Common Glyphs

Here are several commonglyphs, or typographic symbols, that every designer should be aware of. Incorrect usage is an indication of beginner design, and alternatively, correct usage adds a professional polish to any design.

Small Caps

Small caps are the uppercase characters at the size of a font’s x-height (the literal height of the lowercase letter x). An important distinction, however, small caps are not simply smaller versions of the same capital letterforms. True small caps are crafted differently to be readable at smaller sizes and to flow within the text. I Love Typography has a great visual representation of the difference between the caps and small caps letterforms.

To use small caps in InDesign, open the Character window under WINDOWS > CHARACTER. Then click on the small menu icon in the upper right corner of the panel and choose small caps.

Usage & Example: for acronyms like lol and abbreviations such as am or pm.

Hyphen & Dashes

Hyphens and dashes are possibly the most misused glyphs. There are three different types of hyphens and dashes, each with their own specific use: the hyphen (-), en dash (–), and em dash (—).

To choose hyphens & dashes in InDesign go to TYPE > GLYPHS


Hyphens are short dashes used to link hyphenated words and connect word breaks at the end of lines. A good way to remember their use is to remember that they connect, like joining numerals in a phone number or a word across two lines.

Usage: Connector

Example: Typographic rules can be a real eye-opener.

Em Dash

The em dash is based upon a unit of measurement, the length in points of a font. So, for a 12pt font the em would be 12pts long. An em is used to indicate a break in thought and can be used in place of parentheses.

Usage: break in thought

Example: You are the dash—the best dash—to create drama.

En Dash

The en dash half the length of an em dash and is used to indicate a range of values. Again, the en dash is based upon a unit of measurement, half of an em. So, for a 12 pt font the en would be 6pts long.

Usage: range of values

Example: March 3–7, 2012


To choose hyphens & dashes in InDesign go to InDesign go to TYPE > GLYPHS

Smart Quotes

Smart quotes are curved in the shape of the numbers 6 and 9 to wrap around text. Most word processing programs automatically convert to smart quotes, but you should pay attention in case the program does not convert these for you. The same applies with apostrophes. These should also used smart quotes, that angel the apostrophe instead of using a straight glyph.

Usage: quote passages of text

Example: “This really makes me feel smart, don’t you think”.

Dumb Quotes

Dumb quotes, or straight quotes were originally used on typewriters and exist today as indications of measurement.

Usage: indicate measurement

Example: 2′ 36″

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