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Understanding drop caps


InDesign Typography

with Nigel French

Video: Understanding drop caps

Drop Caps or initial caps, decorative first letters have been used for centuries as chapter-opening devices. Today they are used to signify the beginning of articles in magazines and newspapers. There are relatively few rules involved with creating a Drop Cap, we can really do whatever we want. Our only restriction is that of common sense. So I have several different treatments for drop or initial caps, and I'm now going to come to my Layers panel where I will turn on the beginning layer and here we have the starting state, and I am just going to run through how I created these.
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  1. 4m 4s
    1. Welcome
    2. Using the exercise files
    3. Customizing the workspace for type
      2m 18s
  2. 9m 25s
    1. What is Typekit? (CC 2014.1)
      1m 56s
    2. Choosing and syncing fonts (CC 2014.1)
      3m 6s
    3. Syncing problems (CC 2014.1)
      1m 43s
    4. Typekit resources (CC 2014.1)
      1m 5s
    5. Using the Font menu (CC 2014.1)
      1m 35s
  3. 55m 41s
    1. Working with text frames
      8m 26s
    2. Using a primary text frame (CS6 and later)
      3m 59s
    3. Understanding text flow methods
      6m 25s
    4. Understanding text threads
      3m 40s
    5. Understanding Smart Text Reflow
      2m 27s
    6. Mocking up pages with placeholder text
      5m 47s
    7. Placing multiple text files
      3m 50s
    8. Using Auto-Size text frames (CS6 and later)
      4m 1s
    9. Copying and pasting vs. placing
      2m 25s
    10. Cleaning up text with Find/Change
      5m 46s
    11. Using the Story Editor
      3m 41s
    12. Spanning columns
      5m 14s
  4. 48m 34s
    1. Choosing your type
      6m 46s
    2. Understanding text essentials
      6m 37s
    3. Scaling type
      2m 27s
    4. Using italic and oblique type
      4m 33s
    5. Working with condensed and extended type
      4m 26s
    6. Setting type in all caps
      3m 46s
    7. Setting type in small caps
      4m 21s
    8. Underlining type
      4m 11s
    9. Using superscript and subscript
      4m 35s
    10. Applying baseline shift
      4m 8s
    11. Combining typefaces (CC 2014.1)
      2m 44s
  5. 16m 6s
    1. Understanding type anatomy
      3m 25s
    2. Exploring serif and sans serif
      2m 48s
    3. Comparing points, picas, and ems
      8m 34s
    4. What's in a name?
      1m 19s
  6. 16m 27s
    1. Setting leading
      4m 56s
    2. Avoiding auto-leading
      4m 12s
    3. Leading shortcuts and preferences
      4m 7s
    4. Using autoleading with inline graphics
      3m 12s
  7. 21m 25s
    1. Defining kerning and tracking
      2m 5s
    2. Understanding kerning methods
      5m 10s
    3. When and how to kern
      5m 53s
    4. When and how to track
      8m 17s
  8. 48m 42s
    1. Working with quotes, primes, and apostrophes
      8m 16s
    2. Using dashes
      5m 24s
    3. Using ellipses
      2m 56s
    4. Working with accents and special characters
      4m 1s
    5. Using space characters
      4m 15s
    6. Working with ligatures
      4m 29s
    7. Setting fractions
      3m 56s
    8. Using lining and proportional numerals
      2m 49s
    9. Using alternates, swashes, and ornaments
      5m 2s
    10. Working with optical sizes
      4m 40s
    11. Stylistic sets (CC 2014.1)
      2m 54s
  9. 57m 20s
    1. Understanding alignment
      3m 47s
    2. Working with left-aligned type
      3m 24s
    3. Working with justified type
      7m 5s
    4. Using Optical Margin Alignment
