Drop Caps in Word

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We look at the Drop Cap function in Word 2003 as a simple way to capture the ornate look of an old book or manuscript.

By Michael Barden

In this edition of Office for Mere Mortals, we look at the Drop Cap function in Word 2003 as a simple way to capture the ornate look of an old book or manuscript. In conjunction with the Frames dialog, there are many options that can be used to change the look, positioning and behavior of any drop cap to suit your formatting needs or taste.


An “initial” is a single letter at the beginning of a novel or section within a document that is larger than the rest of the text. In old books and manuscripts, these initials were sometimes ornately decorated and often extended down two or more lines giving what we now commonly know as a “Drop Cap”.

There are actually three types of initials – two of which are considered to be drop caps, and all of which are possible to recreate in Word:

  • The first type of initial (a true drop cap) sits within the document margins and runs down several lines deep into the paragraph. The left and top margins of the drop cap line up flush with the paragraph margins, and the normal paragraph text wraps around it. In Word this is called “Dropped”.
  • The second type of initial (also a type of drop cap) sits within the left margin of the document with the normal paragraph text indented – Word calls this “In margin”.
  • The final type of initial sits on the same baseline as the first line of text in a paragraph and also has the same left margin. Where Word is concerned, the first character in the paragraph has simply been given a larger font size than (and sometimes different to) the rest of the paragraph.

Microsoft Word groups the first two of these types of initials into the “Format | Drop Cap” function.

The third is done simply by selecting the first letter and changing the size accordingly (you can create a character style to make this consistent in your document).



The “Format | Drop Cap” function is only available in the menu when the cursor is currently placed within a paragraph of text. It doesn’t matter where the cursor is placed within the paragraph or even whether any text is selected within that paragraph – only the very first character within the paragraph will be affected. If you are working with text in tables or text boxes, the Drop Cap function will be unavailable.

In Word 2007 you’ll find Drop Caps on the Insert tab with a pull-down gallery of the three main options. Other than that, the Drop Cap feature seems the same as in earlier versions of Word.

The Drop Cap dialog provides a number of customizable options that are stored for every separate paragraph.

The Drop Cap Dialog image from Drop Caps in Word at Office-Watch.com

The “Position” option relates to the positioning of the drop cap in the paragraph. The options are: “None”, “Dropped”, or “In margin”. The “None” position is obviously selected on a new paragraph, as they aren’t created with a drop cap by default. To get a drop cap, you must explicitly set it as either “Dropped” or “In margin”.

The “Dropped” option makes sure that the drop cap letter extends downwards into the text within the main margins of the document. The rest of the text wraps around the drop cap on the lower lines.

The “In margin” option places the drop cap letter within the left-hand margin of the document, so that the rest of the text appears within the main margins of the document and does not have to wrap around it.

By selecting “Dropped” or “In margin”, the “Options” section will now be made available instead of appearing grayed out. These options are: “Font”, “Lines to drop” and “Distance from text”.

The “Font” option defaults to the font of the first character in the current paragraph – the character that will be made into a drop cap. While you may leave the font as is to be consistent with the rest of the paragraph, you will often see a drop cap within a book to be a completely different font to the main text. Often this font is more ornate, of an older style, or scripted – the sort of font that looks nice for a single character or word, but would probably be difficult to read for whole slabs of text. Use the preview function of the “Format | Font” dialog to your advantage when trying to find an appropriate font for your drop cap.

The “Lines to drop” function specifies the number of lines that the drop cap letter will extend downwards. It is set to “3” by default, although any choice from 2 onwards would suffice depending on your taste.

Setting this option to 1 wouldn’t seem to make any sense since the character won’t “drop” down any lines as you would expect in a traditional drop cap and will appear like a normal character would. This setting may be of use if you had the “In margin” option selected and only wanted a normal-sized character appearing within the left margin to start a paragraph.

The “Distance from text” option allows you to specify the horizontal distance between the frame that surrounds the drop cap letter and the rest of the text including any wrapped text. A selection of 0.1″ seems to work well – but use your judgment.

Once you have made your choices, click “OK” and the drop cap will appear at the beginning of the paragraph.

A Simple Drop Cap image from Drop Caps in Word at Office-Watch.com



If you wish to change the settings you have selected on a particular drop cap, simply move the cursor to the paragraph and open up the Drop Cap dialog again (“Format | Drop Cap”). If you want to remove the drop cap altogether, simply select the “None” position and the drop cap will be returned into normal text.

If you want more than a single letter for your drop cap, place the cursor beside the drop cap letter (inside the frame) and continue to type. Make sure to delete any text you may have duplicated from the normal paragraph text.

When a drop cap has been created, it will appear within a shaded rectangular box known as a “Frame”. A frame can be dragged and dropped to any position within the document, and even manually resized with its handles.

Double-clicking on the frame itself will bring up the “Frame” dialog box. This provides precise control over the size and positioning of the frame and therefore of the drop cap within your paragraph.

Since a drop cap is simply a letter within a frame, you can customize the look even more with normal formatting options. Select the letter within the frame and you can color the letter, color the background, make the letter bold, and so on. You can also select the letter and navigate to “Format | Font” to bring up the “Font” dialog box for a myriad of other font options.



If you want even more flair with your drop cap letters, why not take advantage of the Microsoft clip art range?

To do this, click where you want a drop cap letter to appear and navigate to “Insert | Picture | Clip Art”. This will display the “Clip Art” pane on the right-hand side of the screen. Search for the letter you want to use (e.g. type “T” into the “Search for” box and click “Go”). If the “Search in” drop-down list is set to “All collections” then you will get results appearing from Microsoft online.

Browse through the designs and when you have made your selection, drag the clip art in question to the place in your document. The clip art letter may appear very large within your document, so resize it if necessary by selecting it, holding down the SHIFT key (to preserve the height-to-width ratio of the image) and dragging the corner towards the center of the image.

Double-click the clip art letter to bring up the “Format Picture” dialog and choose the “Layout” tab. For the “Wrapping style” option, click “Square” and for the “Horizontal alignment” choose “Left”.

Clip Art Drop Cap Letter image from Drop Caps in Word at Office-Watch.com


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