How your readers see your letters: legibility
8. No ALL CAPS
As mentioned in the underline section, setting letters in all caps is the other way to emphasize words on a typewriter. Typesetting has many more options like italic, bold, bold italic, small caps. Plus we can use a larger size, a different font, a different color, and more. In fact, we must be careful we do not get carried away in our enthusiasm for all the options at our disposal.
ALL CAPS IS QUITE A BIT HARDER TO READ IN QUANTITY
There is something else, however. Studies have shown that type in all caps is around 40 percent less legible than caps and lowercase, or just lowercase. All caps is also much longer than the same words set C&lc.
Lowercase is much easier and more comfortable to read
Because our major purpose is to get the reader to read our piece and act on the message, you should never use all caps (unless you have a good reason).
For example, all caps is a good way to de-emphasize: all caps is often used to make a piece of type less legible and therefore to de-emphasize it. Some people say that all-cap headlines are fine, but I would disagree unless you are careful.
Readability is an interesting and complicated phenomenon. Everyone has theories. What most agree on is that people recognize letters by the distinctive outlines on the top of the letter shapes.
This is the major reason why setting type in all caps is so counter-productive. Because uppercase letters tend to be in rectangular boxes the tops of characters tend to look very similar.
As you can see, the straight line formed by the tops of the caps and the bottoms of the lowercase (even the descenders do not help) are not distinct enough to recognize easily. Please, remember that difficulty is not a good attribute of reading material.
By the way, all caps reversed is even less legible: In fact, text set that way (light on a dark background) will not be read unless you force the reader graphically with size, color, or some other such ploy. The worst, for reading, is type that goes back and forth from positive to negative. You will loose a surprisingly large percentage of your readers by doing that.
On the Web and for presentations, it is true that light, glowing letters on a dark background can be easier to read: This is true for any type used as a light source or backlit. However, you need to remember that on the Web the backgrounds often do not print. White type on white paper doesn’t read well at all.
These readability issues are primary to typesetting. You really need to keep track. Remember, you can read it because you wrote it or typeset it. Your readers do not have that benefit.
- Fonts are not typography, fonts are used to create typography (bergsland.org)
- Font families, font widths, italics, and obliques (bergsland.org)