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Be more creative with drop caps in Affinity Publisher

Drop caps have decorative and practical purposes, so naturally, Affinity Publisher provides an easy way to create them—but you can use its other features for even greater creative control.

Affinity Publisher’s Paragraph panel addresses the fundamentals of drop caps: how many lines tall they are, how many characters they encompass, and the minimum distance at which other text wraps around them.

You can also apply a character style and quick ‘fixes’ for problematic descenders and left alignment.

Our alternative method doesn’t use that feature at all, though. Instead, we’ll combine the following advanced features of Affinity Publisher:

  • Artistic text, which allows for precise sizing and positioning.
  • Text wrapping, to enable text to flow tightly and elegantly around any shape.
  • Pinning, to ensure that if the associated text frame is moved, the drop cap stays with it.

The method boils down to three quick stages: turn a character into artistic text, apply a text wrap to it, and pin it to the corresponding text frame.

Document setup

Create a new document with whatever settings you want.

  1. Set the document to use and show a baseline grid.
  2. Turn on snapping to the baseline grid.
  3. Draw a text frame and insert filler text.
  4. Expand the filler text field and edit the text so the first paragraph will accommodate a drop cap.
  5. If necessary, replace the first character with one that has an angled or curved right side, such as A or O.

Separate the first character

The first character needs to be an independent object to gain full control of it.

  1. Cut the first character to the Clipboard.
  2. Choose Select > Deselect.
  3. Select the Artistic Text Tool.
  4. Paste the Clipboard’s contents.

The character is pasted as an artistic text object and keeps its previous styling.

Size and style it

Make the artistic text look like a drop cap.

  1. Move the artistic text, so it is outside the text frame and sitting on the same baseline as the frame’s first line.
  2. Drag its lower-left handle, so the text spans the desired number of lines, ensuring it remains snapped to a baseline. Resizing from the bottom maintains top alignment with the frame’s first line.
  3. Apply any other character styling you want. I’ve used a bold font weight and CMYK 82, 62, 0, 0 as the text’s fill colour.

Reposition and wrap

Let’s make other text flow around the drop cap.

  1. Select the artistic text object.
  2. On the Toolbar, select Show Text Wrap Settings.
  3. Set Wrap Style to Tight and Wrap To to Largest Side.
  4. Select Close.

The lowest line next to the artistic text might become empty. If so, slowly dragging the artistic text’s lower-left or lower-right handle along the baseline will fix this.

Position the artistic text within the text frame. The frame’s text will wrap to the drop cap’s rectangular bounding box as if you had selected the Square wrap style.

An instant solution is to convert it to curves, but this sacrifices the text’s editability. It’s preferable to edit the wrap outline.

  1. On the Toolbar, select Edit Wrap Outline. Nodes appear at the bounding box’s corners.
  2. Drag the nodes—and add any more that are needed—so the flowing text wraps more closely around the drop cap.
  3. (Optional) Select Show Text Wrap Settings and adjust the Distance From Text values, so spacing around the drop cap is well proportioned.

Changes made to the drop cap’s position and size are automatically applied to the wrap outline as well.

Keep it all together

Now we just need to ensure the artistic text follows transformations applied to the text frame.

  1. Use the Move Tool to select the artistic text object.
  2. Open the Pinning panel.
  3. Select Float.

The artistic text is pinned relative to a specific position within the text frame’s contents. If the pin is not before the first character, drag it there.

Two settings on the Pinning panel maintain the drop cap’s position relative to the text that flows around it.

Keep Preserve manual position checked. The horizontal and vertical Offset values will update to reflect the drop cap’s position relative to the frame.

Also, keep the vertical Of setting set to Line. This ensures the drop cap doesn’t drift out of alignment with the frame’s first line.

Take it further

You need not accept a typeface’s default baseline grid alignment or scale your drop cap lettering by whole numbers of lines.

Experiment with more elaborate typefaces in which you can manually align to interesting features within glyphs. The example below is Lovers Quarrel from Google Fonts.

This technique can also be applied to drop caps made of multiple objects, such as a shape behind a letter. Simply group the objects and apply text wrapping and pinning to the group rather than one of its constituents.

Technical author

Alan is part of our technical authoring team and joined us from the world of magazines (MacUser), where he wrote up software techniques and worked on pioneering interactive digital editions. When he’s not neck-deep in page layouts, layer masks and adjustment layers, you’ll often find him digging through second-hand records for interesting sleeve artwork or gazing in wonderment at the graphical variety of Japanese video games.