TypeTalk: A Dash of This, a Dash of That

TypeTalk is a regular blog on typography. Post your questions and comments by clicking on the Comments icon above. If Ilene answers your question in the blog, you’ll receive one Official Creativepro.com T-Shirt!

Q. When typesetting a negative figure, such as negative 6%, is it better to use an en dash or the dash on my keyboard?

A. Dashes, minus signs, and hyphens can confuse the best of us.

The minus sign is a mathematical symbol used to indicate subtraction, as well as the negative value you mentioned. The typographically accurate designer should use the minus symbol whenever possible, especially when combined with other math symbols.

Figure 1. The hyphen, en dash, and minus symbol from Linotype Compatil Fact Pro, ITC WacWakOops! Std, TypeCulture Alphatier, Adobe Chaparral Pro, Curlz MT.

Figure 2. The minus in use in the same fonts.

The minus sign is a character in the Symbol font available with most operating systems and in most other (but not all) fonts. Usually, it’s different from both the hyphen and the en dash. The minus symbol usually matches the design, width, vertical position, and spacing of the other math symbols, and is often the same stroke as the horizontal stroke of the plus sign.

The easiest way to access the minus symbol in a font is via the glyph palette; it is located in front of the register mark, with the Unicode ID 2212. In the Symbol font (but not other fonts), it is the hyphen key.

Figure 3. The location of the minus symbol in the Adobe Illustrator glyph palette and its Unicode ID are circled in red.

Love type? Want to know more? Ilene Strizver conducts her acclaimed Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her e-newsletter at www.thetypestudio.com.

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Posted on: September 18, 2008

Ilene Strizver

Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer, writer and educator specializing in all aspects of visual communication, from the aesthetic to the technical. Her book, Type Rules! The designer’s guide to professional typography, 4th edition, has received numerous accolades from the type and design community. She conducts her widely acclaimed Gourmet Typography Workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her free e‑newsletter, All Things Typographic, at www.thetypestudio.com.

2 Comments on TypeTalk: A Dash of This, a Dash of That

  1. In my preparation to become a Maths teacher I was taught to make a distinction between the minus operation sign (which belongs in the same category as the ‘plus’, ‘multiplied by’ and ‘divided by’ operators) and the negative sign. It seems to me that the answer to this query conflates the two. Is it really standard typographical practice to use the same glyph for a negative sign before a number as for the minus operation?

    “Never underestimate the power of a minority who cherish the vision of a just and gentle world” – Robert Bellah

  2. Kerning is a black art I have yet to get my head around. How much is too much? If you are picking a space to match in a word, which one do you pick? How do you even out the space in the word “How”, for example. Is it purely visual or can it be mathmatical? Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

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