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[Typography] Special Characters II

category: Design | course: Typography | difficulty:
1. Figures
2. Miscellaneous

Continuing on last chapter, I will discuss a very important special character: figures or numerals. At the end, I will also include some simple left-over rules on special characters, which are nevertheless quite important to know!


Much like a proper font always has uppercase and lowercase variations of the exact same letter, good fonts should have multiple versions of the same numeral. Two styles are available: lining and old style.


Lining Figures

These are the figures usually linked up with the 0–9 keys on your keyboard. They are called this way, because the top and bottom ends of all numerals line up. In other words, these are the uppercase characters of the numerals – all of them have the same height as the cap height of the font. An alternative name is titling figures.

Not surprisingly, these should be used in phrases with all caps.

Old Style Figures

As opposed to lining figures, these are designed to look like lowercase letters. They have descenders and ascenders, and in general fit in with the lowercase letters of the font.

Not surprisingly (again), these figures should be used among lowercase text.

Tabular Figures

Both lining and old style figures can be either tabular or proportional. In the first case, every figure has the exact same width (like a monospaced font), while in the second case each figure is sized proportionately to its shape.

As the name suggest, tabular figures are best to use in tables or spreadsheets, or any visualization of a large set of data, while proportional figures work best in most other cases.



Don’t use an ampersand (&) in place of a simple and. Instead, reserve them for titles, headlines and proper names. In these cases, choose the best and most beautiful ampersand you can find.

Don’t use TM or (c) or anything like that for copyright and trademark symbols. Use the proper symbols, © and ™.

Instead of putting three dots after each other, use ellipses.

Use the virgule (steep slash) with words and dates, and the solidus (more diagonal slash) with split-level fractions.

Use a native dimension sign (a cross mark) instead of the lowercase letter x when dimensions are given.

When people still did inscriptions, it was common to use a midpoint (a dot, but slightly higher) between pieces of text to separate them, instead of a space or other character. For short pieces of text, it is actually still very useful.

And last but not least, if you’re getting serious about typography, you might find it useful to remap your keyboard driver. Lots of useful and necessary symbols are buried far within the keyboard, and by setting your own (hot)keys you can make your life a lot easier.

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