#72 Boldface & Italic…just like the Italic Tower of Pisa

AmperArt Boldface & Italic

#72 Boldface & Italic
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#72 Boldface & Italic is about the two most common text variations in publishing — both used too much & too wrong.

Some writ­ers — let’s call them over­em­pha­siz­ers—just can’t get enough bold­face & ital­ic. If they feel strong­ly about the point they’re mak­ing, they won’t hes­i­tate to run the whole para­graph in bold type. Don’t be one of these peo­ple. This habit wears down your read­ers’ reti­nas & their pa­tience. It also gives you nowhere to go when you need to em­pha­size a word. (See what I mean? Did­n’t you hate read­ing this para­graph set in bold­face — and now italic?)

That’s no prob­lem for overem­pha­siz­ers, though, who re­sort to un­der­lin­ing bold text or us­ing bold ital­ic. These are both bad ideas.

(The two para­graphs above, set in bold­face & ital­ic, are from Butterick’s Prac­ti­cal Typog­ra­phy. It is so well-​stated — quite humor­ous­ly & sad­ly true — about overem­pha­siz­ers, many of whom I’ve encoun­tered as overzeal­ous clients, I could­n’t help but just reprint it near­ly ver­ba­tim. More from But­t­er­ick­’s below.)

Bold­face & ital­ic treat­ments are some­what inter­change­able, but they real­ly do each have their own fla­vor of empha­sis or char­ac­ter. Oth­er vari­a­tions for type are caps & small caps, but that’ll be the theme for anoth­er Amper­Art installment.

Text that is nei­ther bold nor ital­ic is called roman. 

Roman? The Tow­er of Pisa seems to be ital­i­cized, doesn’t it? Oh — it’s in Pisa, not Rome.

Italic Tower of Pisa

Ital­ic Tow­er of Pisa

Where to use boldface & italic

Bold­face is great for sub­heads or any­where you need to attract the eye.

Ital­ics should be used for book titles, long poems, plays, tele­vi­sion shows and films, art­works & song titles; titles of news­pa­pers, jour­nals, mag­a­zines & radio series; names of ships & air­planes; spe­cif­ic edi­tions of sacred texts; legal cases.

For­eign words used in Eng­lish are some­times ital­i­cized, some­times not, de­pend­ing on how com­mon they are. For in­stance, you would ital­i­cize your zup­pa Toscana & sfogli­atelle, but not your lasagna & cannoli.

But that’s not all.

The Frugal Editor

For a com­plete list on how to prop­er­ly apply bold­face & ital­ic, as well as a com­pre­hen­sive ref­er­ence for all oth­er edit­ing rules and tips, pick up a copy of Car­olyn Howard Johnson’s The Fru­gal Edi­tor, avail­able at Ama​zon​.com.

This book will save you hun­dreds of dol­lars in edit­ing fees — & thou­sands if you do your own edit­ing & you want to make sure every­thing is spot-​on per­fect before ink hits paper with­out any typos in the print­ed publications.

The Fru­gal Edi­tor is worth every fru­gal pen­ny you spend on it. The cov­er design is bril­liant, too.

2 rules for boldface & italic

Accord­ing to & para­phrased from Butterick’s Prac­ti­cal Typog­ra­phy (a free online guide):

Bold­face or ital­ic — al­ways think of them as mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. That is the first rule. (So much for the title of this Amper­Art piece, Bold­face & Italic.)

The sec­ond rule is to use bold­face & ital­ic as lit­tle as pos­si­ble. They are tools for em­pha­sis. But if every­thing is em­pha­sized, then noth­ing is em­pha­sized. Also, be­cause bold­face & ital­ic styles are de­signed to con­trast with reg­u­lar ro­man text, they’re some­what hard­er to read. Like ALL CAPS, bold­face & ital­ic are fine for short stretch­es of text, but not for long ones.

Some fonts have both a bold style and a semi­bold style. And some have styles that are heav­ier than bold, like black or ul­tra. These weights are usu­ally in­tended for large sizes (for in­stance, head­lines) and don’t work well at the size range of most body text.

Boldface & italic also means boldface & italic

For those of you who just can’t inject enough empha­sis into your ele­gant prose, there’s the oth­er mean­ing of bold­face & italic:

Set the text in a font that is both bold­face & ital­ic, such as this.

But let’s not stop there.


