Proper way of designing the “@” symbol

I can see there are two ways of designing the “@” symbol.

One is to let the whole symbol sit a bit lower than baseline (e.g. Proxima Nova), and another one is to have the “a” inside the symbol sit on the baseline and let the tail go further (e.g. Aktiv Grotesk).

How do you decide on which way to use? Are there any rules to follow?

Also, I saw this on Wikipedia. It's a Bulgarian translation of the Manasses Chronicle (c. 1345). Seems like the “a” was sitting on the baseline.


  • The at symbol is mainly used within lowercase, so it should be designed to look good in this context. Quite a few fonts have an alternate for all-caps settings. Aktiv Grotesk is one of them, see the attached image. By contrast, Proxima Nova is one of the fonts that have only one form for @. The reasoning behind its slightly higher position may or may not be to make it work for both cases.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,457
    I usually make case versions.
  • George ThomasGeorge Thomas Posts: 625
    From the old Agfa specs:
    "The commercial at symbol is often centered optically on the lining numeral height. However, in an alternative alignment, the a-part of the character centers roughly on an average x-height."

    I tend to judge its alignment and even its size upon the face I'm working on and its intended use.
  • Aceler ChuaAceler Chua Posts: 13
    Nice! So I guess it'd depend on the use case.

    Seems like aligning the at sign to the lowercase(and separately to the uppercase) would make a lot more sense to our current usage(for email address and prefix of username).

    Regarding the old Agfa specs: After some research, I guess the reason why it's suggesting to place the symbol optically centered to the lining numeral is that the at symbol was used to represent the cost or weight of something. So it'd be safe to assume the character after the at symbol would always be either a number or another symbol that's placed before a number like $, or any currency symbol(which is expected to be well-aligned with numbers).

    And it looks like Proxima Nova(the original was created in early 90s, I think) was designed to work the Agfa specs way. It makes sense to work better with numbers at that time.

  • George ThomasGeorge Thomas Posts: 625
    edited May 2015
    Given that today its most common use would be in email addresses, I think aligning it optically to the x-height would be more appropriate. Today's fonts and user softwares, unlike those at the time the Agfa guides were written, give the user much more control so needed adjustments for use with all caps, numerals or other uses are easy to accomplish.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,098
    I centre it on the x-height, considering its main use to be in lower case email addresses.
    I sometimes add a cased version to my more extensive fonts.

    The very bold weights are tricky!
  • attarattar Posts: 209
    Why are we doing case-sensitive @, btw?
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,630
    In Proxima Nova (and Proxima Sans back in the nineties), I made it basically aligned with the lowercase (top of the a inside the loop aligns with the x-height), but it's high enough that it doesn't look too low next to a numeral. I've made a separate .case version (aligned with the caps and numbers) on some of my other fonts.
  • Max PhillipsMax Phillips Posts: 474
    Why are we doing case-sensitive @, btw?

    So that you can include email addresses in all-caps headlines, or other all-caps text.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,098
    Although it would be easy enough for the typographer to apply a baseline shift. We do spoil them.
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 992
    edited May 2015
    It’s no surprise that nearly all fonts produced before the internet era have an @ symbol aligned with the lining numerals (as per the old Agfa specs George Thomas mentioned), But even in the last decade, when the symbol has been used far more often with lowercase letters than with caps and lining numerals, some major foundries stick to the outdated standard so their @s feel like they float above any surrounding usernames and email addresses.

    Adobe (once you scroll past the non-Latin stuff), Font Bureau, FontFont, and House Industries generally get this right, but Linotype and Monotype forgot to update their specs for many of their recent releases.
  • George ThomasGeorge Thomas Posts: 625
    edited May 2015
    I saw an interesting one yesterday where the left side of the circle began at the baseline and arced over and around to connect with the base-aligned /a on the right side, but no bottom arc. It was used in an all lowercase email address. It would be interesting to see how well it would work in all caps. If I see it again I'll post an image.
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 992
    A related decade-old thread on Typophile (linking to Internet Archive cache since Typophile is currently offline).
  • kupferskupfers Posts: 259
    @ Stephen Dunno, I think the lists are pretty evenly uneven – some @s up, some down at all the major foundries. Lino/Mono seems not worse than the others you mention. 
  • How many @s will we want, when email addresses use all of Unicode?;)
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