Multilingual sans with small cap figures?

R.'s picture

Hey folks,

Lately I have been looking for a sans-serif with rather specific properties: a character set covering many languages (including at least Polish, Turkish and Czech), small cap figures (desirably proportional and tabular) and as wide a range of weights as possible (more than two, preferably each with corresponding italics). I thought the list I put together might be useful to others. And I hope for additions and corrections, this compilation being far from exhaustive. Display fonts are excluded on purpose.

The list gives the name of the typeface as well as—in brackets—the foundry that has issued it and, if necessary, some detail on the small cap figures.

Which ones meeting all three criteria have I criminally omitted? Has a serif slipped in? Thanks in advance for your input.

John Hudson's picture

What do you mean by ‘smallcap figures’?

Stephen Coles's picture

I believe he means figures at the height of the small caps:

R.'s picture

Thanks for your suggestions, Stephen! I added them to the list.

By ‘small cap figures’, I indeed mean numerals at or slightly above x-height. I am not aware of any clearer term. Pardon the ambiguity!

nina's picture

Just out of curiosity, would you mind sharing why you would like to have both proportional *and* tabular small caps figures? I've been wondering about possible uses for those (and I think there was a thread or two too, asking whether [or for what] they're needed), so it'd be useful to hear about a real-life usage scenario.

R.'s picture

Of course, this is a frequent question. I use proportional small cap numerals in running text when figures are adjacent and belonging to letters in (all) small caps. This is regularly the case in those scientific publications that prefer the ‘Smith 2009’ format for references. Fixed-width small cap figures, on the other hand, render it possible in tables to reach a certain degree of optical evenness (that obviously cannot be obtained with old-style numerals) and to keep the line height moderate at the same time (which would not be possible with taller lining figures and majuscules). Just have a look at the following example (the typeface is John Hudson’s Constantia):

Further additions to the list are highly welcome, by the way.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

1999: 5
2010: 0

nina's picture

Thanks. Interesting idea to use tabular SC nums for smallish tables, instead of full-height ones at a smaller point size. Does limit your selection of fonts tho.
Not meaning to derail the thread, but if the tabular ones are just for making tables smaller and still look good, – would it also be an option to use lining nums and capital letters, at a smaller point size, in a typeface that has optically adjusted cuts, such as caption/footnote styles? Limits your selection too, but maybe to different fonts…

R.'s picture

You’re right, shrinking capitals and lining figures is a viable option, as long as you have a slightly bolder weight at hand. And that’s where I have encountered problems: Optical sizes are usually too close to each other in terms of stroke width, whereas semibold cuts often tend to look too dark. At precisely this point, tabular small cap figures come in. Alas, they are comparatively rare in sans-serif typefaces (though not as rare as I thought them to be before compiling this list), but so are optical sizes.

About half of the fonts in the current version of the list seem to offer both proportional and tabular small cap numerals — among them such different typefaces as Neutraface, Grotext, Seravek and Morris Sans. It’s admittedly a limited selection, but I expect it to grow over the years. Small cap figures apparently and, to my mind, deservedly see an increase in popularity.

Michael Hernan's picture

I am a supporter of small caps figures but have never considered them to be tabular. I also wouldn't naturally consider setting a table in caps (small or otherwise) so I am interested if there traction to this trend...

I have been working recently on developing the Bembo Model (Italian Renaissance) partly to get my head into italics and scripts.
I show for your interest a first draft [below] – which shows my current thinking on numbers for a text face - being four basic Number sets.

I was thinking of calling the Default smallish example "Tabloid" - but that would just be confusing! Now that we have so much control over numbers - I see offering a 'smallish' set as a good option. I used to find the slightly smaller Figures in the early Helvetica intriguing though their size was less aesthetic and more to allow them to fit into a tabular system. Can anyone confirm this?

Anyway I am very much into the default figures adopting a natural and unforced form - this I think has been achieved when you compare the smallish default set to the 'standard' tabular lining figures (which historically have tended to be offered as the default in the Bembos from Adobe and Berthold. (This may not be true of Monotype Bembo Book?). This thread is showing that this practice is becoming less acceptable for professional/typographic enduse fonts.

Michael Hernan's picture

Thinking about this some more, there could be some logic in having the small caps of a sans-face to be tabulated and the small caps of a serif-face to be proportional - suggestive of their natural usage.

If a font is to supply the option of having both proportional and tabular small caps how does one go about doing this (along with the existing figure options) - I don't see the option to implement this with an OpenType feature like you are able to with Lining and Oldstyle figures?

Andreas Stötzner's picture

Andron Mega has lining, oldstyle, mediuscule (=smallish!) and smallcap figures. Each of the set both tabular and proportional, makes 8 sets of figures (the subs and supers not counted).
However, this is a bit too much of a good thing, for everyday …

Andron 1 Latin has simply a seperate SC font with prop. sc figures.

I find it particularily interesting that Michael Hernan comes up with ‘smallish’ figures. As it happens this is the very solution I currently follow in my new sans (coming soon). There will be one set of figures only, the height of it matching the *middle case* height of the typeface.

