Questions About All Caps Setting

Maybe we can clear this up once and for all. A Fontblog reader asks: “For the new corporate identity of one of our customers we suggested setting all headlines on posters, mailings etc. in all caps, and using this characteristic to typify the organization.”

Now it has been stated repeatedly that all caps setting is less readable than mixed caps setting. Neither is it recommended for emphasis in text, although here the unpleasant appearance is mostly used as an argument.

Is all caps setting really so poorly readable that one can’t use it in headlines of let’s say maximum three lines, or is the unfavourable effect negligible? Has anybody done any serious investigations on this matter, or can anybody show us any convincing examples where it works really well?

Already 36 comments (in German) on Fontblog.

Header Image: Capitals waiting to be hung on a shopfront on Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg
© Paul D. Hunt

20 Comments:

  1. (I don’t read German).

    – “Caps+lowercases” should be used for texts to be read as content.
    We read this mixture everyday for years. Emphasis with caps in a text is perhaps too much, but a Sanserif companion of a Serif font doesn’t work either, fake italics in certains case either too, very light semibold either too, its really depending what kind of things you design.

    — “Caps only” should be used for text to be seen as image.
    In some cases, monumental signs on a building, a brand, etc. Caps work better than the usual caps+lowercases. For a couple of words, caps are very good in certain cases, and even can be very beautiful, they offer a very nice appareance on a page. Just recall Roman inscriptions and Bodoni titling pages…

    Don’t be strictly against caps as some people use them too much. Its not productive. Design is more subtle than just trying to be against some practises.

    Posted by Jean F Porchez on Sep. 29, 2008
  2. I don’t know that its a readability issue, more a psychological one, because text in all caps is universally interpreted as shouting, rude and brash.

    Google adwords is good evidence to suggest that all-caps is the exact opposite of what people want to see.

    Posted by Dan on Sep. 29, 2008
  3. Are all caps less legible than mixed caps? Yes. Are they so illegible that the viewer can never decipher the word? Definitely not. I see no problems in using all caps for headlines and short sentences.

    Posted by Antonio on Sep. 29, 2008
  4. I’ll use all caps for short, two or three word lines from time to time. For lines longer than that, I’ll usually opt for small caps.

    Posted by Mike Wilkie on Sep. 29, 2008
  5. If all caps were so hard to read (as awful as a paragraph is made to look with them), I’d think that business people ignorant of our distaste for it wouldn’t use them. It seems like a highly contextual thing to argue about.

    Posted by Ricky Irvine on Sep. 29, 2008
  6. I wouldn’t want to handicap myself by jettisoning caps as magazine coverlines, for instance. Long live caps. Even big stacked wadges of caps look ok if done properly.

    Posted by Intaglio on Oct. 1, 2008
  7. I agree. ALL CAPS has its place in the world of design, but the designer needs to be aware of proper kerning, leading and typeface selection.

    Posted by bertoni on Oct. 1, 2008
  8. Without getting too heady, all caps type is harder to read generally in paragraphs, because the eye uses the upper lower case forms to enhance readability. The upper lowercase type informs where a sentence starts, differentiates better between certain characters like O’s and Q’s (o q).

    Obviously, some ulc fonts do a poor job of differentiation such as Avant Garde and Lubalin where the o, a, c, d, p, b, q, g, are hard to distinguish at book-weight sizes.

    Posted by Donald Lais on Oct. 1, 2008
  9. I remember my teacher at the art academy being in love with long blocks of caps, very carefully spaced. And though I agree that the legibility diminishes, I would hesitate to ban it from my typographic toolbox. As Ricky Irvine said, it all depends on context.

    Posted by Bart on Oct. 6, 2008
  10. I feel that CAPS is one of the colors in our pallette.
    You can use them to shout, as mentioned above. But spaced widely or using a very light or even thin letter it says something else.

    As with all, don’t overdo it and never use it without a good reason.

    Personaly I use it as an image. It stacks better than lowercasts. But it becomes even more difficult to read then.

    Posted by Raymond on Oct. 7, 2008
  11. Personaly I use it as an image.

    Exactly, that’s what I usually do — I don’t really like the shouting aspect of it. The characters become building blocks, and you can do stuff you simply can’t with lowercase. My take on it is — like I explained in my last episode of My Type of Music — that you simply have to counterbalance the negatives with the positives by only using them for shorter bursts of text, and carefully size and space them.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Oct. 7, 2008
  12. STUDY AFTER STUDY HAS SHOWN THAT IT IS MUCH MORE DIFFICULT TO READ TEXT IN ALL CAPS THAN IT IS IN UPPER AND LOWERCASE LETTERS. WE LOOK AT AND READ WORDS BY THEIR LETTERS BUT ALSO BY THE SHAPES OF THOSE LETTERS IN PATTERNS. THESE SHAPES ARE CALLED THE “COASTLINE” AND REFERS TO THE UPS AND DOWNS OF THE DESCENDERS AND ASCENDERS OF THE LETTERS. WHEN WORDS ARE WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS, THERE ARE NO UPS AND DOWNS. ALL THE SHAPES AND HEIGHTS OF THE LETTERS ARE EXACTLY THE SAME. WHEN WORDS ARE WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS, WE HAVE TO READ THE WORDS LETTER BY LETTER WHICH REALLY SLOWS US DOWN. READ THIS PARAGRAPH IN ALL CAPS TO SEE HOW MUCH LONGER IT TAKES.

