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Creating Drop Caps in Adobe InDesign

Excerpted from InDesign Type: Professional Typography with Adobe InDesign, 2nd Edition (Adobe Press)

By Nigel French

The use of decorative letters as a design element has evolved from a long tradition of illustrated first letters stretching back to before the invention of the printing press. Before printing, books were dictated to scribes, and each book was regarded as a unique treasure. The scribes incoporated individual flourishes to distinguish their work from others. It was with the decorative first letter that a scribe could really cut loose and show his stuff. Each major section usually began with an illuminated letter made with metallic, mineral or vegetable pigments that were bound by glue or gum to the paper or parchment.

The purpose of the initial letter, or versal, was to call attention to the beginning of the book. By the 14th century, versals had evolved from enlarged heavy letters into elaborate illustrated works of art, most often used to decorate religious texts. An illuminated versal might flow down the whole side of a page, or extend up and around the top of the page. Sometimes a versal included illustrations and took over the entire page. In 1455, when Gutenberg printed his 42-line Bible—the first book to be printed in the western world with movable type—he acknowledged the importance of this tradition by leaving space in the printed text for a scribe to add a decorative first letter. As printing evolved, so did the forms of initial caps used by designers. The current variations include hung caps, several forms of dropped caps, and raised or stick-up caps. InDesign uses the term drop cap for all initial cap styling.

When working with highly decorative drop caps, the Align Left Edge and Scale For Descenders options may not be sufficient for the optical spacing of the opening letter, as you can see in the top example. In the bottom example, a thin space (Cmd+Shift+Option+M/Ctrl+Shift+Alt+M) was added
before the dropped letter, and this space was then kerned back, which moved the F into the left margin.

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indesign maven's picture
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I've always wondered why decorative initial letters never really took off. It make reading a lot more artful imo.

Sean from...

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