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Briem’s notes on type design: Spacing numerals

All the numerals of a font should have the same width. Otherwise tabular settings look untidy. (In a display face that nobody would use for columns of numbers, you can space them the same way you space the letters.)

Rough balance

Start with the zero. Give it the same sidebearings right and left. If it isn’t symmetrical, center it optically. When you have decided on the zero, space the rest of the numerals between zeros, this way.


This is a good start. The numerals should be evenly centered between the zero on either side. The numeral 1 is an exception.

Too much: The gap is too wide between the numeral 1 and the other three numbers.

Acceptable: Here the numeral 1 is not too far from the other numbers.

The numeral 1 is usually put slightly right of center. Otherwise it can get separated from numbers that follow it.

Fine tuning

When you have balanced the numerals between two zeros, you need a second look. Use this table for your own design.


Pay attention to the vertical columns, not the horizontal lines. Let’s start with the second column from the left. At the top, the numeral 1 stands between two zeros. Below it, it stands between pairs of all the other numerals. Make a note of any combinations that are too close or too far apart.

Next look at the numeral 2. It is in the fourth column from the left. And it is flanked by pairs of the other numerals. It may not fit comfortably between the numerals 1 which may be, as we have seen, slightly off center. It will no doubt look fine right below it between two of its own kind. Look carefully for uneven spots in the rest of the column.

The numeral 3 is in the sixth column, the numeral 4 in the eight and so on. Run your eyes up and down through the combinations of each one. Mark tight and loose spots. Then adjust.

What moves? If the numeral 6 doesn’t look right with the numeral 4 on either side, either the numeral 6 or 4 may be out of place. Deciding which of the two should be shifted is easy. Look up and down a column of one of them, then the other. You’ll soon see which doesn’t fit well with any of the pairs around it.

Symbols and punctuation

A number of characters should be spaced between numerals. The currency symbols are among them: dollar and cent, for example, sterling and yen. They should have the same width as the numerals.

A wordspace of half the numeral width works well in columns of numbers. That’s also a convenient width for the comma and the period, colon and semicolon.

Not all typefaces space the same characters with numerals. Take a look at a few good designs and make your own choices. The pages about font metrics tell you how.

Notes on type design. Copyright © 1998, 2001, 2022 Gunnlaugur SE Briem. All rights reserved. Republished with permission in 2022 by Fontlab Ltd.