Caps and lowercase spacing

Bendy's picture

Just wondering...

I'm spacing my caps to work with lowercase, since I'm designing a text face where all caps settings will be rare. However, it struck me that it could actually be possible to accommodate all caps settings as well, by adding some extra units to the left sidebearings of capital letters: this wouldn't affect how they look with lowercase (except in situations with interCaps) but could make the caps look nicely spaced amongst themselves. Would this be useful, perhaps for situations where OpenType cpsp isn't available? Have other type designers tried this? Or is it undesirable to have the caps off-centre like this?

Joshua Langman's picture

Wouldn't that make every sentence space look too large? Or would you kern them all against the space? And against any previous character that's not another cap? I'm not a type designer, but I think it'd be better to let the typographer decide how much letterspacing to add, if any.

eliason's picture

That idea was both championed and criticized in this old thread:
http://typophile.com/node/15849

Bendy's picture

Thank you Craig, very instructive.

Joshua, my concern was that most typography I see these days seems to be done by ill-equipped graphic designers; I was hoping to make the font look its best without manual adjustment.

I'm now thinking all caps is such an ugly state of affairs it's probably not worth taking the time to altering their inbuilt spacing and kern.

charles ellertson's picture

I'm now thinking all caps is such an ugly state of affairs it's probably not worth taking the time to altering their inbuilt spacing and kern.

Oft times, the decision on whether or not to use full caps is the designers for display type, but the editors in running text.

It's fine for you to not kern them. Just make sure your EULA allows the end user to modify the fonts, for their own use only. There are very few type designers in the world who actually use type professionally. Kent Lew comes immediately to mind. If your one of the few, I suppose you might be able to make such decisions; if not, leave the decision to those with the expertise.

Nick Shinn's picture

Ben: … most typography I see these days seems to be done by ill-equipped graphic designers…

Charles: … very few type designers in the world who actually use type professionally …

Oh dear, a sorry state of affairs.

Bendy's picture

Nick, I agree, and I'm going to start a thread at some point about what we can do about type education. I think there's potential, but need to collect my thoughts first.

charles ellertson's picture

Ben, I think Nick was poking fun at me. While we respect each other some -- well, at least I have some respect for him -- we don't much care for each other. Different world views (leave that alone, Nick. I can make just as much fun with that line as you can).

Which doesn't make you wrong...

But in the same way that you can't teach how to draw good letterforms without including a fair bit of hands-on work, you can't teach using them without the same.

Nick Shinn's picture

Charles, I love you man.
(And one day I may even get around to publishing the update of Goodchild that you were kind enough to help me with; please don't take my tardiness personally, I still have a lot of legacy-format fonts I haven’t published OpenType upgrades to, but other things keep getting in the way.)

To clarify: I merely observed that there were two opposing and rather pessimistic viewpoints expressed in this thread.

One pointing out that the inexperience of type designers in setting type may impact the quality of their work, the other noting the typographic shortcomings of graphic designers.

These are opinions which have no merit, sweeping generalizations — as the terms “type designer” and “graphic designer” are so broadly used, firstly to describe anyone who has ever published a font of any kind, and secondly anyone who uses an Adobe application.

I don’t know the statistics, but I suspect a lot more than “very few” type designers (however you cast that net) have practical professional experience setting type; not of course the complex academic work you do Charles, but it is typography none the less.

I would also point out that some of the most accomplished types for that kind of high-end book work were designed by people with very little “client side” experience.

It may well be the case that the less accomplished type designers have more practical experience as typographers, because the majority of their income comes from general graphic design work, whereas those who have been successful as type designers from the get-go have consequently done very little professional typography.

k.l.'s picture

I'm now thinking all caps is such an ugly state of affairs it's probably not worth taking the time to altering their inbuilt spacing and kern.

I would say it is the other way round. It is most fonts' built-in spacing which turns all caps setting into an ugly state of affairs. :)

hrant's picture

> These are opinions which have no merit

Sorry, they most certainly do.
It results in a paradox of sorts, but hey.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

I've been told that you should space the caps with the H and O, and then kern caps to the lower case. Otherwise, it will never be right in all caps settings. To start with I think you want the H and O to not be wildly far away from the lower case. That means your caps will be a bit too tight in all caps setting. But then either set as is or tracked out by the software or cpsp they won't look heinous. Even after you kern the caps to caps, in titles they will need more kerning by the user; there seems to be no way to avoid the need for that.

