Small Caps for sans serifs bad?


in a well known swiss book about typography (Ralph Turtschi: Praktische Typographie) the use of small caps with sans serif typefaces is considered as bad practice. According to Turtschi, they look amateurish, without going into further detail.

I've never had any problems looking at small caps with sans serifs, maybe I'm wrong and this is really something I should avoid.



  • Ramiro EspinozaRamiro Espinoza Posts: 838
    edited December 2015
    I only find it a bit awkward when the sans is of the Swiss kind. I think humanistic sans small caps look very fine. In the end it's a design decision.
    It's important to informed about typographic traditions but not at the point of being dogmatic.
  • Thanks for your comments. At least I am not the only one who thinks that SC can look nice with sans serif typefaces.

    Tan, the statement from Turtschi is definitely not about faux SC, which is something I never considered doing anyway.

  • Nina,

    you're right, that is exactly the book I am talking about. I fully agree with your comments. It was just this statement that made me think about my use of typefaces.

    If somebody has some spare time to look into this document:

    Hope the link works (7 mb). It's a 200+ page reproduction of a classic book about carom billiards. I did this (and it was a lot of work) because it deserves IMO to be preserved in digital form and as an exercise for myself. The whole layout and the illustrations were recreated from scratch in InDesign and Illustrator, text by help of OCR from a german version.

    Comments are welcome, I am by no means a professional designer, so I'm sure some of you find some things to improve.

  • kupferskupfers Posts: 259

    Turtschi’s was the first typography book I read in 1994 and I learned a lot from it. Back then, it was the only contemporary one on the subject in German. It’s certainly a product of the ’90s, I would not recommend it today. I don’t remember nor ever followed this particular advice. (I also don’t remember the »Füsschen«, Nina, though this indeed sounds terrible). No one should read just one type book but many and then the weird or too-absolutist sounding statements are always nicely put into perspective.

    I agree with this sample he gives here though: sans-serif small caps for headlines look strange, especially when you use fake ones. In the early ’90, almost no typeface offered true small caps, and especially not the sans-serifs. 

    Somehow I can’t open your link, Ludwig. Maybe just upload a small sample screenshot?

  • Yeah, but to be fair, if you took that layout example above, and substituted the font setting the headline with a bold serif, mixing caps and small caps (fake or not), it would also look pretty shitty. 
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,127
    edited December 2015
    Prior to digital, art directors rarely specified sans for body text, and when we did, we kept things minimal, in the Swiss manner—so no small caps there. 

    Consequently, small cap sans fonts were not often produced.

    If a small cap setting was required, it was made by sizing normal caps appropriately.

    In the mid-century modernist world, sans serif types such as Helvetica and Frutiger had oblique italics (not “true italics”), and no oldstyle figures or small caps, that just wasn’t done. 

    Ironically, it was the limited glyph complement of the first DTP fonts which made true small cap sans available—because there was some interest in alternate figure styles for humanist sans faces—such as Scala Sans—so an extra font was required, and the “SC + OSF” font was born, with the otherwise duplicate lower case letter slots being usefully filled up with true small caps.

  • Indra,

    strange my link did not work for you. Another try:

  • And grammar! It should be «Gläsern». ;o)
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