In a paper I'm writing I have set acronyms (e.g. IBM, GNU, API, NDIS) and Roman numerals in small caps. In some cases there is text set in small caps that is intermixed with other digits or symbols, e.g. PDP-7, 4.2BSD, I/O, mkdir(II), AT&T. (The "mkdir" term is set in italics, as a the name of a computer command.) The II in brackets was used at the time as the Roman number of the manual page section that documented it.)

In the proof I received there's a large difference between the size of small caps and the digits or symbols, and therefore the result appears ugly. You can see some examples below.

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How should I address this issue? Here are two possibilities I see.

  • Set these in regular capitals
  • Use a smaller font for the joined digits and symbols

2 Answers 2


To discuss your example, it helps to distinguish between petite caps who have roughly x height and small caps, who are larger than that (but not as big as regular caps). What you have, strongly looks like petite caps or anyway too small for being used for acronyms and similar. Text using them will be awkward to read, because the brain will automatically parse these acronyms as lowercase, even when they should not be – because they are proper names or are at the beginning of a sentence. If the font in question does not have distinct small caps with these properties, I would refrain from this convention altogether.

That being said, a very good font would also have extra variants of numbers, brackets, slashes, etc. specific for all-small-caps style that are specifically designed to not stand out from your small caps.

If these are not available, possible solutions for your problems are:

  • Use lowercase numbers as their centre of mass is roughly the same as those of the petite caps. However, they will still stand out a bit due to most of them having ascenders and descenders.

  • Use specific glyphs for Roman numerals.

  • Use suiting alternative forms where you can.

To illustrate some points, here are your examples set in Linux Libertine (which has rather small caps than petite caps), using lowercase numbers, designated glyphs for Roman numerals, and alternative characters:

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Finally, since we are talking about typesetters for academic journals here, I strongly suggest investigating the what features the font they use supports (they won’t use any other) and give them detailed instructions on what features you want (and even then you only have a tiny chance of success). The best way to go would probably to just settle on regular all caps.

Use a smaller font for the joined digits and symbols

Unless you have optical sizes available, this is a bad idea, since the scaled glyphs will not optically match. This is the problem with faux small caps, faux super- and subscripts, and similar.

  • Given that a proof has been received, it appears they use one or other version of Palatino and photographically-reduced capitals for small caps. When I was forced to do that, I stretched them to 115% width, so that the verticals were the right thickness and they weren't the same shape as ordinary capitals. The result was not bad at all. Commented May 18, 2019 at 21:14
  • Interesting idea! I think the main problem in my case is the height, not the shape. Also, I don't have detailed control over formatting any more, I just mark my changes and comments on the draft PDF. Commented May 19, 2019 at 20:27
  • As a sidenote, when manually creating Roman numerals, creating a separate character style for Roman numerals with spacing reduced to about 10 % of the font size, will join the letters just enough to create something looking like a single symbol with a nice arch between the serifs.
    – Canned Man
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 14:51

You could use old-style (lower-case), non-lining numbers with the small caps letters for a more balanced appearance.

Lining numbers look more uniform for use with full caps or in rows and columns for accounting, say, and appearance of regularity and uniformity.


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