Also with this approach the kerning to the lower case of the other letters is generally not too extreme. That is important because you never know when your font is not going to be kerned at all. And your all-caps will generally look non-heinous even kerning off, as well, with this approach.

So text face, or not, that is the way to go. Or so I've been told. Makes sense to me.

eliason's picture

Bill, I don't understand what you've said here: sentence 1 & 2 seem to me to contradict 3 & 4. If you're spacing the caps with H and O, why would they be too tight in all caps setting?

William Berkson's picture

Sorry it's late here, and I'm tired so I probably wasn't so clear.

The first step, to my thinking is to make sure that the right side bearings of the H and O are close enough to lower case letters, eg n and o, not to look weird unkerned. And you want the H to be spaced equidistant between two Os, and Os between two Hs. Your HHOHHOOHOHO also needs to look decently balanced without kerning. That's a balancing act that's likely going to put them closer than ideal in all caps settings, at least by traditional ideas about all caps spacing. So the sensitive user will track out the all caps, or use cpsp, which you instruct to space them out some.

What I actually have done while spacing the caps to caps (after setting the H and O) is always to check at the effect of the caps to caps spacing on caps to lower case letters, just to make sure things aren't getting too weird. Of course, the letters need to be well designed so they space properly. It doesn't just happen. If you have screwed up then you can catch and correct it. Of course then you still have to do cap to cap and cap to lower case kerning. But even if kerning is turned off (as in Word), or in a publication, your font will then still look decent.

eliason's picture

Got it, thanks for clarifying.

k.l.'s picture

Hello Bill, in more general terms: Caps need one kind of spacing when in all-caps context and another kind of spacing when in lowercase context. By "spacing" I mean the determination of distances between letters, irrespective of how this is implemented. (In the currently dominant paradigm, spacing needs to be implemented by way of sidebearings and kerning. Plus, more or less as an optional add-on, some contextual positioning.)
The steps which you describe reflect one possible implementation. There are other ways to implement it, like via contextual positioning. Even when avoiding contextuality and restricting oneself to sidebearings plus kerning, there are still a variety of approaches left. The problem which I see with all non-contextual approaches is that when starting with a (for a given typeface) less-than-perfect beat then it is impossible to get the rhythm right. You indicate this when you write: To start with I think you want the H and O to not be wildly far away from the lower case. That means your caps will be a bit too tight in all caps setting. This compromise is, one way or another, a built-in feature of all sidebearings plus kerning approaches: Once H and O are already too close (they need to be or caps to lowercase spacing will be too wide), there is not enough default space left between caps that helps special ones like A L V W Y etc to disappear, and they will always stand out as being surrounded by more space than other caps. After all, the trick of all-caps spacing – the essence of Tschichold's advices or Kindersley's mechanism – is simple: Make sure that inter-caps spacing is wide enough so that the spaces caused by special caps does not stand out. Don't let letters that can be spaced tightly determine the beat. Let special ones determine the beat.
(A completely different issue is all-caps spacing aesthetics. In book typography, good all-caps spacing is rather wide, causing word images of evenly distributed black and white. In magazine & advertising typography, it is rather tight, causing word images of irregularly distributed of black and white. What is considered as bad all-caps spacing in book typography is what makes magazine typography interesting.)
This is a bit theoretical. It is not to suggest that your implementation approach is wrong but rather that it is but one among many possible ones. And, given current technology and its limitations, each approach has its own drawback, either in terms of design or in terms of being supported.

[Sorry for some post posting edits.]

charles ellertson's picture

Nice job, Karsten!

William Berkson's picture

Karsten, nice post.

As I understand it, Kindersley believed that once you had correctly positioned a glyph between its side bearings, and had the total advance width correct in relationship to other glyphs, then tracking should make no difference. You might get overlaps (eg KA) with tight kerning, but otherwise everything would be optimally balanced, as you go looser or tighter with tracking. I really wonder whether he was right, though. It seems like all caps titles always benefit from re-fitting. And, as you say, what appropriate tightness or looseness is different with the usage.

