July 20, 2013

How to set a proper drop cap

A Proper Drop Cap

It is crucial to remember that the drop cap is part of the first line of text. It should therefore be set to be clearly attached to the first word, unless it is a single-letter word in itself, in which case the first line of text should be closer than the subsequent lines to the drop cap. After a drop cap, it is also customary to set the rest of the first word in caps or a few words in small caps.

The space between the drop cap and the lines after the first should be visually equal to the space between lines. That is, except for its connection to the first line, a drop cap should have equal space around it, both to the right and below.

A drop cap usually looks better balanced if it overhangs the left text margin slightly. The amount varies with the shape of the letter.

How to Set a Proper Drop Cap

Do not use the automatic “Drop Caps” feature in the paragraph style. This is typography, not word processing.

Delete the first letter of the text and set the paragraph without opening indentation.

Set the initial cap in its own frame or text box, or picture box if it is a graphic.

Size and style the drop cap as desired.

Make sure the drop cap box is in front of the text box.

Set the runaround or text wrap of the drop cap box to 0.

Position the drop cap box as desired.

Size the drop cap box to create the desired space around it (to the right and below).

Add a space at the start of the text, and tighten the kern space after it to move the text of the first line closer to the drop cap. The text should be close enough that it is clearly attached to the drop cap as a single word. If the drop cap is itself a single-letter word, the space should be visually consistent with the wordspaces of the rest of the line. If more kern-space adjustment is required than allowed by the typesetting program, repeat with another space to move the text further to the left.

If the bottom of the drop cap box interferes with the text below it, set the runaround or text wrap of its bottom edge to a negative value so that the text is not affected.

Example from Essays, or Counsels Civil and Moral [1812 and 1825] by Francis Bacon, George Bell and Sons, London, 1881: