Last time I gave a basic overview of figures and wrote about design decisions for 0, 1, 2, 4, and 7. This post covers the remaining Indo-Arabic numerals: 3, 5, 6, 8, and 9.

If they were text figures, the 3, 5, and 8 would descend below the baseline, while 6 and 9 are the only numbers that are cap height (or close to it). But in this font I’m using lining figures—numerals that all sit on the baseline and rise to about cap height.


The 5 contains a horizontal flag at the top. This flag tends to be thicker than the vertical (or slightly angled) stroke which connects it on the left side to a bowl down below. The bowl is usually about x-height, thickest on the right, and thinner at the joint and the lower extreme. For this typeface, the x-height is generously high, so the top of the bowl is well below x-height. (Remember, it’s all about the negative space.)

The top of the 5 (above the bowl) is usually a bit narrower than the bowl, so as not to be top heavy. To do this, the angle of the vertical stroke can lean forward, the flag can be shorter than the width of the bowl, or both.

The angle of the terminals should harmonize with the rest of the font.


The 3 is similar to the uppercase B in that the top bowl is smaller than the bottom. This is also similar to the 5. In fact, the lower bowl of the 3 and the 5 are typically the same height.

However, the lower bowl of the 3 is usually a bit narrower, and the bowl of the 5 tends to be more open.

The top of the 3 can look like a cursive z with a horizontal top and angled connection to the lower bowl. This is more calligraphic and can be confused with the 5. For the Protest font I prefer to use the rounded form, which is more colloquial anyway.

The trick with the 3 (or any number other than 1 or 7) is to make sure it looks condensed enough to go with the rest of the typeface, and also has enough white space to give the typeface consistent typographic color. For Protest, this means opening up the bowls a bit by angling the terminals and not bringing the curves all the way to the 9 o’clock position.

Drawing this letter I kept rotating it clockwise, like it was rocking backwards. Thankfully, the form is still fine—I just need to rotate it when I get it into the computer.


The 8 can be drawn as a continuous stroke, like an S that’s been started and ended in the middle. It can also be drawn as two circles, a smaller on top of a larger, like a snowman. In the latter case, the joint between the upper and lower loops needs to intersect completely to lower the amount of ink.

The trick in a monoline typeface like Protest, is to draw some of the lines (the upstroke or joints) a bit lighter than normal to open up the counters a bit. I find doing this to be difficult. Actually, I find drawing the number 8 to be dificult in general.

6 and 9

The 6 and 9 look at first glance to be the same form rotated 180°. However, the 6 is a bit wider and has a slightly larger loop, since the loop is on the bottom.

The stress (the thickest part) on the six is also closer to the loop, where the stress on the 9 is closer to the hook (or stem).

The hook or stem can be either straight or curved. For the Protest typeface there is a need for greater whitespace. So I’ve chosen to make the stem curved enough to scoop out some more space, but not so curved that it closes up or cuts off that space.

This works really well for the 6, but was harder to draw with the 9. In order to make th 9 more stable, I gave its stem a bit of curve but terminated it on the baseline, rather than perpendicular to the baseline like the top of the 6.

This means the 6 and 9 aren’t rotationally symetrical, but they harmonize well and still make perfect sense for a handmade font.

Up Next

Next week I’ll talk about non-English Latin-based glyphs, beginning with ligatures. This will include characters like Æ, æ, Œ, œ, and ß.