Could you explain more what you mean by "contextual positioning?" Kerning is one kind of contextual positioning. Another is contextual alternatives. In Williams Caslon Text to handle the old style long-nosed f's, in addition to kerning I used contextual alternatives, sensitive to the following letter or space. Also, inspired by Charles's comments on Typophile, I also used contextual alternatives to handle triplets involving spaces, like f space T.

Are you advocating more widespread use of contextual alternatives? What do you have in mind? Are you thinking of more sensitivity to triplets?

I know John Hudson would like to see a system of "envelope" shapes that would determine fitting and erase the spacing/kerning distinction, which is an anachronism in digital type.

I agree that this would be an advance. The approach I followed was as you say trying to cope with our existing system. I tried to get the final result with kerning and contextual alternatives have "right rhythm," as you put it. But I was also concerned with the practical problem that you don't want your font totally wrecked with both kerning and contextual alternatives not used.

This isn't just a theoretical possibility, as Boston Magazine, the years when it was using Williams Caslon Text, didn't have any kerning. I winced occasionally when I looked at samples, but it looks like no one else gave a shit :)

hrant's picture

On the one hand users who don't make an effort to enable kerning
don't care enough about the results to be affected; on the other
hand some of their users (i.e. readers) will certainly care, or at the
very least be affected even if they don't notice. So a font sort of
needs to give good results in spite of the setter.

BTW Karsten: All good, just no "rhythm" involved.

hhp

charles ellertson's picture

hrant,

Ah, the old comp-as-tradesman notion, where a typesetter's job is to not make mistakes, while his betters solve problems. "Betters" being the various designers, though actually, with hot metal, the type designer was expected to make compromises.

That's why AIGA went with the actors union; they didn't want to be associated with a bunch of tradesmen. Sometime I'll give you my argument why that's no longer appropriate (I figure you already know where I stand...)

Actually, I better not. Rich Hendel twisted my arm into writing a chapter for his forthcoming book that touches on this. While I doubt anyone would buy it to read my thoughts, I think it's considered inappropriate to leak things? Kent Lew has written a chapter as well. The plan is for next year, to be published by the University of Iowa Press. Kent's a *type* designer, so y'all buy 10 copies each, y'hear?

eliason's picture

Since this discussion is about trying to think ahead carefully about how design might actually reach the end user, I find this amusing:

hrant's picture

A good typesetter's job -especially these days of solo efforts- is much
more than that. But a type designer shouldn't assume they're all good.
No matter the position, if an issue is within your power to address, do it.

BTW, the book sounds interesting. And Kent is a friend.
But the UCLA library is still my go-to money-saving device. :-)

Craig: Touché. What to do? I can't get myself to
produce something hard to read for most users.
Is there a column width short enough to be safe
even on iGadgets?

hhp

eliason's picture

Well, here's how that came out:


Third time's the charm?

hrant's picture

Craig, uh, what about the content? I assume
you realize my posts aren't just meant for you...

And I rarely complain how crappy it is to read
most of your (plural) posts... Like Karsten's was a
frightening monolith - it's a good thing I managed
to force myself to read it.

hhp

k.l.'s picture

Bill – Kindersley believed that once you had correctly positioned a glyph between its side bearings, and had the total advance width correct in relationship to other glyphs, then tracking should make no difference.

The middle part, and had the total advance width correct in relationship to other glyphs, is the crucial one and, my impression, is an aspect that Kindersley dealt with rather silently in his approach, possibly didn't even care about. His article "Optical Letter Spacing" (Penrose Annual, volume 62, 1969, pp 167–176) shows, on p 175, a comparison of tight (left) and wide (right) spacing as created with his approach, by example of the caps alphabets of Folio, Times, Perpetua and Optima. The tight spacing column is telling: The L is too close to, and sometimes even touches, the M which follows. He doesn't mention this explicitly yet this demo shows that overall spacing width is an implicit factor. If too tight, the method does not yield proper results.

