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I am the lucky owner of James Felici’s magnum opus The Complete Manual of Typography (second edition). In most documents I write (academic), I prefer using EB Garamond, as it now is a fully-fledged font with support for most symbols, as well as excellent Greek. I recently discovered that in subset 1 of the font, there are petites. I cannot, however, find any instructions on neither when nor how petites should be used in Felici, and I do not have access to any other such books at my library.

There is a somewhat related post about this topic here, but it does not say anything about the usage of petites (only small caps).

  • Here is the font instruction I use in my regular text when enabling ss01 (in LibreOffice): EB Garamond:liga=1&calt=1&onum=1&pnum=1&ss01
  • Adobe’s list of OpenType features: ‘Syntax for OpenType features in CSS’

It seems strange that this alternative would exist without having a prescribed suggestion for how to use it. Is it, for instance, better suited to running text (e.g. on the first line after an initial?), whereas small caps should be used for shorter segments (acronyms, abbreviations and the likes)? I just don't have any idea, but expect there to be a typographic consensus as to what is the better usage.

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It seems like there is not much consensus in the typographic community either and that they have very niche uses.

Summarizing these conversations from Type Drawers and Typophile

Petite caps are meant to be smaller than Small caps and were introduced a while ago before stylistic sets, when OpenType fonts were not nearly as common. One designer states that he designs petite caps with a squarer aspect and that he ensures that petite caps have little impact on the line length.

Why designers have used them

  • Because they harmonise well with the lowercase, while still having regular small caps that are a bit taller
  • To maintain a nice even texture when used in a fairly large size informational text on walls or panels, as well as display uses
  • For a more harmonious inline, lead-in small caps at the beginning of a section
  • Having two sizes of caps is valuable in complex publications and when there is a need for integration with other scripts such as Cyrillic
  • In German body text, where words are frequently distinguished on the basis of upper vs. lower case, the use of petite caps seems to increase reading speed

Some other fonts featuring petite caps:

Because of their scarcity, petite caps are less likely to be supported by a multitude of software.

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Petite caps is nothing more than small caps that have the height of the “normal” small letter of the font (“x-height”) in fonts that have small caps that are designed to be larger than the x-height.

I guess you’d either use the one or the other, but probably not both, to make visual distinctions. Which one you use is up to your preference.

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    That is about the extent of what I know about them as well. It seems strange that this alternative would exist without having a prescribed suggestion for how to use it. Is it, for instance, better suited to running text (e.g. on the first line after an initial?), whereas small caps should be used for shorter segments (acronyms, abbreviations and the likes)? I just don't have any idea, but expect there to be a typographic consensus as to what is the better usage. I should, perhaps append this comment to my question; please advise if so. – Canned Man Jun 12 at 12:22
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I just know the Spanish rules, maybe they don't apply to English, take this as information.


We can write with small caps (versalitas):

  1. The surnames of the authors of a bibliography, and this includes the prologueists. They are habitual, then, in academic contexts.

authors of a bibliography  

  1. The Roman figures, for example when quoting centuries (Spanish):

centuries

  1. The recipients of certain formal writings:

formal writings  

  1. Words that are not part of the body of the text, but designate support elements, usually visual:

visual elements  

  1. Occasionally, small letters are used with words that should be highlighted in bold.
  2. To write acronyms

acronyms  

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Petit caps (pseudoversalita or fake versalita in Spanish) are just the capital letters reduced in some text editing programs to the x-height size. Unlike the typographies that bring the small caps as part of the font family, they don't have an adapted design so they are quite unbalanced in terms of strokes and proportions. An alternative for fonts that don't have small caps in their design.

The current fonts supplied with the operating systems (Windows and MacOS, mainly) rarely include small caps and must be purchased separately. The small caps that appear in programs such as MS Word (which are incorrectly called "versales") are actually smaller capitals ( pseudoversalitas ), so the effect is just the opposite of what is intended and the text is visually unbalanced.

Translated from here

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