A Guide to Uppercase and How to Use it in Typography.

Uppercase - or more commonly, all caps - is a bold (but not bold) form of typography. It’s reserved for emphasis, capitalising people’s names, logos, signage and WRITING ANGRY MESSAGES ONLINE. It’s not for typing paragraphs AND IT DOESN’T MAKE THAT EMAIL SEEM ANY MORE AUTHORITATIVE OR IMPORTANT.

 

So, un-press that caps lock button for a moment and discover the ins, outs, ups and downs of uppercase, with Adobe.

Uppercase letter prints on a wooden table spelling out ‘CASE STUDY’.

What is definition of uppercase in typography?  

 

From punchy logos and business cards to passionate online rants and caps lock catastrophes, uppercase typography is impossible to miss. But it’s easy to ignore when done wrong. 

 

Uppercase doesn’t just refer to capitals, but rather an entire block of text composed of capitals. For example, This Is Title Case. NOW, WE’RE WRITING IN UPPERCASE. And these are capitals: A, B, C, D…

 

It can be seen as a loud or ‘shouty’ style of text and it can become self-defeating when overused, as it can make text difficult to read.

 

For example:

 

IF YOU WRITE AN ENTIRE PARAGRAPH IN UPPERCASE, PEOPLE MAY READ IT AS THOUGH THEY’RE BEING SHOUTED AT - AND NO ONE LIKES TO BE SHOUTED AT. NOTHING SAYS, ‘I’M ANGRY’ LIKE ALL-CAPS. WHAT’S WORSE IS, IF YOU’RE TRYING TO GET A POINT ACROSS, IT COULD BE LOST BECAUSE UPPERCASE TYPOGRAPHY IS DIFFICULT TO READ.

 

THAT MEANS, AS THE PARAGRAPH CONTINUES, INTEREST IN THE TEXT WANES. READERS MAY BEGIN TO SKIM THE TEXT OR CHECK OUT ALTOGETHER. THIS IS SELF-DEFEATING, AS THAT EMPHASIS YOU TRIED TO CREATE IS BEING LOST. YOU’RE LOSING YOUR READER. THEY’RE PHASING OUT.  
 

That’s not to say you can’t use uppercase - but help your reader. USE ALL CAPS SPARINGLY. Even then, bolding content may be better

 

A brief history of uppercase letters.

Capital letters reach back through history, but the terms ‘uppercase’ and ‘lowercase weren’t coined until the printing press. During the dawn of early printing techniques, the ink-pressing letters were arranged by a typesetter. Each letter and line was manually organised - imagine making a typo there.

 

These letters were stored in type cases by compositors - the most used letters, small ones, were placed in the easily accessible lower case letters, with capitals stored in the upper case. It was fiddly, but at least you didn’t risk knocking on caps lock by mistake.

 

Early printed books used uppercase letters - historiated caps - to represent the start of new ideas. These were illustrious illustrations of recognisable figures or scenes like saints. They marked significant places in the text and acted as a form of memory device for oral retellings. Sometimes, historiated caps weren’t used at all. Instead, red strokes would be added to the first letter of a new line.

 

Eventually, early printed books would leave room for initial caps. These were added after a book was published by an illustration artisan. Initial and historiated caps functioned as precursors to drop caps - those giant capital letters at the start of chapters or articles. With the introduction of capital letters, they’ve lost their function, but they retain a sense of style that people love to harken back to - though, they can be a nightmare for web developers.

Alphabet set of engraved medieval style drop caps.

Capital letters in English originate from Latin. If you’ve ever seen any original Latin text, it’s written in majuscule - or, as we know them, capital letters - as opposed to miniscule. That’s right, the Romans were in all caps, all the time. ‘VENI, VIDI, VICI’ or ‘I CAME, I SAW, I CONQUERED’ rings differently in uppercase

 

More surprising, for those who may spend less time with other languages, is that some alphabets don’t use capitals at all. In fact, Japanese, Chinese, Hindi and Arabic are some examples of written languages that don’t use uppercase letters.

 

It’s hard to imagine, with how important capitalisation can be for clarity in the English language. Yet the use case for lower and uppercase today is based on what was essentially a grammatical, historical quirk. It wasn’t until the 14th century that the term ‘capital letter’ even began to appear.

 

Just like uppercase, the term ‘capital’ has an interesting etymological root. It comes from the Latin capit, as in head, as capital letters function as the head of sentences. If things were different, we could be marking sentence or paragraph beginnings in all sorts of different ways.  


