Georgia: old style text figures

Georgia old style figures blend into textOld style figures blend invisibly into text.

Old style text figures (or lower case, non-lining numerals) have become popular in graphic design in recent years. Typesetters use old style figures mainly in book publishing and magazines because they are lower case and blend into text, but graphic designers have been largely ignorant of old style figures owing in part to the lack of affordable extended type families in the early years of desktop publishing. For decades now, most numerals in text have been “lining” or “modern” figures—essentially all caps.

Matthew Carter designed Georgia in 1996 for Microsoft’s Web Core Fonts program, and it’s now everywhere online. Why?—because it was included (wisely) in the system software for both Macs and PCs. Web designers preferred system fonts for live type (type which is still editable or can be selected/copied—not a static graphic) so that default fonts (think Times and Arial) would not be substituted for display.

Georgia, a lovely, highly readable typeface has handsome old style figures, and since Georgia is now ubiquitous, it has renewed interest in non-lining text numerals. Thank you Matthew Carter, and (dare we say) thank you Microsoft.


Google AdWords versus Facebook advertising

Google AdWords versus Facebook ads infographic

A thumbnail understanding of Google AdWords and Facebook ads and promoted posts:

Google Adwords: comparable to the yellow pages or classified ads

Google Adwords is search-based. Users are looking for your service or product and AdWords puts you in their search results. The more you are willing to pay per click, the higher you’ll appear in the results. Adwords offers keyword targeting, and allows you to target by location. It also offers negative keywords for excluding clicks that you do not want.

Facebook: comparable to television and radio ads

Facebook ads and promoted posts are like mass media—newspapers, television and radio. Use Facebook for upcoming events, to make your brand known, or to promote a candidate or ballot measure. Facebook allows you to target users based on location and demographics, but you are competing for attention in users’ newsfeed.

Italic ampersands liven up logos

italic ampersands add verve to an otherwise dull logo
Bulmer MT Regular with a Goudy Oldstyle Italic ampersand

The italic versions of ampersands are typically less restrained than their roman counterparts. As Robert Bringhurst wrote, “Since the ampersand is more often used in display work than in ordinary text…there is rarely any reason not to borrow the italic ampersand for use with roman text.” This is yet more true for display work and logos.

If a given typeface has a dull italic ampersand (some do), find an exciting alternative in another face (Caslon and Goudy Oldstyle are beauties). Make sure that the thicks, thins and overall weight are compatible with the rest of the type, but a Roman italic can be used stunningly even with a sans serif face.

Cincinnati Type Foundry sale flyer

Cincinnati Type Foundry sale flyer

We recently purchased this 11″ x 17″ sale flyer. Typographic ephemera typically consists of beautiful broadsides from foundries, advertising a new typeface on high-quality paper, but this is a notice of a sale of “secondhand job type” printed on low-quality paper. It was likely distributed to print shops in the region served by the Cincinnati Type Foundry. These faces would have been used in “job printing,” business cards, stationery, etc.

Cincinnati Type Foundry used job type sale flyer.There‘s a mention of the “War of 1861,” so we know that it was printed after what became better known as the Civil War. In 1892 Cincinnati Type Foundry was merged into American Type Founders. View a larger scan of the entire flyer.

The colorful etymology of the ‘giclée’ print

Giclée inkjet art printer

Q: What’s the difference between a giclée and an inkjet?
A: A couple hundred bucks.

In the world of limited edition art prints, giclée is a fancy word for inkjet art prints. There is a difference in quality between the office inkjet copier and a giclée printer, but the term ‘inkjet’ might sound a bit too pedestrian in an art gallery. According to Merriam-Webster, a digital print maker in California coined the term in 1991 after consulting a French dictionary in search of a suitably upscale euphemism. He found the word ‘gicler,’ which means ‘to spray’ or ‘to jet.’

Giclée printer cartridges

Giclée would have a cachet that ‘digital ink jet print’ couldn’t achieve. Later, printers discovered that in French ‘gicler’ was slang for ‘to ejaculate,’ but the term had by then been widely embraced by North American galleries. Giclée is still in use, but the unsexy straightforward ‘digital ink jet print’ has regained currency and is now the preferred usage.

Type Anatomy

Type Anatomy and odd sorts

Here is our type anatomy chart, which was inspired by a similar diagram in U&lc magazine in the early 1980s. Access a high resolution pdf here. Besides typographic parts, we’ve included some sorts that will look familiar to most people, though the names of these characters may not be in common use.


St. Patrick’s leprechaun, shamrock, green beer typeface

Book of Kells uncials

Uncials from the The Book of Kells (or some other illuminated insular document)

Every year we trundle out the “Gaelic fonts,” for St. Patrick’s Day. Insular (Irish) scripts, or uncials started out as a Byzantine script which enjoyed widespread use, but they are now often associated with the Book of Kells and are viewed as Celtic, or perhaps even less accurately as Gaelic. Uncials are a script form which was developed from Latin cursive during the early Byzantine era (third century) along with the new, smooth media of parchment and vellum. Ascenders and descenders were developed in uncials, contributing to the later development of upper and lower case in early printed Gothic typefaces.

Libra, a Bitstream typeface

Libra, an uncial face from Bitstream

With the invention of moveable type, upper and lower case blackletter, commonly called Gothic, replaced uncials. Blackletter was perhaps less legible than uncials, and was soon supplanted by the more readable Roman types that are still popular today (“Roman” may be a misnomer in that they were based on the easy-on-the-eye Carolingian Minuscule script). Uncials were quite dead for a few centuries, but they were later introduced as display types for printers in the 19th century for decorative, antiquarian purposes, and now, of course, they are available digitally. Uncials are now so closely associated with all things Irish, that they could be classified as “chop suey” typefaces.

The etymology of uncial goes something like, “from Latin uncialis, from uncia (inch),” but Alexander & Nicholas Humez, in their brilliant book ABC et Cetera: the Life & Times of the Roman Alphabet, offer other etymologies. Uncial also could have been St. Jerome’s reference to either illuminated letters, or to “hooked” letters, depending upon how uncialibus was misspelled by the Saintly Dalmatian.

Either way, St. Jerome had sound advice: Use uncials sparingly. Nowadays, they are more likely to be associated with clovers, leprechauns, green beer, and kelly green “Kiss me, I’m Irish” t-shirts than with mediaeval monastic scribes.

Quotation marks & apostrophes versus primes

primes versus quotes

Single primes are used to mark feet, and double primes for inches. They are no substitute for apostrophes and quotation marks—a mistake made even in (shudder) company logos.

The apostrophe, or single closed quote, is used for contractions or possessives. It’s also used as an elision (e.g., “the ’30s and  ’40s were horrible decades for Europe”—the apostrophe stands in for the missing “19”). Some refer to typographers’ quotes as “curly quotes” or “smart quotes.”

Favicons: tiny branding

favicons in use

A favicon (or “favorite icon”) was the 16 pixel square image that precedes the website title in browser window tabs (see illustration). Favicons are now used for tile and touch icons, iPhones and Android/Chrome apps, so they need to be larger (WordPress likes a 512 x 512 pixel image) so that they can be distributed correctly on different devices and apps. Thumbnail logos, of which browser tab favicons are the smallest, are not legible, so we recommend a simplified logo, or an initial or monogram in the brand color(s). This applies to avatars and social media profile images as well.

favicon Carson Park DesignHere’s our logo glyph at 75 pixels. It looks appropriate in a tiny browser tab or as an app image. Favicons have become hilariously complicated over the years, but the WordPress solution has made favicons easy to implement for millions of website admins.