    Posted by Suresh on Jan. 19, 2009
  13. Suresh,

    I have heard about “study after study” addressing this legibility question (which i agree with)– but i have never seen an actual study. Could you provide such a reference(s)? Thanks very much.

    Posted by Cliff Abrams on Feb. 6, 2009
  14. Yes, there has been readability research done on this:

    http://laurenscharff.com/courseinfo/SL03/email_study.htm

    “Chi Square analyses indicated readers liked text written in all upper case letters significantly less than the other formats, and that it was harder to find important information when using all capital letters… while the use of all capital letters does not significantly affect accuracy or reading times, it may affect readers’ likelihood to read…”

    (Emphasis mine)

    Posted by Darren on Feb. 20, 2009
  15. Suresh,

    These studies convince me reading speed is defined by how a person learns to read. JUST GROW UP IN AN ALL CAPS WORLD.

    Posted by Nikko M on May. 4, 2009
  16. I personal find unpleasent to read even just one word in all caps, but 3 lines? I migth end blind…

    Now, whend isued as buttons,such as the POST button, I don’t see any problem, it even creates a lasting image of that especiffic SOMETHING (the ´posting´ command), so I find it OK to used in all caps inorder to give an image of the company, ’cause it willcome the day when everybody knows that it is the name of the Co., so it would be unnecesary to read, as a logo

    Posted by JBantha on Oct. 8, 2009
  17. I’m a bit late to the party, but here:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=fBLZ8ctGVLEC&pg=PA105&lpg=PA105&dq=difference+in+reading+speed+all+caps&source=bl&ots=p4VDanv5Wq&sig=yyE3Eo4uC1MWiCOO9fnEU5EqKIc&hl=en&ei=RIkqTOnPN8uRnwe09I3WDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CCUQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=difference%20in%20reading%20speed%20all%20caps&f=false

    If you look at the top of page 106, it breaks it down in difference. Though the author only says “One study showed”, and doesn’t say who performed the study or how it was conducted, the difference they quote in read time is 4.74 words per second for all caps and 5.38 words per second for lowercase, so about 2/3 of a word per second is lost, or it takes about 13% longer to read the same content.

    To me, this isn’t a large amount of time for headlines. If your headline is 4 words, whether it’s all caps or lowercase it will still take less than a second to read.

    Additionally, all caps leads to less reading error because the reader has to look at each letter individually.

    So, for me, all caps isn’t evil at all. If you’re using all caps for design aesthetic, the decrease in reading speed isn’t enough to take that away. The idea that all caps are difficult to read has been greatly exaggerated.

    Posted by RussellUresti on Jun. 29, 2010
  18. THIS IS FOR SIGNAGE. It works for E PLURIBUS UNUM.

    This is for expressing thoughts, such as, “Out of one , many.”

    For me, when choosing ways to render sentence-grade communication, ALL CAPS ranks slightly higher than a rebus.

    Context – relationships between words, phrases and concepts – made apparent by mixed case is simply lost in either mono-cases. Concepts are distinguished and new thoughts announced by Capitals, not merely periods. Punctuation flourishes amid the various shapes and shades of mixed case and languishes in the narrow dark canyons of ALLCAPS.

    Most full-service fonts don’t seem to be kerned for legible ALL CAP use, creating compressed, rail-car-like blocks.

    I used to prepare teleprompter scripts for professionals for lengthy segments within video seminars, using the reader’s own texts. As a director, I found that the mixed case versions enabled most amateur “talent” to deliver their prepared remarks much more comfortably, consistently and convincingly, aided by all the clues to meaning evident in the rich, subtle interplay of black on white.

    How about statistically: A deck of 52 is surely capable of producing a greater variety of games than a deck of 26, right?

    Posted by Jumble Case on Apr. 25, 2011
  19. I agree, All caps are harder to read, for example when I get a text message in all caps It takes me sometime to be able to read it, and other times it annoys me a lot and I just dont read it, and same on the chat window, that’s why if I want people to read what I design I try to avoid all caps unless it’s a short headline..

    Posted by designerette on Jul. 13, 2011
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