      3m 39s
    5. Determining column width
      4m 53s
    6. Working with center alignment
      5m 36s
    7. Working with right alignment
      1m 22s
    8. Aligning to or away from the spine
      1m 50s
    9. Understanding the Paragraph Composer and Single-line Composer
      3m 44s
    10. Combining alignments
      9m 20s
    11. Using hanging punctuation
      2m 13s
    12. Working with vertical alignment
      10m 27s
  10. 14m 9s
    1. Using first-line indents
      2m 26s
    2. Using indent alternatives
      2m 3s
    3. Working with left and right indents
      4m 0s
    4. Using last-line indents and outdents
      1m 26s
    5. Using paragraph spacing
      4m 14s
  11. 23m 19s
    1. Setting hyphenation
      6m 14s
    2. Working with line breaks and discretionary hyphens
      4m 48s
    3. Balancing ragged lines
      1m 36s
    4. Using the No Break feature and non-breaking characters
      2m 52s
    5. Using frame, column, and page breaks
      3m 42s
    6. Defining Keep Options
      4m 7s
  12. 37m 53s
    1. Understanding tabs
      8m 58s
    2. Considerations for table text
      3m 55s
    3. Table tips and tricks
      11m 55s
    4. Creating a bulleted list
      6m 50s
    5. Creating a numbered list
      3m 46s
    6. Creating a multi-level numbered list
      2m 29s
  13. 23m 12s
    1. Understanding drop caps
      11m 3s
    2. Navigating tricky drop caps
      5m 14s
    3. Using a nested character style with a drop cap
      3m 59s
    4. Other uses of drop caps
      2m 56s
  14. 1h 11m
    1. Understanding paragraph and character styles
      7m 13s
    2. Creating, applying, and editing styles
      7m 3s
    3. Removing overrides
      4m 58s
    4. Creating and applying character styles
      5m 4s
    5. Creating and applying nested styles
      12m 30s
    6. Using GREP styles (regular expressions)
      4m 8s
    7. Creating and applying sequential styles
      6m 19s
    8. Using paragraph rules creatively
      11m 48s
    9. Mapping Word styles
      6m 12s
    10. Working with anchored objects and object styles
      6m 24s
  15. 25m 30s
    1. Applying a text wrap
      6m 7s
    2. Making items ignore a text wrap
      1m 46s
    3. Using text wraps for flexible layouts
      3m 2s
    4. Working with difficult text wraps
      8m 39s
    5. Inverting text wraps
      2m 7s
    6. Setting text wrap preferences
      3m 49s
  16. 29m 33s
    1. Choosing a page size and setting margins
      6m 33s
    2. Setting up columns
      2m 53s
    3. Dividing a page into rows
      3m 27s
    4. Setting up a baseline grid
      5m 40s
    5. Handling baseline grid problems
      3m 37s
    6. Baseline grid tricks
      7m 23s
  17. 44m 26s
    1. Working with type outlines (CC 2014.1)
      6m 50s
    2. Creating an interlocking effect (CC 2014.1)
      3m 31s
    3. Fusing letterforms (CC 2014.1)
      7m 15s
    4. Type and gradients (CC 2014.1)
      4m 57s
    5. Type and transparency (CC 2014.1)
      1m 50s
    6. Type on a path: Circles (CC 2014.1)
      4m 48s
    7. Type on a path: Calligram (CC 2014.1)
      6m 16s
    8. Vertical type (CC 2014.1)
      2m 58s
    9. Type and image: Gradient (CC 2014.1)
      1m 38s
    10. Type and image: "See-through" type (CC 2014.1)
      1m 8s
    11. Type and image: "Disappearing" type (CC 2014.1)
      3m 15s
  18. 12m 19s
    1. Looking at screen documents
      4m 2s
    2. Setting size, leading, and line length onscreen
      3m 13s
    3. Exploring typefaces designed for the screen
      3m 36s
    4. Accessibility: Contrast and color
      1m 28s
  19. 28s
    1. Goodbye

