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DropCap HowTo

DropCap: Short for Dropped Capital, that big, fancy letter at the beginning of the page or paragraph with the text wrapped around it. Most of the dropcap fonts lack numbers and punctuation and many lack lower case letters as well. They are not suitable for body text and the extra characters could make the font prohibitively large. Use Font Compare  to see if the font has what you need.

Installation: Just like any other TrueType font. All the fonts are in zip files, which can be opened with WinZip or most other archivers. Install the .ttf file using Start/ Settings/ Control Panel/ Fonts/ File/ Install New Font. A certain amount of restraint is recommended. Windows  can go a bit weird when there are too many fonts installed. How many is too many? Probably depends on your machine. At the moment, I have 403 and Windows 98SE is perfectly happy. The 128 megs of RAM might have something to do with it. About 300 was the trouble spot on my old P133 running Windows 95. Also a single large font can cause problems. I once had to remove a 900k monster because Windows was upset. That was on the old machine, though.

To Fonts folder or not to Fonts folder: If you are running Windows 95, then install them to the Windows/Fonts folder because the registry font key is limited to 64K. The font name and full path to the font, if it is not in the Fonts folder, is stored within that key. Shorter path = more fonts. I'm not sure about other Windows versions.

The arguement for storing fonts elsewhere is that it is easier to install a batch for a project. Uninstalling them can be another matter unless you have a font manager that supports Font Groups, like Bitstream Font Navigator, that comes with WordPerfect and CorelDraw. If you don't, you have to dig through the Fonts folder anyway. Also, this only works if you projects go away afterwards. Mine don't. They get added to. Bits are used in other projects. Sometimes people want a copy six months later.  I just dump the fonts in the Fonts folder and mostly leave them there.

Print: Any good word processor has a drop cap option. I find that the fonts where the letters are pretty much square fit best in the space provided, but you can usually tinker with the formatting and get any of them to fit. With all of these fonts to choose from, you should be able to find one that will make your page a work of art.

 If you want the dropcap to look right, don't use some ratty old cartridge that you have refilled yourself. The nozzle plate wears out and the lines get fuzzy, turning the artistic dropcap into an unsightly blob. and both offer quality cartridges at 50% to 70% off with free shipping. is a bit cheaper for my HP 694.  Runs about half of the best price in my area. Both places seem to be practically giving away Epson and Canon cartridges, though. Why not HP?

Dropcaps on the Web: Not with these fonts. The only way a font will appear on a Web page is if it is installed on the user's computer. Obviously, there are a lot of installed fonts on a lot of computers, but you have to specify the font or fonts with face="font name". You can have a comma separated list within the quotes and Windows will go down the list and display the first one it finds, but there is no telling whether it will find any of them. For Windows computers, the only reliable fonts are:
Times New Roman
Comic Sans MS
For other operating systems, you are reduced to Times New Roman and Arial, because, while just about any machine can furnish a serif font or a sans serif font, Comic Sans MS and Wingdings are installed by Windows and may not have an equivalent in Mac OS, UNIX, etc.

The good news is, there is a way to fake it. That big red T at the beginning or the paragraph was produced by increasing the font size, changing the color and changing the font to Times New Roman, instead of Arial like the rest of the page. All of this can be accomplished with plain, old, universally supported HTML. The cap can't be made to drop as in a word processor, but at least it can be made decorative. Take a closer look at the spacing between the first and second lines of this paragraph, though. Browsers adjust line spacing according to the largest letter in the line, so you have to find something you can live with.

Another method is to use a small image of the desired letter and stick it at the beginning of a paragraph. The down side is that it slows down page loading and you have to be a lot more careful about formatting the page or the image may end up some place it is not supposed to.  It is worthwhile in some cases, though, because an artistic and well chosen drop cap can really add pizzaz to the page.

The third method is Cascading Style Sheets. The catch is that the only browsers that really support CSS are Internet Explorer and Netscape 6.1. Earlier versions of Netscape don't, and accord to my server logs, version 4.x is still out there. That means that some browsers can be confronted with a page that doesn't load or looks like the dog's breakfast if it does. MS FrontPage and CSS have produced a lot of dysfunctional Web sites.

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