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Defining Old Style, Lining, Proportional, and Tabular Figures
Proportional and Tabular Numbers in Old Style and Lining Figures

Old Style figures vary in size and placement while Lining figures are all the same height and position. Proportional figures vary in width while Tabular figures are monospaced. Fonts shown are in Adobe Caslon Pro.

© J. Bear
Have you noticed how some fonts have a 3 or a 9 that hangs below the baseline making them appear larger than the 1 or 2 while the 8 rises above them all? Other fonts have numbers that all line up neatly top to bottom. What you're seeing are Old Style and Lining Figures. You may have heard of both terms, but are you familiar with the differences between Proportional Lining Figures and Tabular Lining Figures? It's most noticeable when trying to line up columns of numbers. Old Style also comes in Proportional and Tabular styles. On this and the following pages discover the differences in each style, how to find them in a font, and when to use each style.

Old Style Figures (OsF)

Also called non-lining figures, these Arabic numerals are not all the same height and some extend above and others below the baseline (like the ascenders and descenders on some lowercase letters).

In the illustration, above, the 1 appears in the style of the letter I in the Old Style figures. That's a feature of the font (Adobe Caslon Pro) and not necessarily the way the 1 appears in all Old Style figures.

Old Style, OldStyle, oldstyle, and old-style are all acceptable spellings.

Lining Figures (LF)

A modern style of numerals also known as short ranging figures or regular numerals, lining figures are all the same height and all figures sit on the baseline. They are generally the same height as the uppercase letters in the typeface.

Proportional

With proportional figures each character may occupy a different amount of horizontal space. A 1 takes up less space than a 5 or a 9.

Tabular (TF)

Tabular figures are monospaced. Each character takes up the same amount of horizontal space.

Choosing Your Figures

So, which is better? It really depends on how you plan to use the numbers. Old Style figures blend in well within a paragraph of text while lining figures work well with all caps and when alignment is more important than blending in. On the next page, discover best uses for each style. On subsequent pages learn how to access the various number styles of OpenType fonts in several software programs.
  1. Defining Old Style, Lining, Proportional, and Tabular Figures
  2. Designing with Old Style, Lining, Proportional, and Tabular Figures
  3. Accessing OpenType Number Forms in Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress
  4. Accessing OpenType Number Forms in Microsoft Publisher and Word 2010
  5. Accessing OpenType Number Forms in Serif PagePlus

Source materials:
http://www.fonts.com/aboutfonts/articles/itsaboutnumbers/opentypenumerals.htm
http://fontfeed.com/archives/figuring-it-out-osf-lf-and-tf-explained/
http://help.fontshop.com/entries/204834-what-do-all-of-these-abbreviations-mean
http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2012/03/14/old-style-versus-lining-figures/
http://www.fonts.com/aboutfonts/articles/itsaboutnumbers/propvstabfigures.htm

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