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Watch the Online Video Course InDesign Typography
9h 20m Intermediate Aug 03, 2012 Updated Nov 12, 2014

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Explore the numerous type options, type-related features, and type-specific preferences of Adobe InDesign. Using practical, real-world examples, instructor and designer Nigel French dissects the anatomy of a typeface and defines the vocabulary of typography. The course moves from the micro to the macro level, addressing issues such as choosing page size, determining the size of margins, adjusting number columns, and achieving a clean look with baseline grids. This course takes you from laying out a page to delving into the hows and whys of typography.

Topics include:
  • Understanding text threads and text flow methods in InDesign
  • Using Copy and Paste vs. Place
  • Choosing and combining typefaces
  • Understanding leading and how it relates to type size and column width
  • Comparing points, picas, and ems
  • Learning the proper use of white space and break characters
  • Understanding the finer points of kerning and tracking
  • Working with punctuation, special characters, ornaments, and ligatures
  • Aligning text
  • Applying global formatting with paragraph, character, and object styles
  • Refining spacing with indents
  • Creating drop caps
  • Avoiding common problems associated with justified type and text wraps
  • Setting up margins and columns
Nigel French

Understanding drop caps

Drop Caps or initial caps, decorative first letters have been used for centuries as chapter-opening devices. Today they are used to signify the beginning of articles in magazines and newspapers. There are relatively few rules involved with creating a Drop Cap, we can really do whatever we want. Our only restriction is that of common sense. So I have several different treatments for drop or initial caps, and I'm now going to come to my Layers panel where I will turn on the beginning layer and here we have the starting state, and I am just going to run through how I created these.

So to start with a basic three line Drop Cap. I'll insert my cursor in the text, make sure I am in the Paragraph Formats and enter in the number of lines that I want the character to sink into the paragraph, 3 right there. Now I can also come and change the number of characters. I don't need to in this instance, and rarely do I need to, but I could if I wanted, may be put in 5 right there, and it'd have that effect. Next up, the same approach to begin with a three line one character Drop Cap, but then I am going to select that character, and I am going to increase its point size, which incidentally you'll notice is the same size as the body copy, it doesn't actually give you its true scaled up size.

I am going to press Command+Shift, or Ctrl+Shift, and the More Than key to increase the size of that first character. Now in addition to applying a Drop Cap to the first paragraph, you'll see that both of these instances also have small caps applied to the few words that follow, and this is a common convention just to ease the transition between the big first character and the upper and lowercase of the body text. So I can select these characters here.

I could come and click on small caps right there, but instead I have a character style already prepared, I am just going to click on that. One other change I might want to make, in this particular instance, is I have now opened up quite a big amount of space between the T and the characters that follow, and I'd like to reduce that amount of space. So I am going to insert my cursor between the T and the H and then press Option+Left Arrow, or Alt+Left Arrow, to kern that space tighter.

And you can see that it's very gradually moving those words closer to the T. If I wanted to go in larger increments, I could also hold-down the Command key, or the Ctrl key. The third example is a simple initial cap or stickup cap, it's not a Drop Cap at all, this just involves highlights in the character and making it bigger, nothing more to it than that, also applying small caps optionally to the few words that follow. Note how the leftmost edge of the T is sticking out beyond the left edge of the text frame, and that is because we have Optical Margin Alignment turned on, which I think is a very useful thing in general.

But especially when working with drop caps if I were to turn that off, watch the position of this T. You'll see that it's now confined within the bounds of the text frame. And I think it's preferable to create a strong vertical alignment along the vertical stem of the T so that's the purpose of Optical Margin Alignment. Another common treatment is to begin with a large indent, which involves combining, in this case, an initial cap. So I am just going to increase the point size there and then adding in quite a large First Line Indent, let's say something like that, and then once again we have got the first few characters in small caps.

Now we come to some slightly more tricky examples, and this example right here. I am just going to turn off the Guides for a second. We can see that the initial cap is hanging out into the margin and is actually separated from the text frame and placed in an independent text frame, which is in turn anchored to the main text frame so that should that main text frame move, this will move with it. So how do we do that, we need to highlight the first character, cut it. Click-and-drag to make a separate text frame, paste it in there, change whatever formats about it we want to change.

In this case we are working with a contrasting Sans-serif font, so I will quickly change it to Myriad Pro, and I am going to make it Condensed. Now I want to fit my frame to my content, actually before I do that I am just going to make the content a little bit bigger. Command+Shift+More than, then I am going to fit the frame to the content, that is Command+Option+C, or Ctrl+Alt+C. So now I have the frame tightly fit around that first character.

I can position it wherever I want it to go, and I'd like it to go right there, three lines down, and then I am going to hold Command+Shift and scale that up, scaling it proportionally, however big I want it to be, I'll make it a little bigger this time, and I can nudge it over into position. And if I wanted to I could, in this case, I am going to select the Formatting Effects Text icon right there, I already have a Tint Swatch that I can apply to it to make it a little less overwhelming in the context of the body text.