 

When to use uppercase letters

 

Uppercase letters play an important role in typography for logos, advertising and communication. However, overuse can appear rude, distracting and unprofessional. As mentioned, it can also cause a reader’s attention to wane - not ideal if you need them to pay attention to something urgent. 

 

There are times you may want to use uppercase letters, though. Starting sentences with capital letters on the first letter of the first word (sentence case) is a given and title case can be used for sub-headings or - more importantly - page titles where the first letter of each word is uppercase

 

Uppercase typography can be effective on business cards and letterheads too. For example, your logo may work in uppercase and, in some style cases, your name as well.  

 

If you’re set on using all-caps in body text, there are ways to make it more legible. All-caps works better in a SMALLER POINT SIZE this is also known as small caps (small capitals) and is comprised of small letters in uppercase letters.. Adding KERNING and increasing the LETTER SPACING can help too and looks smarter and less aggressive than just pressing caps lock. You don’t want your email to look like an angry forum message, after all.

 

More importantly, uppercase letters can negatively impact accessibility due to the increased difficulty of reading. Spaced correctly, it could aid legibility for those with visual impairments - on the downside, reading aids may interpret capital as acronyms or abbreviations.

 

To add letter spacing and kerning:

 

  1. Press Ctrl + D on your keyboard to activate the Font Window.
  2. In the Font Window, select Advanced.
  3. In the Spacing drop-down, select your spacing amount - try 1 for now. Then, check the Kerning for fonts box.

 

 

Examples of uppercase fonts and how to use them in graphic design. 

 

SONY, DIOR, TESLA, PORSCHE - there are a bevy of brands that use uppercase fonts in their logos. But you’ll find that all-caps type in graphic design is seen in many other places.

 

From website banners to quotes - uppercase typography can create an energetic and enticing appearance on the page. Or, if misused, come across as tacky and misplaced. 

 

As with colours and naming, selecting a font that represents your brand identity is essential. For example, if you provide B2B security solutions, a blocky sans-serif font may suit you well. On the other hand, a surf-influenced, vintage clothing store could benefit from a retro-style sans-serif. Swap roles and you’ve got a major identity clash. 

 

If you’re planning on adding uppercase typography to your magazine article designs, then you can play with point setting, letter spacing and placement. This can deliver interesting designs that draw the eye. Too much and your piece could quickly become distracting. Pick the wrong font and it’s disjointed. 

 

For a visual example, play with some of our favourite uppercase fonts on Adobe Fonts:

 

  1. Termina. Perfect for retro vibes with bold, rounded looks and brighter colours. Try using different weights to get that classic film-theatre ticket look. Great for advertising a retro-music bingo event, concert or film night. 
  2. Crassula. These glyphs give a casual, free-spirited feel while still appearing clean, sharp and professional. This font wouldn’t go amiss advertising a botanical store or down-to-earth coffee shop, but it’s incredibly versatile. 
  3. Ysans. Write boldly with a modern, clean and fashionable font that comes with a hint of classic professionalism.

 

 

How to convert to uppercase.

 

Just finished a paragraph that needs some clarity? Or maybe you think a design element might look a bit better in all-caps? Whatever your reason, it’s easy to convert to uppercase in most programmes. 

 

Convert to uppercase in Word and Excel.

Decided that a freshly written Word document has some text that needs to be a bit LOUDER or ATTENTION GRABBING? Don’t rewrite - get it right with these easy steps:

 

  1. Highlight your text by dragging the section you want to convert to uppercase.
  2. Press Shift + F3 - your text will change to title case.

 

To convert text in an Excel document to uppercase:

  1. Type =UPPER(#CELL) where #CELL is the column and row i.e. =UPPER(A2)
  2. If you want, fill this formula into other columns by dragging the cell down.

 

Convert to uppercase in Photoshop.

Converting text to uppercase in Photoshop is easy. Simply press Ctrl (Command on Mac), Shift + K. Just like that, you’ll convert all text to uppercase

 

 

Uppercase FAQS.

 

Is uppercase one or two words?

In most text, uppercase is spelt using one word, but you can also spell it as two words or with a hyphen, depending on your preference or brand style guide.

 

Why does English have uppercase?

While there’s a long history to uppercase letters, it’s used now to distinguish new sentences. Historically, Latin was written in majuscule form - all capitals - and some alphabets are written in miniscule form. For English, this changed over time due to different language influences.

 

What is the opposite of all caps?

All caps, uppercase or majuscule text refer to capitalised text, whereas lowercase or miniscule text is the smaller form. Many alphabets only use miniscule form - for example, Arabic.

Make a bold statement with typography in Photoshop.

 

Explore different fonts, easily convert text to uppercase and create perfect designs and logos with Photoshop today.