Stylistic Alternates: The Salt and Pepper of Typography

Let’s take a moment to pay some attention to the charming chameleons of the typography world: Stylistic Alternates (sometimes referred to as ‘Bonus’ or ‘Extra’ Glyphs). They can be subtle or obvious and can change everything!

What’s a Stylistic Alternate?

Before we answer that, let’s zoom out and discuss what a glyph is. If you’re picturing ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, you’re not entirely off. In modern typography, a glyph is essentially any individual mark within a font; Including letters, numbers, punctuation, symbols, and all those fun extras like swashes and ligatures.

Those ‘fun extras’ are where we find the answer to our original question; These are often referred to as stylistic alternates. Not all fonts have them, it’s not always necessary, but those that do can be great to work with!

A Designer’s Secret Lettering Weapon

Alternates are the cufflinks to a suit, and the socks to sandals. Sure, you can strut out in a plain black dress, but pair it with a statement necklace, and voilà! These fancy glyphs add nuanced details, they bring extra personality, rhythm, and character to your typography. Giving it a more customized appearance.

For instance, a flourish on the capital ‘T’ or a decorative ampersand can add a touch of elegance to a wedding invitation. Similarly, unique symbols, swashes, and doodles that were designed specifically to work with the font can help tie the type with the rest of your creation.

stylistic alternative example

How to Enhance Your Designs with These Powerful Glyphs

To fully embrace the glyph glory, you first need to know where to find them! Design software such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, allow you to access a font’s full glyph panel, where you can swap in these great extras by having the type box active and selecting the glyph you want.

GIF Animation Showing the Glyph Panel Within Photoshop

Don’t have Photoshop or Illustrator? No worries! With Character Map software (free and paid versions available for both Windows and Mac) you can simply copy your selected glyph from the font and paste it into your design software. This includes the popular cloud design software, Canva. Providing you have Canva Pro and the font installed on their system.

Don’t go crazy!

Just like any design element, using these fancy guys is all about balance. Overcrowding your design with a carnival of swashes and symbols is likely to end in a mess. Simplicity is often key. Think of stylistic alternates, ligatures, swashes, and symbols as seasoning. No amount of seasoning fixes a leathery steak. Nail the design and if it needs a little extra, you know what to do.

Here are some fonts to get started

It would be a damn shame to go through all this effort and not share some of my fonts with you. I have plenty with fancy swashes, symbols, and extras. To make life easier, some of the families have separate ‘symbol’ fonts where you can type (for example) the letter ‘A’, and an arrow or scribbled circle will appear. 

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