You might be exclaim­ing, “Add more excla­ma­tion points!” That’s where I draw the line. I nev­er use more than one. As soon as I see mul­ti­ple excla­ma­tion points after a sen­tence I auto­mat­i­cal­ly place the writer in ama­teur league. If a piece is writ­ten well, you don’t need any. Bill Bern­bach, whose agency cre­at­ed the inno­v­a­tive VW ads in in the ’60s, nev­er used an excla­ma­tion point. Best head­line ever:


An excla­ma­tion point is like a sym­bol crash. Are two or three (or five or six, you scream­ers) more effec­tive? No. They dimin­ish the punch. Just one.

Suggesting boldface & italic the old-​fashioned way

In the days of type­writ­ers, empha­sis was achieved in sev­er­al ways, the most com­mon under­lin­ing (you had to first type the words, then back­space and add the under­line). This rep­re­sent­ed bold­face & ital­ic for empha­sis, but always ital­ic for indi­cat­ing a book or film title. ALL CAPS was used to draw atten­tion, or to indi­cate head­ings and sub­heads. And bold­face achieved by actu­al­ly backspac­ing the car­riage and typ­ing the text over two or three times until it was bold. In “mod­ern” type­writ­ers there were inter­change­able balls and wheels that con­tained dif­fer­ent fonts, anoth­er means of achiev­ing bold­face & italic.

And there was the two-​color rib­bon, red & black. That empha­sized more than bold­face & ital­ic combined!

chaz sez ...

Check out the new “chaz sez” blog at Des​i​moneDesign​.com, my com­mer­cial graph­ic design web­site. It’s most­ly about design & typog­ra­phy — includ­ing plen­ty of bold­face & italics.

Most arti­cles will cov­er var­i­ous aspects of design, print­ing, pub­lish­ing & mar­ket­ing, but on occa­sion I’ll divert to a side­ways top­ic that just can’t escape my rant­i­ng & raving.

#63 Upper & Lowercase (do you know which “case” this refers to?)

Download hi-rez image to print & frame.


#63 Upper & Lowercase
Click to view full-​size or download hi-​rez image for gallery-​quality printing & framing.
This is a high-​resolution pdf & may take a few minutes to download.
Find printing tips & framing ideas here.

UPPER & low­er­case, as in cap­i­tal & “small” let­ters, are called upper & low­er­case for a rea­son. It’s not because they are taller & shorter.

Upper & Lowercase job cases.The terms “upper” &low­er­case” orig­i­nated in the ear­ly days of hand-​​​set type where each char­ac­ter was cast on a sep­a­rate piece of met­al & stored in shal­low draw­ers known as job cas­es. Fre­quently there were two cas­es (draw­ers) for each font, one placed on top of the oth­er while com­posit­ing type. The upper case con­tained the majus­cules. The low­er case con­tained the minus­cules (these are the prop­er terms, though not heard much anymore).

This illus­tra­tion has the cas­es reversed — low­er­case is on top — to clear­ly show the var­i­ous sizes of indi­vid­ual com­part­ments need­ed to accom­mo­date the quan­tity of each low­er­case let­ter used for the aver­age com­po­si­tion. (The upper­case com­part­ments are all the same size.) There are more e’s used in the Eng­lish lan­guage than any oth­er let­ter, hence e is stored in the largest section.

Our friend the amper­sand is stored in the upper case (bot­tom in this illus­tra­tion), near the low­er right cor­ner: bot­tom row & sec­ond box in — see it?

Proof­read­ers’ marks

The red lines & dots in Amper­Art #63 Upper & Low­er­case are proof­read­ers’ marks. Although today’s man­u­scripts are proof­read & edit­ed with high­lights, tags & “sticky tag” call­outs — or just edit­ed direct­ly in the word pro­cess­ing or page lay­out pro­gram — there’s noth­ing quite like proof­ing a hard copy print­ed page — you know, paper, not pix­els. That’s usu­al­ly where the last elu­sive typo will be dis­cov­ered. (Anoth­er trick is to read the proof upside-​down.) Proof­ing hard copy is done best with a red pen & a set of good old-​fashioned proof­read­ers’ marks. Here’s a rather com­plete list:

Upper & Lowercase & many more proofreaders' symbols.


Upper & LowercaseCan you fig­ure out what the red proof­read­er’s marks in #63 Upper & Low­er­case mean?
Note: the design shows the final result after the request­ed revi­sions were car­ried out.
1. Close up (pull let­ters tighter together).
2. Make this a cap­i­tal (upper case) letter.
3. “Stet” — let stand, ignore changes, revert to original.
4. Change to lowercase.