William Berkson's picture

The awesome Benton Sans has small cap figures in all styles, as you can see in this PDF. It also has Central European diacritics, though these are not shown in the PDF.

John Hudson's picture

Jeremy Tankard's Corbel has (proportional) smallcap figures.

Nick Shinn's picture

This is an interesting thread.
I had not thought to include tabular small cap lining figures in any of my faces, as I couldn't imagine a situation where proportional would not be preferred. But "R" is quite convincing.

Michael, in the OpenType menu they would be available under "tabular lining".
Strictly speaking, we are discussing "small-cap-height tabular lining figures", not just "small cap figures".
Because "small cap figures" could very well be proportional and/or oldstyle, if that is what the type designer has decided is appropriate for a typeface.

.00's picture

an incomplete list by an anonymous poster

Nick Shinn's picture

I don't think you can criticize the list for being incomplete.
That would be a ridiculous amount of research for anyone not in font retailing, like Stewf.
So a little crowd sourcing, via Typophile, makes sense.
But I agree with you James, anonymity is pathetic, to put it politely.
This isn't Facebook.

Stephen Coles's picture

Actually, I experience far fewer anonymous posters on Facebook than Typophile. And I agree that it's annoying.

But what are you driving at, James?

R.'s picture

Thank you, William, Benton Sans is a good one.

Corbel (like Calibri), coming in just two weights, regrettably fails to meet the criteria set up in my first post. Andron seems to be a serif typeface — not quite what I am looking for. Thanks anyway!

To my mind, non-display fonts should include old-style, lining and small cap figures with both proportional and tabular spacing. The settings in which customers might want to make use of a typeface are unpredictable.

Nick Shinn's picture

I experience far fewer anonymous posters on Facebook

What I meant was, there aren't privacy issues here.

The settings in which customers might want to make use of a typeface are unpredictable.

True, but one has to draw the line somewhere.
For instance, having two sizes of small caps in a font would be very useful in lots of circumstances (eg for qualificatgions on business cards &c.) but very few fonts go that far.
OK, cue for list of typefaces with small and petite caps...

R.'s picture

The line has to be drawn at some point, I agree. But it obviously is not such a huge effort to include tabular figures when you already have proportional numerals, the glyphs often being largely identical. Even with a couple of weights, it won’t cost much time to include both spacing types — compared to, say, the implementation of polytonic Greek when starting from monotonic characters. I am curious about whether and, if so, how the evaluation of small cap figures will change in the years to come.

Michael Hernan's picture

Designing - or simply making an 8 work at regular caps height is difficult enough! There is a certain amount of skulduggery that needs to take place to make the 8 and the other 'complex' figures like 3 and 5 fit into such a restricted space (small caps). Match that with making them bold and you can see why small caps figures are not so prevalent.

You (as a designer) have to consider and allow the most difficult detail occurrences in glyph construction to inform the detailing for the rest of the typeface. Why set the bar where it becomes so much more difficult to accomplish a design scheme or makes you compromise the rest of the glyphs?

R. - I think it is good to lead by example - Since you have compiled a pretty comprehensive list already, try to work out what it is you like about particular designs - this can suggest a model by which you can promote your cause. It would be cool to see the results of your research. Have a go at creating a set of figures yourself. Rather than hoping someone else *might* create what you want - create it yourself. If you are dissatisfied then create something satisfactory.

You show the previous tabulated example which is serifed? Perhaps we need to see it again sans-serif?

If you think about it - each example in the top list has solved a typographic problem (i.e they are not display faces and therefore need to look nice appear interesting/ punchy etc.) What is the problem that you still feel needs to be solved?

Stephen Coles's picture

Now that's the response of a college professor!

R.'s picture

Thanks for your response, Michael.

In fact, I am quite satisfied with what is currently on offer. Most problems concerning small cap figures seem to have been solved already by ingenious colleagues. My motivation to post above list did not arise from discontent with fonts I knew; it is just recommendable to gain a comprehensive overview of available typefaces before making any decisions, I think. Your suggestion to draw a set of figures myself is valuable, nonetheless.

Further contributions to the list remain welcome. Most recent addition: VoiceOS by Hubert Jocham — nice one.

P.S.: Here comes an example of tabular small cap figures in a sans-serif typeface (Calibri by Lucas de Groot, another ClearType font):

Nick Shinn's picture
toad42's picture

Actually, although Nick Shinn only has proportional small cap figures (roman and italic) in Figgins Sans, he also includes authentic nineteenth-century three-quarter-height figures (roman and italic) in both proportional and tabular spacing.

Also, his Scotch Modern also has small cap figures (roman and italic, proportional only) and three-quarter-height figures (roman and italic, proportional and tabular).

Extra kudos for also including nut fractions in both of them, along with superiors and inferiors and numerators and denominators. Both faces are rich in figures. Nicely done, Mr. Shinn.

eliason's picture

Those who find tabular small-caps figures useful: would you want these to be the same width as the other tabular figures in the font?

R.'s picture


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