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What are their purposes?
As I understand it, they are hints towards the size or use they were designed for.
Foo Caption will likely be tuned for sizes smaller than Foo Text; Foo Subtitle for larger text (say, subheadings) and Foo Display for larger still.
I think it was Nick Shinn that stated in an older thread that a good typographer could mix and match 'em with abandon to make the text look good. This of course implies that plonkers like me had best stay with the recipe lest we reinvent Tendo Akane's cooking.
Here is what Adobe says about it: http://www.adobe.com/type/topics/opticalsize.html For each font, they provide more precise values.
For instance for Utopia they write: Utopia Std family contains faces designed for the following optical sizes: Caption: design size 8.0 points, for use from 6.0 to 8.9 points; Body Text: design size 11.0 points, for use from 8.9 to 13.0 points; Subhead: design size 18.0 points, for use from 13.0 to 20.0 points; Display: design size 72.0 points, for use from 20.0 to 72.0 points
For Arno Pro they say: Arno Pro family contains faces designed for the following optical sizes: Caption: design size 8.0 points, for use from 5.9 to 8.5 points; SmText: design size 10.0 points, for use from 8.5 to 10.9 points; Body Text: design size 12.0 points, for use from 10.9 to 14.0 points; Subhead: design size 18.0 points, for use from 14.0 to 21.5 points; Display: design size 36.0 points, for use from 21.5 to 72.0 points.
In general, 'caption' is a design variation created to draw attention to text under a picture or image component in a layout.
Many times the italic is just too visually different from the roman text (too cursive) so a special font is developed, with a slight angle and some cursive elements, overall, that distinguish the copy from the roman and draw the eyes attention to it. To put it another way, it looks more like a sloped roman font as opposed to a true cursive italic.
A clever idea. I used it when I developed the new digital version of Fairfield for Linotype-Hell.
Certainly, not a new idea... Matthew Carter used it, I believe, for a typeface he did for National Geographic.
And, for 'Display' you could tighten up the spacing between letters for a large display headline. But ideally, you should use a display font specifically created for this purpose. It incorporates, not just tighter inter-letter spacing but slightly lighter stems, hairlines, narrower body proportions, etc. to adjust the color overall to work better with the same font used for body text below it.
Like the display fonts I developed for Electra. called 'Electra Display'... see link.
I hope this helps.
Thank you all very much for the information!
> I think it was Nick Shinn that stated in an older thread that a
> good typographer could mix and match 'em with abandon to
> make the text look good.
Sadly the "taste" of an individual says little about actual readability...
One man's muddle is another man's clarity.