Online ref­er­ence from Edit Fast, a ser­vice for writ­ers: online proof­read­ers’ marks chart.

Tri­va: See where it says “insert lead” & ”take out lead”? Most writ­ers & design­ers today know that “lead­ing” is the term for space between lines of type. But why is it called “lead­ing”? When type was set by hand (or even by machine, but still cast line-​by-​line) space was increased between the lines by insert­ing a flat strip of lead which var­ied from 14 point in thick­ness up to 12 points or more. Beyond stack­ing sev­er­al strips of lead for a very large blank space, blocks of wood were fre­quent­ly used. These strips real­ly were made of lead, which is why many com­pos­i­tors end­ed up with can­cer. (Many press oper­a­tors became alco­holics from inhal­ing the ink & sol­vent fumes. But that’s a dif­fer­ent department.)

Upper & Lowercase & all sorts of other edits!

Uh-​oh. The red pen.

This is how messy a page can get if an ama­teur writer is being red­lined by a pro­fes­sion­al edi­tor. This pho­to shows a gal­ley proof, so some of the proof­read­er’s marks might also indi­cate type­set­ter’s errors (typos) & artis­tic adjustments.

This image was “bor­rowed” from a won­der­ful­ly enter­tain­ing sto­ry on how copy edit­ing used to be. Read it here. Writ­ten by a Lon­don edi­tor, the term you’ll be read­ing is “sub-​editing” or “sub­bing,” not copy edit­ing as we call it in the US. Fiona Cul­li­nan’s mem­oirs of the days of when copy & paste meant razor blades & rub­ber cement are pure joy. Brings me back to the days of real gal­ley proofs & the “repro­duc­tion com­put­er.” Thanks, Fiona.

Image © Periodical Training Council training material.


Commas, dashes, upper & lowercase, syntax, spelling, &c.

The Fru­gal Editor

If you’re a writer on a bud­get — or if you’re just a com­pul­sive DIY­er — you can proof & edit, your­self, with a fan­tas­tic, thor­ough guide on self-​editing: The Fru­gal Edi­tor by Car­olyn Howard John­son. I high­ly rec­om­mend this valu­able & fru­gal invest­ment; see a few pages on ama​zon​.com.

The Fru­gal Book Promoter

Once you edit your book, you might want to sell it — right? Car­olyn’s flag­ship book in the Fru­gal series is The Fru­gal Book Pro­mot­er. See it here. This book is the most com­pre­hen­sive guide on self-​promoting (or with inex­pen­sive help of oth­ers) I’ve ever read. Just the one state­ment “start pro­mot­ing your book now, even if it’s not pub­lished yet, even if it’s not writ­ten yet!” is worth the price.

Yes, I designed the cov­ers (you’ll see that if you vis­it the ama­zon links) but I was pas­sion­ate about the project because both books are incred­i­bly thor­ough & help­ful, writ­ten by a bril­liant & delight­ful author & publisher.


 listen up!Print shop was my favorite class in junior & senior high. I print­ed my own busi­ness cards, greet­ing cards, & fly­ers (which I kept pre­cious­ly safe in a stor­age facil­i­ty for over 50 years, intend­ing to share my child­hood cre­ations with you in an arti­cle like this…until they were all auc­tioned off Feb. 8, 2014 & are now in a trash heap some­where along with thou­sands of oth­er bits & pieces of my life, career, art­work — & my soul). My desk is a mess right now — pens, mark­ers, papers & books are every­where* & I guess I’ve had the same bad habit of not putting things away since my ear­ly years. You see, the type that I set my fly­ers & such with in print shop should have been called not upper case & low­er­case, but “floor case.” Because I pied (print­ers’ term for spilled) more type than I set, & nev­er went back to pick it up off the floor. I just pulled more type out of the cas­es. My poor print shop instructor!

*But all my Cray­olas are in the box where they belong.

Production notes for #63 Upper & Lowercase:
Original size: 20x30 inches
Program: InDesign
Fonts: Garamond, Franklin
Ampersand: Franklin
Credits for #63 Upper & Lowercase:
Job cases: Unknown
Proofreaders’ marks: Pearson Higher Education (pear​son​high​ered​.com)
Mark-​up page: Fiona Cullinan, design​ersin​sights​.com © Periodical Training Council training material.
Cover of The Frugal Editor: I designed it — see the book here.


Relat­ed arti­cle in the Print­ing & Pub­lish­ing series:
#93 Work & Turn

For pro­fes­sion­al graph­ic design, please vis­it Des­i­mone Design.

Desimone? Damn good!