Saturday, October 25, 2014

Design notes: miscellaneous punctuation ( * ^ ` ~ )

There exists within the ASCII block a handful of assorted miscellaneous symbols—the asterisk ( * ), the raised caret ( ^ ), grave mark ( ` ), and tilde ( ~ ). The forms of these symbols are poorly defined, so type designers have a lot of free reign over these symbols. Except for the asterisk, these symbols are also incredibly rare, serving no purpose and having no use in proper typesetting, so they are kind of a typographical backwater.

Asterisk ( * )

The asterisk, or “star”, is the only one of these four symbols to be typographically significant. All asterisks resemble a star shape, but renditions of this glyph vary wildly among typefaces. An asterisk can have five, six, seven, or eight points, and occasionally many more.

The arms of an asterisk can be wedge shaped, pointing inward or outward, or they can be teardrop shaped. Sometimes the arms are not joined at the center. An asterisk is usually about half as tall as a capital ‘I’, and its upper edge is often affixed to a font’s capital overshoot. Many asterisks, particularly in old style typefaces, are rotated about ten degrees clockwise from a normal “up-pointing” star orientation.
Properties of the asterisk and caret in Floribunda.
Properties of the asterisk and caret in Floribunda.

Raised caret ( ^ )

An obsolete character, only used as a typographical fallback for marking superscripts when actual superscripts are not available. Some use it to denote agreement though. It used to be that the caret was supposed to be identical to the circumflex accent on letters like ‘ê’, though this is no longer relevant, as the circumflex glyph is encoded distinctly from the caret. The caret is often a hairline character, though it’s permissible to make the middle thicker than the ends. There are no rules as to its size other than that it should be taller than an apostrophe and shorter than a capital letter. Like the asterisk, the raised caret is a ceiling-dwelling glyph, affixed to the capital line in most fonts.

Grave ( ` )

Another obsolete character, even less useful or common than the caret. The grave character is best designed from a grave accented letter, like ‘è’. The grave accent is always thicker at the top than at the bottom; beveling is up to the designer. In most fonts, the grave character is just the accent isolated from the letter.
The grave and tilde characters.
The grave and tilde characters.

Tilde ( ~ )

A rarely-used glyph that resembles a squiggly line. Some use it as a decorative dash, and so it should be the same length as the en dash. The tilde always swings up-then-down, never down-then-up. All four extremes of the glyph should fit roughly inside a rectangle. The thickest part of the tilde is its middle, the thinnest parts are the two ends.