What Are Classical Caps? And How To Use Them!

What Are Classical Caps? And How To Use Them! main article image
Posted on June 2, 2021 by Eve Kearney

In the first part of this post, I’m going to show you the origin of the Classical Caps. In the second part, I will show you how they are useful!

Classical caps have the proportions and stylings similar to roman transcriptions, the most famous being the Trajan column in Rome.

When blown up, the letters look like this:

Trajan Column Inscription

Take a few more seconds to really enjoy how beautiful these letters are!

Classical caps are also called capitalis monumentalis or square capitals, because some letters have square proportions:

Other letters have extra narrow or wide proportions in the classical style:

And…some of the above letters were not found in the original Latin inscriptions!

Classical Latin used the V instead of the U, and the I (cap i) instead of the J. The W was not invented yet. The K, Z, and Y are of Greek origin. That means that designers usually don’t have original models for the U, J, W, K, Y, and Z. They have to invent their own.

We come to the first series of revivals in…

The Renaissance Revival of Classical Caps

The Renaissance (1400s and early 1500s) was not only a revival of classical art, but also classical lettering.

Some artists, humanists, and scientists were obsessed with constructing everything according to the proportions of the human body. 

Leonardo da Vinci’s Vetruvian man, is not just a drawing of the proper proportions of a person. It’s meant to represent the appropriate architecture of a church.

For letters, Leon Battista Alberti, Felice Feliciano, Luca Pacioli (friend of da Vinci), and Geoffroy Tory would design their own alphabets, giving their own opinions about the proper proportions of Classical Caps. (Tory’s Champ Fleury shown.)

Tory Champ Fleury A

Tory even specifies the correct stroke thickness of the letter I, which is 1/9th to 1/10th of the letter’s height.

Tory Cap Thickness

Obviously, with bolds and lights, we don’t follow these rules today…

So how are these letters useful?

How To Use Classical Caps

In previous times, and still today, inscriptional caps are used on tombs, and monuments, such as the linoln memorial here:

Image: cliff1066 at Flickr; cropped by Beyond My Ken

But you don’t need to use it for anything so epic. Use these letters where you want to indicate:

  • Importance
  • Timelessness
  • Special Event
  • Tradition
  • Artistry
  • Beauty

Here’s an example of a timeless quote using classical caps:

Inspirational quote with Classical Caps

I think that classical caps can work well with anything labeled “fine”: fine dining, fine music, fine art. (pamphlets, books, posters, cookbooks). Doesn’t this look delicious?

Cooking Book Cover Idea

Since they make you think of the timeless and ancient, these letters also work really well for religious topics: posters, events, websites, hymnals. Even if you write your own sacred song, it looks nice if you put these caps at the top of the sheet music.

Mixing these letters with italic calligraphy also looks amazing!

Classical Caps with Italic Calligraphy

Here, I put classical caps on a magazine concept:

Magazine Concept with Classical Caps

Thanks for reading! I hope that these ideas help you see possibilities for your own designs.

Happy designing, Dave Lawrence and the California Type Foundry

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What Are Classical Caps? And How To Use Them!

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