, many times, but the place to start is why many typographers use small caps for acronyms. The answer usually given -- and the one I would give -- is that full caps, like lining figures, call attention to themselves because of their physical size. When that attention is unwanted, they are awkward.

But consider a book about FDR, where "FDR" is one of few acronyms or abbreviations in the entire text. Here, it would be odd to minimize the force of the name -- spelled out, Franklin Delano Roosevelt would have initial caps, & so "stand out." In fact this happened in a book I designed, and I set FDR in full caps throughout.

If the acronyms in the copy you are setting are an important part of the sentences -- rather than, say, just a passing reference, you may want to set them all full cap.

However, should you decide on small caps, you can make them a bit bigger than comes form the foundry. InDesign at least, lets you search for character style as an option, so you could search & replace (say) 10-point small caps with 10.5, or whatever size seems to give the bit more emphasis you feel needed.


theanorak's picture

Thanks both.

Charles: a difficult one, but the sheer density of the acronyms is what has me reaching for the smallcap. The paragraph shown above is representative of pretty much *every* paragraph in the text.

I have the acronyms styled in InDesign so it's straightforward to use a slightly larger size.



Don McCahill's picture

I beg to differ, Charles.

> spelled out, Franklin Delano Roosevelt would have initial caps, & so “stand out.”

No it doesn't. If it was typed FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, then it would stand out. When the caps are separated by lower case letters, then the effect of a blob of caps is eliminated.

The effect is not nearly so nasty with smaller acronyms and initialisms. Most people don't small cap US, because it then seems to become the word us, and creating confusion to the reader is much worse than having bad color through full caps.

(All that said, I find the small caps in the original posting to be too small. Is there a rule that a designer must design his small caps to the x-height? That is fine for ITC type faces, but when the x-height is small I would think a better design is to be slightly larger than the x-height.)

charles ellertson's picture

Don, When I look to see what stands out, I read. Moreover, I read at least a page, not a single phrase. So here is the test. Set two pages of type (a spread) that has the words "Fanklin Delano Roosevelt about 15 times. See if that doesn't catch you eye -- unless you're a Regan Republican.

A curmudgeon I remain; from my perspective, one of the problems with some typographers is they look at a small sample of type, in a certain context, and draw a(n almost absolute) conclusion. They aren't alone; editors are apt to do the same, though often their conclusions vary from the typographer. And of course the same could be said of me. But I remain convinced that the best answer to many questions about how to handle a text element visually will vary depending on the text itself, along with considering the intended audience. That's why design is more than memorizing a set of rules.

m-ga's picture

I've hit this problem. IMO, it's usually a sign of badly-written text. I was working on a publication for a government, you seem to have be working on one for a multinational corporation.

If you can't rewrite the text, you ideally want a typeface with a small cap whose height is in between the x-height and the full cap. This is because when you begin a sentence with an acronym (and it will happen sooner or later), the small cap will be clearly too small otherwise.

I was using Jeremy Tankard's Bliss (has x-height small caps) when I hit this problem, and I sent him an email asking for a solution. He was good enough to telephone me, but couldn't really offer any suggestion other that rewriting the text. In the end, I scaled up a lighter weight of Bliss to get the in-between caps I was after. I thought it worked OK, but I'm not sure what Tankard's opinion was.

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