Initial letters have been used to enrich the written or printed page since the sixth century. It began with a large plain capital used for the first letter of a manuscript and quickly blossomed into colorful decorative initials fitted into the text. The first printing left blank spaces for initials to be added by hand. Later special initials were engraved on wood and printed with the text.
Initial letters emphasize the first word of a paragraph and decorate the page. They may be raised, dropped, or half raised and dropped or even printed in the left margin. I think the best looking pages are obtained with dropped initials.
All the letters of the first word are set in caps and if the first word is a single letter the second word is set in caps. The initial letter must be fitted into the text for the best visual effect and is therefore fitted optically. It must appear to have space to the right of the letter equal to the space under the letter. Dropped initials must align at the top with the following letters and at the bottom with the base of a line of type.
In order to simplify the proper fitting of dropped initials I have developed the following formulae:
I = NT + (N – 1)L – S
O = S + L
I is the printed height of the initial.
N is the number of lines of type the initial is to span.
T is the type body size.
L is the size of the leading.
S is the shoulder dimension of the type measured from the front edge to the base line. Our British cousins call this the board.
O is the space under and to the right of the initial.
The calculations for the initial I in the first paragraph were as follows: This is 14 point type with a shoulder height of 3 points and leaded 2 points. The size of a 4 line initial is…. 4 * 14 + (4 – 1)2 – 3 = 59. This is the printed height of the 60 point Cloister Initial. The opening is 3 + 2 = 5.
Initials may be purchased for the purpose such as decorative initials or special titling fonts. Larger capitals of the text type may be used if the shoulder is removed or you can print the initial separately from the text. A beautiful set of initials can be made by having individual cuts made to the exact size of a chosen body type and leading. Or you can engrave your own wood block set of initials to exact size. Whatever kind of initial is used, make sure its style is appropriate for the body type. Don’t use Broadway initials with Civilite text.
Remember that these rules are only a guide. The important thing is the appearance and visual effect. Anything that looks right is right.
The Juniper Press
Winchester, Mass. 01890
Phillip J. Cade, Proprietor