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U&lc Online Issue: 28.2.1



by Ilene Strizver


For Your Typographic

Can you find the fractions on your keyboard? If not, you’re not alone. Believe it or not, there are no designated keystrokes for fractions on a Mac. PCs offer a few (1/4, 1/2, 3/4), but they’re so well-hidden most users can’t find them anyway. Yet fractions appear fairly often in copy, so what’s a person to do? It’s too frustrating by half!

Some contrary souls convert the fractions to decimals or simply spell them out, but the most common solution, if not the best-looking, is to use full-sized numerals separated by a slash or a fractions bar. The problem with this method is that it looks awkward and is confusing to read when there are several fractions in a row.

A more attractive choice is to use fonts that have “expert sets,” or fraction fonts. Families such as Centaur, Bembo and Minion offer these supplementary fonts which contain fractions, as well as other seldom-used but important characters, in a range of weights. The upside is that the fractions are design-sensitive and blend beautifully with the rest of your work. The downside is that you have to change fonts to access them. And expert sets are not available for every font, particularly for display designs.

If you use fractions often and want more flexibility than expert sets can provide, consider investing in an application extension or stand-alone utility that makes fractions on-the-fly. The technologically adventurous should also look into the new OpenType(tm) fonts. This platform-independent font format has the ability to incorporate many fractions as well as loads of other characters; the limitation here is that these special characters are only accessible if the application you are using supports all the OpenType features.

If none of these solutions fits your situation, consider building fractions yourself from within your application (see sidebar). It’s a bit tedious and the quality of your results will vary depending the typeface, but it’s often possible to create acceptable, if not handsome, fractions this way. Whichever method you choose, be sure to keep all fractions consistent throughout your project.

NOTE: Techniques for improving the look of fractions cannot be applied to text on the web.

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.