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I'm using the lettrine package with the default two-line initials (so that I can use findent and nindent). My problem is typographical rather than TeXnical: how do I choose good values for these parameters? Of course, one has to take the shape of the letter into account, but the case especially tricky for me is when the first word is an "I" (the text is in English). What value for findent (the space between the "I" and the next word would you suggest? More importantly, should I set the next line closer or farther to the initial? (I guess closer is better - but by how much?) I'm using Linux Libertine, in case anyone's wondering, but I wouldn't expect the "right" values to vary very much with the font.

In the answers, I'd be most pleased if you not only gave some suggested answers to these two particular problems, but also some general hints about how to wisely choose these values. (Perhaps turning this question into cw is a good idea?)

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I am not sure there is a universal rule about it, and I definitely don't think that there is a rule to be used for more or less all letters and fonts. It is generally best to follow the shape of the letter (say, the indent for a A would be almost the opposite of the indent for a V) and, as you imply, to follow the meaning of the sentence ("I am" versus "Interestingly"). But it seems to me (from other questions here) that most people do it by hand, for each letter and specific context, if any. –  ienissei Mar 31 '12 at 16:05
    
@ienissei: that's exactly what I expect. But I am pretty sure that there are some rules of thumb. –  mbork Mar 31 '12 at 16:12
    
I would imagine that an automated solution would look at the glyph outline, and then choose values to optimize the minimum distance between the dropped letter and the text (depending on whether then next letter is in the same word). I am not sure if this type of analysis can be done within TeX itself. (Maybe look at the microtype package?) It would be very nice to have a database of "optimal" parameters for the common fonts and a few drop-cap heights (2 and 3 lines). –  mforbes Apr 3 '12 at 19:59

2 Answers 2

Not really an answer, but a follow-up to Yannis' answer: here is how I might typeset his examples using XeLaTeX (and the EB Garamond fonts). I would let the serifs and a bit of the rounded O lhang in the left margin a bit for better optical alignment. I also like the first word to be tightly spaced (findent) but to have more space before the second line (nindent). For rounded or curved letters I add a negative slope to make the text track the outline of the letter (but maybe this looks too fussy?). I also increase the size of the letters a bit loversize so they optically extend up to the height of capital letters. (In particular, I do not like how the "O" in Yannis example only comes up to the height of the "n".)

Interesting problem of how to automate all of this.

\documentclass{book}
\usepackage{fontspec}
\setlength\textwidth{4in}
\setmainfont{EB Garamond}

\usepackage{lettrine}
% Need to specify a config file to use \LettrineOptionsFor, even if it is
% not used.
\renewcommand{\DefaultOptionsFile}{NoFileOnPurposeHack.cfg}

\LettrineOptionsFor{I}{
  loversize=0.09,    % Slightly larger to extend up to cap height
  findent=0pt,       % No indent for first line for word "in"
  nindent=0.25em,    % Indent second line (no "ibook"'s here)
  lhang=0.2}         % Hang serifs into the margin for optical alignment
\LettrineOptionsFor{O}{
  loversize=0.08,    % Slightly larger to extend up to cap height
  lraise=-0.01,      % Lower slightly for optical alignment
  findent=-0.2em,    % Negative indent to make "On" like a word
  nindent=0.4em,     % Indent second line (partially cancel negative indent)
  slope=-0.25em,     % Bring third line back a bit (maybe too fussy?)
  lhang=0.1}         % Hang it out for optical alignment

\begin{document}
\lettrine[lines=2]{I}{}t is a pleasure to record my thanks to the people who
contributed to this book.  The indelible traces of wonderful teachers and
friends are imprinted on each page, and the existence of this project is
unimaginable to me without their help.

\vspace{2\baselineskip} 

\lettrine[lines=3]{O}{}n 19 July 1925 Druze farmers shot down a French
surveillance airplane circling above their mountain home, Jabal
\d{H}awr\^an, some 1000 kilometers south of Damascus.\textsuperscript{1}
These ere the first shots of a revolt that would last two years, beginning
and ending in Jabal \d{H}awr\^an.
\end{document}

Example output. There are also some nice examples of drop caps on typophile, but all the examples are much more extreme to the extent that they completely skirt the issue. You might find some expert advice about the typographic aspects there though.

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Though low-resolution images, the pages of the website have some great examples of nicely spaced drop caps: pennyroyal-caxton.com –  mforbes Apr 4 '12 at 5:27

The distance between the drop cap and the indented text is normally as you noted very small approaching almost the normal distance between the letters (i.e., as if you have typed the letters normally). This is probably why the lettrine package author has set the value of findent=0pt. The images below are from a book I happened to been reading this afternoon. As you will observe the "I" is very close to the text.

enter image description here

The distance is kept constant for almost all letters although for the O is approximately 1pt wider, but then the "O" is three lines high whereas the "I" was set on only two.

enter image description here

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Thanks! The author of lettrine decided to indent the second line by 0.5em by default, which I like. However, the problem of a paragraph starting with the pronoun "I" is still unsolved... –  mbork Apr 3 '12 at 20:01
    
@mbork I would have it set as shown above, no further indentation. As a sideline is a very bad opening to start a new paragraph with the pronoun "I". –  Yiannis Lazarides Apr 3 '12 at 20:07
    
I am not sure these examples are optimal: Both letters should lhang slightly into the left margin for better optical alignment and I agree with @mbork that there should be a little bit of nindent (though I think 0.5em is too much in this case). For you first example \lettrine[lines=2,loversize=0.09,findent=0pt,nindent=0.25em,lhang=0.2]{I}{}t seems close to optimal for me. –  mforbes Apr 3 '12 at 20:24
    
@mforbes I am not sure either, they are from a University of Texas Press book (2005). Will try and dig some more examples. –  Yiannis Lazarides Apr 3 '12 at 20:32

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