Ascender exceeds Caps Height

I have a couple of unrelated type questions:

1. What is the reasoning for having ascenders exceed caps height, is it just a style or does it help when reading small copy or large bodies of text?

2. When developing a sans inspired Hebrew character set, is there any reason to develop an italic set as well? From what I understand, Hebrew has no true italics, but are italics used with any frequency in modern day text settings using Hebrew?

3. What's the reasoning behind some Small Caps exceeding x height is it just preference depending on the dimensions of they typeface or is it just about aesthetics?

Nick Shinn's picture

1. It certainly helps in words like Illusion. Of course, the other way around works too.

2. Don't know. But consider Greek, which didn't traditionally have Italic, or German, which didn't traditionally have Bold, but used letterspacing for emphasis.

3. It's more than just "some". I haven't done a survey, but it may be the other way around. In my own case, I always make small caps taller than x-height. The reason is two-fold: firstly to disambiguate C, O, S, U, V, W and X (even more in Cyrillic), and secondly so that acronyms really do stand out in U&lc text -- small caps need to be taller, because lower case includes extenders.

In typography, aesthetics isn't "just", it's functional on many levels; visual ergonomics, if you will.

(BTW Mike, a couple is generally considered to be two, but whatever turns you on :-)

nina's picture

"What is the reasoning for having ascenders exceed caps height"
In addition to the differentiation issue Nick mentioned, it might help to think of it the other way round. The ascenders (and descenders) and their relation to x-height determine the vertical proportions in the lowercase – which is what people will usually read (in text fonts at least), so I'd suspect those should be determined first. The caps are somewhat independent of this relation, and can be shorter than the ascenders. This can make sense if you're looking at languages like German, which use a lot of caps, and you might want the caps to stick out less. Especially if for instance your font is rather wide, caps at full ascender height might look too massive (since caps quite often enclose space [like an "O"], whereas most ascenders are just sticks).

Arno Enslin's picture

1. I am not a professional, but here are a few assumptions: Tall capitals dominate a letter string in contradiction to tall ascenders. It is easier to recognize taller ascenders, if they follow a capital. I think, they can improve the rhythm of the text. And probably they offer more flexibility with regard to the design of the bowls (in b and d), because the bowl should not dominate these letters. But maybe the ascender height is even more important with regard to the design of the f. Furthermore I assume, that they can slightly (!) improve the gray value in case of relatively long lines (and big line spacing).

Robert Trogman's picture

Digitized fonts now have the freedom to let ascenders and descenders to work as random characters that enhance an alphabet. It's also the calligraphy thing.

Nick Shinn's picture

Note that Jenson's face had massive ascender-height capitals, but Griffo made the improvement soon after ("Bembo" the typeface).
550 years ago.

However, the modern style put caps at ascender height, 200 years ago.

So, a different strategy for oldstyle and modern.

Carter's Olympian was the first 20th century news font to have ascenders taller than caps.
This trend has continued, and now faces like H&FJ's Chronicle leverage this effect mightily.

eliason's picture

In case it's of assistance or interest: Stanley Morison argued for shorter caps relative to ascenders in "Towards an Ideal Type," published in the Fleuron in 1927.

Michael Jarboe's picture


Yeah, sorry about my wordaging, "just" isn't the best wordage for that description… and, yeah it started as a couple of questions, but I added the third at the last minute and didn't think to revise the first line.

Thanks for all the responses, great feedback!

avanyashin's picture


Small Caps are generally taller than x-height. Petite Caps are the size of x-height.
There are also Quad- and Medium– Caps (according to Maxim Zhukov)


For this reason Cyrillic typographers manually increase the Small Caps' size.
I designed a Cyrillic typeface with an additional stylistic set that has taller Small Caps (85% compared to 80% of Cap Height).
But it needs to be used with caution and cannot be used in multilingual texts.

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