Could you explain more what you mean by "contextual positioning?"

It is how I translate my initial observation, that caps need one kind of spacing when in all-caps context and another kind of spacing when in lowercase context, into the current spacing-plus-kerning paradigm and OpenType add-on: There is one set of sidebearings for lowercase context; this is the default sidebearings. Then there is another set of sidebearings for all-caps context; these 'alternative' sidebearings are implemented by adjusting glyphs' positioning and/or advance widths contextually, via the GPOS table. (This is what I did in some of my fonts. Another factor, though, is each typeface's design. Not every typeface needs caps to be spaced differently for different contexts – a number of recent typefaces have rather narrow caps which produce the same 'beat' as lowercase letters anyway.)
Indeed 'normal' kerning can be interpreted as a special case of contextually adjusting positioning and/or advance width.
Kerning triplets sound interesting for dealing with a few exception cases but is not what I was thinking of.

The approach I followed was as you say trying to cope with our existing system. ... But I was also concerned with the practical problem that you don't want your font totally wrecked with both kerning and contextual alternatives not used.

And this makes pretty much sense. When I wrote that my comment is not to suggest that your implementation approach is wrong, this was not mere rhetorics. Over time I got weary of trying to push the boundaries of the current paradigm within the current paradigm. It only gets one so far. I realized that one better acknowledges a given technology's limitations – or come up with new technology. And, like you say, it looks like no one else gave a shit. :(

hhp – BTW Karsten: All good, just no "rhythm" involved.

I guess you aren't surprised that I am not surprised reading this. ;-)

hrant's picture

You might however be surprised to hear that I wouldn't
have said anything if William hadn't repeated the term. :-)

hhp

k.l.'s picture

I am!

A little update. I wrote that the overall spacing width ('beat') is an aspect that Kindersley dealt with rather silently in his approach. In the Cardozo Kindersley workshop's "Optical letter spacing for new printing systems" publication (2001 edition) he does mention it when discussing the OILIO test string: For practical reasons kerning is undesirable in the initial stages of dtermining relative optical spaces for characters. Therefore close setting which would produce this is to be avoided. ... The ideal working set therefore would be when the 'L' is provided with the minimum space without any part of it projecting beyond its space. (p 31) Though the description of his approach begins with the spacing of O and I, actually it is the L which determines the 'beat' for spacing O and I. (The dramaturgical order doesn't necessarily mirror the order of what the story is about, true for fiction as well as non-fiction.)

William Berkson's picture

Karsten, I was aware of the idea of initially determining looseness or tightness with the L. But somewhere he also says that overlapping is preferable to changing side bearings. so the idea of further kerning seems to be something added after the death of Kindersley. But I may have the story wrong, and I don't have time to look back over it. In the end, I think Kindersley's idea of an optical center is good, but his ways of determining it—other than by eye—never really worked. And he didn't acknowledge that at tighter settings kerning involves compromise between different ideals, such as even color vs not having letters touching.

k.l.'s picture

Yes.

Nick Shinn's picture

I didn’t consciously develop a method for spacing Parity (unicase).
It struck me that it has more of the qualities of minuscule setting when set tight, and the qualities of all-cap setting when letterspaced. That may have something to do with the fact that it’s a lining style.

Another thing with Parity; as it is configured as “Unicase with Small Unicase”, I was forced to be more specific and describe letters as majuscule, minuscule, or common, rather than in terms of “Upper and Lower Case”.

Anyway, I think I have acquired some extra knowledge about spacing through working on this style, although I’m not sure how it will play out in my next bicameral design.

I try not to systematize things like letter spacing; I don't think spacing is something to be added on after glyph shaping—there’s a feedback loop in which glyph shape and spacing evolve in sync during the design process.

Some ideas I’ve tried: wider sidebearings for “I”; narrower serifs for letters such as “E”; different serif widths at top and bottom.

Slab serif types are the worst to space without kerning.

dezcom's picture

In order to avoid very odd first glyph in line spacing for caps, I set side bearings to fit better with lowercase [tighter] and kern positive between some caps classes. This avoids the need to use capital spacing feature.

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