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U&lc Online Issue: 40.1.1

Captions, Part 2




For Your Typographic

In Part one of FYTI: Captions, we talked about the best ways to choose and set fonts for these small but eye-catching slices of descriptive text. Almost always, captions are small, so choosing a typeface to set captions means choosing a face that works well at small sizes. Some typefaces hold up very well when set small for captions, but others do not: thin strokes start to disappear, counters fill in (especially with bold weights), and design details that add visual interest at large settings suddenly become a deterrent to legibility when reduced to very small sizes. For a foolproof solution, consider using caption fonts. Usually part of a complete typeface family, caption fonts are special designs that have been reworked to hold up better at smaller sizes, most often in the 6-9 point range. Adjustments can include:

• reduced weight contrast (resulting in sturdier thin strokes and serifs)
• larger x-heights
• more-open counters
• more-open letter spacing

Typefaces families that include caption fonts with the characteristics described above include Chaparral, Cronos, Adobe Jenson Pro, Kepler, Utopia and Warnock Pro (see illustration).

Some foundries design (or name) caption fonts a bit differently. For example, the Fairfield family’s caption fonts are slightly angled, a cross between the Roman design and its italic counterpart (see illustration). ITC Bodoni Six is a size-specific design intended for captions and other small text, but it’s identified by a point size descriptor rather than the word caption in the name (see illustration). The family also includes Bodoni Twelve and Bodoni Seventy-Two. Other typeface families use the heading “optical sizes” to describe variations suited for use at specific point sizes.

Whichever font you decide to you use, the principles of good design remain the same – contrast, harmony and legibility are the keys to setting effective captions.

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.



A. Warnock Pro caption (bottom) shows reduced weight contrast, heavier serifs and more open letter fit than Warnock Pro regular (top), all of which help increase legibility at small sizes.

B. Major design changes distinguish ITC Bodoni Six (top) from Twelve and Seventy-two (middle and bottom), to optimize it for small point sizes.

C. Fairfield takes another approach by offering a caption design (bottom) that is somewhere between the design of the light (top) and light italic weights (middle).