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U&lc Online Issue: 27.1.1

Oldstyle Figures


by Ilene Strizver


For Your Typographic

Oldstyle figures are a style of numeral which approximate lowercase letterforms by having an x-height and varying ascenders and descenders. They are considerably different from the more common “lining” (or “aligning”) figures which are all-cap height and typically monospaced in text faces so that they line up vertically on charts. Oldstyle figures have more of a traditional, classic look. They are only available for certain typefaces, sometimes as the regular numerals in a font, but more often within a supplementary or expert font. The figures are proportionately spaced, eliminating the white spaces that result from monospaced lining figures, especially around the numeral one.

Oldstyle figures are very useful and quite beautiful when set within text. Unlike lining figures, they blend in without disturbing the color of the body copy. They also work well in headlines since they’re not as intrusive as lining figures. In fact, many people prefer them overall for most uses except charts and tables. It’s well worth the extra effort to track down and obtain typefaces with oldstyle numerals; the fonts that contain them might well become some of your favorites.

Oldstyle Figures
ITC New Winchester is an example of a
typeface that has both oldstyle and lining
figures. Small caps are available as well,
making it a very versatile design.

Oldstyle Figures
In a typeface with a very short x-height such
as ITC Braganza, oldstyle figures are much
more suitable than lining figures which stand
out too much, disturbing the overall color.

Oldstyle Figures
Oldstyle figures also work well in headlines;
they’re not as intrusive as lining figures.

Editor’s Note: Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules!, published by North Light Books. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.



Oldstyle Figures
Oldstyle figures
approximate lowercase letterforms by having an
x-height as well as varying ascenders and descenders. Lining (or aligning) figures imitate caps in that they all
align on the baseline and
the cap height.

Oldstyle Figures
Oldstyle figures work
well in text blending in beautifully by not
disturbing the color of
the body copy.

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