International Typography: Problems and Solutions


Diacritical markings are more commonly known as the accents found above and below some letters. Many designers mistakenly believe their presence is trivial; however, typographers consider them as full characters rather than just add-ons to unaccented letters.

The following languages use these accents:

  • Japanese
  • Arabic
  • Russian
  • Polish
  • German

Since English-speaking countries developed most modern computer technology, the majority of computer text sets have a bias toward the unaccented Roman alphabet. This led to accents being used rarely in digital typography, even by graphic artists whose native languages include them.

Today, graphic designers are trying to add diacritical markings back into their work. The following are some of the most common international typography problems and some potential solutions to them.

Improper Usage

Most people accept the lack of diacritical markings on computers, but it’s hard to look past using them wrong. To get an idea for how unprofessional that would look, imagine a design of yours going to print in a magazine with a very obvious typo. In bold. Ouch. Take the time to learn what the accents are there for, not just that they should be there.

Skewed Meanings


Warping lettering is a common practice in typography. It looks artistic. But, warping accent marks can potentially change what the words mean! To avoid this, be sure to research what each accent mark you’re using looks like in a variety of weights and sizes. That way, if you skew it, you can maintain its readability.

Limited Availability

There are numerous popular fonts that weren’t designed with any accented characters. This limits the choices that designers have for look and feel if they want to include the proper accents. When faced with the choice, the majority still favor the look.

If you can’t live without a particular unaccented font, try one of these solutions:

  • Download an accent pack that will add diacritical marks when you type special keystrokes.
  • Manually draw the accent markings onto the letters after typing the text.

Lazy Substitutions

Using punctuation marks, such as apostrophes, in place of similar-looking accent marks is a very common inaccuracy in digital typography.

Designers do it for several reasons:

  1. They don’t know that it looks correct in some fonts and completely wrong in others.
  2. They’re unaware that it can change the meaning of the word entirely.
  3. They’re trying to make up for the fact that their favorite fonts have no diacritical markings and are hoping nobody will notice the small difference.

Lack of Demand

International Typography

Since many graphic designers are still taking the lazy route and substituting punctuation marks for proper accent marks or just skipping diacritics altogether, font makers don’t know there is that much of a demand for them. The first step toward an over-all solution to the international typography accent problem is to make it known that there is a problem. Don’t skip or substitute accent marks – ask for more fonts with the actual accents you need!

In short, if diacritical marks are to make a comeback in digital typography, font designers need to include them in their new typesets, designers need to use them more frequently, and everyone needs to use them properly.

Sonia Mansfield is the content editor for PsPrint and editor of PsPrint Printing and Design Blog. PsPrint is an online printing company, which you can follow on Twitter and Facebook.


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