Join Ina Saltz for an in-depth discussion in this video Working with numbers, part of Foundations of Typography.
You might not think of numbers as special, but they're quite different from our Latin letters. They come down to us from Hindu-Arabic forms, which is why you may remember hearing the term Arabic numerals. You may have noticed that some fonts have numbers that are all the same height. These are called lining numbers. They work well with capital letters, because they are designed to have the same height and weight. Tabular numbers are all the same height too, but with a difference. They have a fixed width to ensure that columns of data align correctly, creating well-balanced tables and charts.
You may also have noticed that some fonts have numbers that have different heights and baselines, these are called old-style numbers. These varying heights correspond to the lowercase with its descenders and ascenders. They are intended for use within text so that they blend into the color of the text. Lining figures look uncomfortable within text, because they stick out too much. So if the font you are using only has lining figures, you can minimize the problem by reducing the point size of the numbers a bit, it's not ideal, but it's a good fix.
Better yet, look for a typeface with both lining and old-style numbers. Many type designers now release both sets of numbers with their typefaces so they'll be more useful. Let's not forget about fractions. Most fonts have a set of the most common fractions and they are designed to have the proper weight to work with text type. But what if you need to use 5/32nds? There are specialized typefaces that have extensive sets of fractions and typefaces that have special numbers designed to be combined into any fractions you need to create, we call these properly weighted fractionals.
When working with numbers, remember to match up their use with their height. Use old-style numbers within text and tabular numbers when designing tables and charts. When designing with all caps, use lining numbers. Combine that with using properly weighted fractionals, and that's all it takes to work with numbers like a pro.
- What is typography?
- Differentiating type characteristics
- Using ornamental and decorative type
- Combining typefaces
- Using contrast and scale
- Kerning and kerning pairs
- Choosing the optimum line length
- Aligning and spacing characters, words, and paragraphs
- Understanding factors affecting legibility
- Working with three-dimensional type
- Putting type in motion