Using Figures

This part on how to use figures will be even simpler than last week’s piece on what different figure sets exist and why to use them. We’re working in InDesign today, but general principles apply across any typesetting system that uses OpenType.

Using Figures

Accessing proportional/tabular old-style/lining figures via OpenType

These are attributes that can be applied at either/both the paragraph or/and character level. As a rule, I tend to apply figure styles as generally as possible first (at the paragraph level) using styles when appropriate to the job. Below, FF Videtur’s default figure style is proportional oldstyle.

Apply figure styles generally first.

When there are exceptions to the rule, specify at the character level.

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 4.23.02 PM

Fractions, Superscripts & Subscripts

Fractions, super/subscripts are best set at the character level. A time-saving tip – rather than chasing through menus for each change, just highlight the section of text, hit Command+Return (Mac OS) or Control+Enter (Windows) and type the style you’d like applied in the Quick Apply dialog.

Quick Apply at the character level.


Fractions can be set at the paragraph level, but I advise against it unless you know the copy you’re setting doesn’t include things that can be confused for fractions such as casually written dates:

Casual dates can mistakenly be converted to fractions

Small cap figures

These are easy. Just apply All Small Caps to a character range, and the appropriate figures should automatically swap in.

A few last thoughts on tabular settings

When setting figures in columns, the decimal points should line up. How? One way is by using tabular figures and aligning the text flush right within a narrow column. However, the better and more consistent process is to insert tabs and decimal tab stops. This can be applied at the paragraph level, making document-wide changes much more manageable. I also recommend showing hidden characters when working with tabular information generally.

Digit tabs

Hidden characters

That’s all. Maybe I should do a short piece just on tabs, or one just on nested styles as a follow-up to the Using Styles Properly. Please let me know in the comments. Using Type continues here Thursday.

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