Now the only problem with things as they stand is that should I move this, it's not going to move the Drop Cap with it, so I am going to select that Drop Cap, and in InDesign CS5.5 and above you will have this solid rectangle, that is in the color of whatever color layer you are on. You can just drag this to whatever point you want to anchor it in the text. Incidentally its color changes in this particular context, because I'm anchoring it in a text frame that is on a blue coded layer. Were you to be doing this in InDesign CS5 or earlier then you need a slightly different approach, for which we start in the same way.

Cut the character, paste it into its own separate text frame, make it bigger, horizontally center it, Command+Shift+C, Command+B, or Ctrl+B, to go to my Text Frame Options, vertically center it. And then I am going to come to my Swatches panel where I'll make its color paper, it now disappears. But then I can switch back to my Selection tool, I have the frame selected, and I can make the frame gray. I can then resize the frame as necessary, giving a tight fit around the character to resize both Command+Shift and click-and-drag.

And now I can just put that wherever I want it to go, I want it to be three lines high. Good idea to get it nice and big, so you can see exactly what you are scaling to. Now normally I would cut-and-paste this as an anchored object. I'm not going to do that in this context because anchored objects behave strangely when combined with text wraps. If you want to combine an anchored object with a Text Wrap, this item would need to go in the paragraph above this paragraph. There is no paragraph above.

So for that reason I am not going to anchor this. But I will come to Text Wrap and then click on Wrap around bounding box and increase that offset as necessary. I want to make sure that I avoid this kind of problem here. I am going to break the link on the Text Wrap offset, and then I'm going to remove the offset from the bottom so that we bring that fourth line underneath the text. Now I said I would show you how to create an anchored object in CS5.5 or earlier and here it's how.

I'll just backwards engineer this one, I am going to cut that from there, paste it so that it's now an independent non-anchored frame. And then to anchor it rather than dragging from this solid rectangle, which you won't have, I am going to cut it, Command+X, or Ctrl+X and set my cursor where I'd like it to be anchored to, paste it, come and select it, Anchored Object > Options, make it into a Custom object, and there. So as long as we don't have Prevent Manual Positioning turned on, we can now come and just position it wherever we want it to go, except that it won't let me drag it up.

And I have got a feeling that has something to do with this one, Keep within Top/Bottom Column Boundaries, let's turn that one off. And we now see it's disappeared all the way up there, and we can drag it back down in position, and finally get it where we want it to go. All right, now that seems like a lot of work, didn't it? And sometimes these anchored objects can be a lot of work, so once you have invested the time in creating one, save it as an Object Style, thereafter you'll just be able to apply the Object Style to this separate frame, and it will remember all of these settings, so you don't need to go through that again.

But obviously you can see there that the anchored objects have been much improved in later versions of InDesign. So I do have two more examples to show you. Let me just show you this other instance first of all in the separate document. And all I'm pointing out here is that sometimes these drop caps can be really, really big. You can make them as big as you want, and if you look at some magazine layouts, you'll even find drop caps that take up virtually the whole page, and sometimes this can be a very beautiful thing, if you're working with a graceful character.

Back now to this, the last instance that I'm going to do and what we have here is a contoured Drop Cap where the text is actually wrapping around the shape of the initial character. So as with before I am going to cut that, I am going to paste it into a frame. I am going to size it up a bit, and then I am going to fit the frame to the content, I am going to drag it into position, all this stuff that you have already seen me do. This time we want to go four lines in.

I am going to scale it up, position it, and I'm deliberately letting it hang out beyond the left-hand edge of the frame. And then at this point I am going to add a Text Wrap to it, but I am going to choose Wrap around object shape. So then, and it's where it gets interesting. I now choose my Direct Selection tool, and I hold the Text Wrap offset line in so that the text actually sculpts around the shape of the Drop Cap.

That needs a bit more finessing, but you get the idea. So, there we have several different approaches to working with drop caps and initial caps.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about InDesign Typography .

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The exercise files provided aren't working in my version of InDesign (CS4, CS5, or CS5.5). What should I use?
This course was recorded using InDesign CS6. For InDesign users working with CS4, CS5, or CS5.5, IDML files are provided.
Q: Where can I learn more about graphic design?
A: Discover more about this topic by visiting graphic design on
Q: This course was updated on 11/12/2014. What changed?
A: We added 18 new movies, primarily in the "Using Typekit" and "Type Treatments and Effects" chapters. These movies describe new and enhanced typography features in the latest release of InDesign CC, and are indicated by the "(CC 2014.1)" tag in their names.
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