How short can ascenders go?

Carl EnlundCarl Enlund Posts: 7
edited January 2019 in Technique and Theory
This is something I've thought about for a while. I'm new to type design, so naturally I've had to figure a few things out through trial and error, including proper ascender height. I know, traditionally, that ascender height should be significant enough to aid legibility. But some fonts clearly have shorter ascenders than others, while still remaining fully legible. So my question is, how short can ascenders go, while still remaining legible?

Some examples of typefaces I come to think of with really short ascenders are Antique Olive, Ohno Type's Beastly and Dinamo's Ginto Nord.

I think ascender height is special in a way, compared to cap height and descender height. Obviously caps and descenders also can get too short, but I feel like ascender height is more delicate in a way, looking at the many typefaces out there.

My first post here, so I hope this leads to some interesting thoughts and ideas.


  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,948
    Advertisers Gothic and Hobo took it to the limit, 100 years ago.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,261
    edited January 2019
    Blambot has some comic fonts with crushed line spacing that are very legible. I think with hand lettering you can get away with more. In your example, see how the bowl of the g is squeezed? If you were to use a similar trick with bdhpq to compensate for diminutive ascender/descenders, the looks stupid threshold is narrow. With handwritten or irregular typefaces, those compromises aren't as noticeable. You can also get away with deformation and vertical shifting to squeeze in cedillas, comma accents and ogoneks.
  • When your h becomes an n you've gone too far.
    I really need that software that lets you search for confusable word pairs (and factoring in frequency). My favorite (in the domain of descenders) is "quest" versus "guest".
  • As already pointed out, you can almost eliminate ascenders and descenders and still design legible type, but legibility is different from readability.

    Display type can get away with being less readable since display faces are typically used in instances where fewer words need to be read. At some point, legible or not, even a display typeface becomes a novelty face if its design gets too far removed from the norm.
  • Eris AlarEris Alar Posts: 403
    Advertisers Gothic and Hobo took it to the limit, 100 years ago.
    I was going to mention Hobo as well! I had not paid attention to Advertisers Gothic (called Advertisement Grotesque in my copy of The Encyclopaedia of Type Faces) -Nice design that reminds me of Compacta. 

  • Advertiser’s Gothic and Advertisement Grotesque are entirely different fonts.
  • Eris AlarEris Alar Posts: 403
    Advertiser’s Gothic and Advertisement Grotesque are entirely different fonts.
    Thanks! I just looked up my book and did not google haha
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