Small caps or not?

Frode Bo Helland's picture

I wonder if it would be better to set BGA, R&D, ACA (etc) with small caps, as they appear so often. Any opinions?

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Another issue is the scientists habit to capitalize known terms in their own field. I’ve also seen this capitalization-for-no-apparant-reason in churches. Guess it’s just a human thing :)

dtw's picture

Re: caps use... I see this so often in the interaction between our typesetters and authors. The author submits a manuscript using just initials (say, LCD in your example above). The setters send out a proof, with a query next to it, asking “please spell out ‘LCD’” (OK, probably not a good example ’cause everybody knows what that stands for, but it’s only a f’rinstance). The author answers “Liquid Crystal Display”, using initial caps almost without thinking, because the caps of the acronym are in mind. And then the corrected proof ends up saying “Liquid Crystal Display (LCD)”. In most cases, if I spot it, I get rid of those initial caps!

Frode Bo Helland's picture


eliason's picture

What font is that? The small caps are very short.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

It’s custom, and yes: They are a bit short, but it’s partly caused by the rendering.

eliason's picture

If you go the small-caps route, it might be worth whipping up some small-caps-sized parentheses.

kentlew's picture

I have to say, I personally think SC in this case look pretty twee. I don’t know why people are always so anxious to replace every string of capitals with SC. If you think caps are causing dark spots on the page, just open them up a hair.

That’s my opinion.

(Is your client going to be having someone copy-edit and proof this copy?)

Nick Shinn's picture

The typographic conventions that evolved for small cap usage did so long ago. At that time, text was serifed, small x-height, had no kerning, and capitals were considerably heavier, in stem weight, than lower case. Even so, small capitals were often further distinguished by being letterspaced.

Therefore, small caps are inherently problematic for almost all sans face text usage, especially for short acronyms.

That is why, if one is intent on using sans small caps in running text, one should consider faces which have small x-heights and small caps that are markedly taller than x-height.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

This is an early version, so yes: there will be proofing. Thanks for the advice. I think I’ll might go with tracked caps.

nina's picture

Yes, looks like a potential case for medium caps.
FWIW, I agree that the SC in there look rather too small. In this situation I'd just use caps.

Edit: Woops, crossposted. Sorry.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Sounds like I should consider expanding this design with some medium caps and leave the old ones as petite caps.

jabez's picture

I've personally grown to love the look/feel of SC for acronyms.

Was just surfing around for other opinions when I chanced upon this:

Using some kind of typographic marker for an acronym might be useful if enough people knew what it meant. But as fewer and fewer publications observe the convention, fewer readers know what it signals, and thus the small caps look more and more like a mistake. Newspapers don’t set acronyms differently, of course — they barely use italics. And I’ve seen some books and magazines use a point size somewhere between small caps and full caps, which makes me wonder why they even bother making a distinction. Surely that would look even more like a mistake?

I’ll put the question to you: What would the value be of continuing to set acronyms in small caps, when few readers know what the convention means and it makes acronyms look so odd on a page (especially in articles that are peppered with both acronyms and initialisms)?

Never occurred to me to treat acronyms and initialisms differently.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Small caps are/should be designed to solve a problem: Capital letters grab to much attention because they are so big and slightly heavier than the lowercase — they are designed to signal the start of a sentence. In a cap heavy language like German, a set of mid caps will not grab as much attention in mid-sentence. It’s not the mid caps that look like an error, it’s the FULL CAPS in mid-sentence.

If the small caps are well done they’ll blend in. Unfortunately many type designers draw them too low (I’m guilty here, but it’s mostly due to screen rendering), too light and heavily tracked which make them stand out and thus not preform well at their task. Style over function, I guess.

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