Fonts with mid-caps?

mforbes's picture

At first, the idea of using small-caps for acronyms etc. is very appealing, but typographic success depends on an appropriate font: if the small-caps have the same x-height, then plurals and mixed case forms look quite poor (OpenMP, DoE, GeV, PDEs) etc. leading some to abandon the approach altogether (see this thread about typesetting units for example.)

What fonts provide suitable mid caps (quarter caps?) to support consistent and thorough use of small-caps for acronyms etc.?

I know Actium, but at the time of writing, however, this is the only font with the "mid caps" tag on MyFonts. Many other fonts are suitable: FF Atma provides both mid and quarter caps for example, and other fonts like Vesper Pro (as discussed in this thread) have larger SC with the x-height caps as petite caps. What other fonts provide this or similar features? (If you know of too many alternatives to list, I am mostly interested in text-faces for extended scientific, so fonts that would work well with math fonts such as Zapf's AMS Euler font would be appreciated.) I know of the following:

  • Actium: Actium is discussed in this thread and supports a wonderful "Smart Capo" feature of contextual alternatives that automatically replaces acronyms etc. with appropriate midsize caps (try it out in the MyFonts sample - though this fails to capitalize acronyms at the start of the sentence. Probably just a sample limitation.) Are there any other fonts with contextual alternatives?
  • FF Atma Serif: Provides mid caps and quarter caps. (Not exactly sure if this is implemented as separate weights or with the OTF Petite-Caps feature.)
  • Vesper Pro: Provides larger SC and x-height petite caps.

What other fonts would work well for a complete treatment of acronyms, units, etc. with small or mid caps?


p.s. As I am new to this site, I did not yet start a wiki page to collect this list, but will if the thread manages to collect a good selection of fonts. What would be the best index to include this under? Perhaps a FAQ?

Andreas Stötzner's picture

–> Lapidaria Maior.

Andron-Versalmediuskeln (supposedly the same as mid-caps) are developed but not yet released. I would like to show but image upload is still not working here …
I could send an image off-list, if you’re interested.

hrant's picture

Co-shameless co-plug:


> image upload is still not working here

The last time I tried (a modest GIF,
maybe a couple of weeks ago) it worked.
Firefox 9.0.1 (on Win-XP, if that matters).


kentlew's picture

> image upload is still not working here

Just has to be under 130K. I don’t know why the Punchcut tech guys haven’t solved this yet. I thought we had some solid leads.

Nick Shinn's picture

Actium … supports a wonderful "Smart Capo" feature …

It’s an interesting idea, but it should have been implemented as a Stylistic Set, which is discretionary, not Contextual Alternates, which is on by default in CS apps etc.

Without any features applied, it causes strange things to happen, such as a mixture of lining and old style figures, e.g. at the Museum of Modern Art:

Rather than save time, I suspect Smart Capo would require extra vigilance in typography and proofreading.

IMO, the default figure style should remain so if no features are applied by the typographer, and the Small Capitals feature (smcp) should always show the default figure style, with lining, small-cap-height figures belonging in the All Small Capitals feature (smcp + c2sc).

charles ellertson's picture

Depending on the features of the layout program -- we use InDesign -- you can scale the small caps in a character style, and scale them non-proportionally. Now I'm sure the purists will howl, but as long as you don't go too far, it works. I've gone up to about 107% vertically and 104% (IIRC) horizontally in Minion, before the weight gets too great.

The apparent weight is the biggest limiting factor, as the glyphs pick up weight as you scale them up. That and not going too far in one direction, so as to distort them too much. Finally, with InDesign, you lose kerning between a scaled glyph any other glyph not so scaled -- like the apostrophe, lower case s, etc. Kerning within the scaled glyphs is not affected.

It is best to have two sets of "small caps" in the font. Lacking that, and lacking permission to modify the font by adding them, such scaling in the layout program is about all that's available. As usual, it is more work than modifying the font by adding to it, unless you only use the font occasionally. If you're using Adobe fonts, or another font with permission to modify, and you know your way around a font editing program, that's the best way.


Igor Freiberger's picture

Michael, the problem you point was one of the main reasons I decided to develop my own font. The project uses larger small caps and petite caps which match x-height, as can be viewed here and in a thread from the Critique section.

mforbes's picture

Thanks everyone for your comments and suggestions.

@Charles: Ultimately I will probably be doing most of the layout with LaTeX or XeLaTeX which would, in principle, allows for quite a bit of programmatic flexibility, including the ability to fake caps by scaling. However, I would rather use a font with two sets of caps designed in as you suggest.

That being said, it raises an interesting question: Given a well proportioned x-height small-cap and full cap, how well would interpolating between these to produce a mid-cap work? I would imagine that such an interpolation would be quite reasonable as it should preserve the weight of the characters much better than simply scaling in two directions could. (I will have to explore with some of the fonts supplying both small and mid-caps to see how well the mid-caps represent such an interpolation.)

@Nick: I was wondering how well the Smart Capo feature would work in practice: I agree that it might become a proof-reading nightmare. As I plan to work in (Xe)LaTeX, I will probably do all the markup manually through semantic markup (acronyms etc.) so the automagic behaviour is not really needed (but I liked the idea).

@Andreas: Andron might work nicely. This is not something I need immediately though, so I can probably wait until Andron-Versalmediuskeln is released.

@hrant: Not sure if Ernestine will work for me, but it looks very nice.


charles ellertson's picture

Just as a point of clarification, what I'm talking about is scaling the existing small caps up a bit, not "faking" them from full caps. Of course, TeX will let you do this as well.

BTW, there have been several threads in Typophile on how to make "true-cut" small caps from the full caps. Its been a number of years since I used TeX -- and we used plain TeX with our own macros -- but the main reason to go to a font editing program is to be able to control the weight. Couldn't do that with the old TeX, or any layout program I know of. Just a matter of time, I imagine.

In a font editing program, scale down the full caps, non-proportionally. When starting with full caps, my starting point is to scale down 4 percent less horizontally than vertically. Of course, you have to look at the result & adjust as necessary. Then increase the weight. The other reason to use a font editing program is to handle the little touches that let you create really "true-cut" small and/or petite and/or mid caps. Serifs, and the round letters...


The other thing to watch for is the x-height not be generally too large. If it is large, there isn't much room for distinct petite caps. I was thinking of Charis, which we've modified successfully for our work, but the x-height is quite large. Petite caps could be done, but would be a bit tricky.

Open Source fonts like Charis are of course modifiable, and those modifications can be distributed. At 11:00pm at home, I can't remember just which Gyre fonts are actually good ... Sadly, I find most rather lacking. IIRC, Pagella isn't too bad, if you can stand a Palatino.

mforbes's picture

As far as Libre fonts go, I was thinking that Sebastian's Crimson Text (discussed here) would also be a good place to start.

@Igor: Palimpsest looks interesting too. Thanks for pointing it out.

Té Rowan's picture – Bhikkhu Pesala has reworked some old standards with, among other niceties, small-caps and petit-caps. IIRC, the latter are x-height with the small-caps a bit taller. Most or all of these fonts are GPLed.

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