Can I put a drop cap on an italic paragraph?
January 19, 2008 7:34 PM   Subscribe

Is it ever acceptable to put a drop cap on a paragraph of italic text?

I am laying out a book. Each chapter begins with an introductory blurb in italics. (Minion, like the body text.) I would like to add a drop cap to begin the chapter with some oomph. It looks not bad to the layman's eye. Am I going to make real designers shriek and faint?

(And I have a follow-up. If, indeed, it is acceptable, should the drop-cap itself be italicised?)
posted by bicyclefish to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am not a printer. Or layout guy. I don't even know what you call a layout guy. But I do know this:

You're the artist here. Follow your art.
posted by Flunkie at 7:50 PM on January 19, 2008

Go for it. Make it italics or find a font with one element having an angle similar to the text.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:54 PM on January 19, 2008

Yes. Go for it. But if you want to know the conventional wisdom on this, I believe the folks on Typophile would be able to help.
posted by kryptos at 8:06 PM on January 19, 2008

A quick test in InDesign and it looks fine to me. Again--you're the designer here, and you have to make your own calls. Don't worry about what other people think unless you're putting together a portfolio.

(Disclaimer: I'm not really a graphic designer or a layout editor, but I've functioned as such in a pinch before.)
posted by thecaddy at 8:06 PM on January 19, 2008

You should post a sample so people can see.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:23 PM on January 19, 2008

If every other fist paragraph is drop capped, do it, for consistency's sake.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:24 PM on January 19, 2008

Am I going to make real designers shriek and faint?

This is the least useful concern in all of design, unless you are indeed designing for designers. And even then...

If it looks good, do it.
posted by The Deej at 8:25 PM on January 19, 2008

I've seen drop caps in italic text where the text follows the (slanted) shape of the drop cap. That is, the first line of text is indented hard, the second less hard, and the third even less, so that the slope of the left margin mirrors the slope of the capital italic letter.

(Did that make any sense? This is the sort of thing that needs hasty pictures drawn on a napkin.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:29 PM on January 19, 2008

I agree that if you're going to do it, matching the angle is the way to go.

But keep in mind that italic already means emphasis. The paragraph's already being called out of the book's default style via one method. Dressing it up with a second method has to be handled very subtly because of the risk of emphasis fatigue.

Consider that you may not really need the caps. You don't have to hit the reader over the head with typographical cues to indicate that they're in a special category of the content.
posted by zadcat at 8:59 PM on January 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

This might be a little too precious, but you may be able to use Minion Swash Capitals for the drop caps, depending on what letter your paragraphs start with. That R could pose a problem, for example, but overall these capitals would leave less awkward whitespace in the top-left corner of the drop cap area versus the regular italic.
posted by tepidmonkey at 9:18 PM on January 19, 2008

Zadcat has it right. I also think you are risking overemphasis. The paragraph is already emphasized because it's the first one in the chapter, and, on top of that, it is in italics. That should be sufficient; more emphasis serves as typographic clutter. I'd avoid it.

For what it's worth, Bringhurst -- who is pretty much the authority on this sort of question -- doesn't comment on whether to use an italic drop cap. But he does suggest that a drop cap (or versal, as he calls it) is a good way to draw the reader's attention to the beginning of the text. He actually suggests that in a case where a lot is happening at the beginning of the chapter -- chapter heading, epigraph, photos, etc. -- you put the ornamental character at the opening of the actual text. So you might consider putting your drop cap after that intial block of italics to draw the reader's attention to the beginning of the chapter text.
posted by dseaton at 9:27 PM on January 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think you're onto something, zadcat, thanks. I don't have a bad eye for these things, but I've been out of the loop for a while, and it takes confidence to be subtle.

(And InDesign has a way of making everything look good...)
posted by bicyclefish at 9:31 PM on January 19, 2008

I'm an artist and the daughter of a graphic artist, not that this gives me any extra cred but my opinion is that it's a bit much, as zadcat says. It could look like a typical case of using whatever the program can do just because it's there.
posted by kenzi23 at 9:19 AM on January 21, 2008

« Older How so I get an Apostille done quickly from...   |   does it help to hold your breath to avoid second... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.