Tag Archives: typography

Text Figures and Lining Figures

Are you using the correct sort of numbers? Numbers come in two forms: old style and lining.

oldstyle-proportional-equalOld style figures

lining-proportional-equalLining figures

The difference between old style and lining figures is how they sit relevant to the text’s baseline and x-height.

handgloves-oldstyle-baseline handgloves-lining-baseline

Generally speaking, old style numbers look better within normal text, because they keep the same “pattern” of ascenders and descender; and lining numbers look better when used with text set in all caps as they match the height of the line.


With the text in all caps the old style numbers stand out as odd, but the all caps text looks much better when the old style figures are replaced with lining figures.


With normal text, the old style figures help the text to look more normal, but the name of the supernova still stands out as looking a bit odd.


But the best option is a combination of both old style and lining figures as shown below.


Both old style and lining figures can come in proportional and monospaced (fixed-width) varieties. Monospaced figures are sometimes called tabular figures, because they are used in tables so that columns of tens, hundreds, thousands, etc. line up properly.

L-R: Proportional old style figures and tabular old style figures.

L-R: Proportional lining figures and tabular lining figures.

Types of typefaces

First off, an important note: the terms typeface and font are not synonymous. The typeface Raleway is available in a variety of styles (italic, condensed, etc.) and weights (light, book, bold, etc.) but only becomes a font when the typeface, size, style and weight are all specified simultaneously.


A sample of the styles and weights available for the Raleway typeface.

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Percent, permil and basis points

I only recently discovered the permil (cf. percent), a typographic character that enables you to give a fraction equal to one part in one thousand without using a decimal point. For example 12.3% = 123‰ (“twelve-point-three percent is equal to one hundred and twenty-three permil”).

There is also a symbol (‱) for basis points (aka permyriad), parts in ten thousand. For example 12.34% = 123.4‰ = 1234‱ (“twelve-point-three-four percent is equal to one hundred and twenty-three-point-four permil or one thousand, two hundred and thirty-four basis points”).

A large number of fonts are unable to render the permil and/or basis point symbols correctly, so the post above may be missing some symbols.