Proportions in Copperplate

 

It is hard to imagine that proportions are of any importance in writing. After all, those foolscap we used in school only come with a single line height per pad (ie 0.7cm spacing between every horizontal line). *Read more about the origins of the term "Foolscap Paper" at the end of this post!

Yet in most calligraphy forms, the proportions of letters are clearly defined, especially broad edge scripts. Although it is not clearly defined in Copperplate, there are several variations which are widely used and accepted. 

The proportions we are discussing in this article refer specifically to the height of the ascender / descender against the x-height (also known as minims). The height of ascenders should be similar to the height of descenders, and should look identical when the paper is turned upside-down.

It is quite common to use ratios when communicating with others what proportions are being used. For example, if one were to use 2 cm for ascenders and descenders, 1 cm for x-height, then one might say:

"I use the proportions of 2:1:2 in my script."

This holds true even if one were to use 4 cm for ascenders and descenders, 2 cm for x-height. The ratio simply defines the height of ascenders and descenders. The x-height actually defines how tall the letters are. In order for one to actually know how big your letters are, you would then have to say:

"I use the proportions of 2:1:2, 5 mm x-height in my script"

While we know that x-heights in Copperplate are arbitrary, can we select any ratio to be used in Copperplate? Why, yes of course! The only difference is that some proportions look better than others!

Some popular ratios

Before seeing the popular ration, let's look at how using a bad ratio can make your script look strange. Here we use 1:2:1, which makes the ascenders and descenders shorter than the minims.

 
1:2:1 Ratio  Ascender - 5mm, X-height - 10mm, Descender - 5mm 

1:2:1 Ratio 

Ascender - 5mm, X-height - 10mm, Descender - 5mm 

 

 

Don't, just don't.

So anyway, these are some of the ratios I use in my own writing:

 

1:1:1 Ratio Ascender - 5mm , x-height - 5mm, Descender- 5mm

1:1:1 Ratio

Ascender - 5mm , x-height - 5mm, Descender- 5mm

 
3:2:3 Ratio Ascender - 7.5mm , x-height - 5mm, Descender- 7.5mm

3:2:3 Ratio

Ascender - 7.5mm , x-height - 5mm, Descender- 7.5mm

 
 
2:1:2 Ratio Ascender - 10mm , x-height - 5mm, Descender- 10mm

2:1:2 Ratio

Ascender - 10mm , x-height - 5mm, Descender- 10mm

 

At the end of the day, you should experiment to see what works for you, but it would be safe to stay within these limits. 

(Video) Writing 'big" in a 3:2:3 ratio

*On Foolscap paper:

The term Foolscap was derived from the commonly used fool's caps and bells watermark on paper from the fifteenth century on-wards. The popularity of using such a watermark on paper could have been due to the charm of the image, which depicts a fool (court jester) in a floppy cock's comb cap and a collar with pointed peaks, each bearing a jingle bell. In modern times, the term is used for paper cut to a specific size of 432 × 343 mm.