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What are Dingbats?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Dingbats are graphic typographical ornaments which are designed to be used as spacers in typesetting. The use of dingbats can help a printed document feel less blocky and overwhelming, and they can be used to add a note of humor or sobriety to a piece, depending on the dingbats used and how they are utilized. A number of companies produce dingbat fonts, large collections of dingbats for use in computerized typesetting, and several foundries continue to cast dingbats for letterpress printers.

The history of typographical ornaments is quite old. Almost as long as people have been writing, they have been decorating their printed material with ornaments of various forms, and when the printing press was developed, dingbats were not far behind. In addition to serving a purely aesthetic use, dingbats can also be practical, breaking up the visual space in a printed piece and sometimes being used as symbols to indicate various things.

Dingbats come in a wide variety of styles. Many are designed along floral themes, in which case they are known as fleurons. Others take the form of small animals, while some are geometric in design. A number of dingbats are also designed to work as symbols, coming in forms like pointed hands, bullets for text, and so forth. Many modern dingbat sets include various computer-related symbols.

If you have printed material around you, you can probably find an example of a dingbat. Dingbats lurk between paragraphs, at the edges of pages, and sometimes in the upper corner of a page near the page number. You can see some rather florid uses of dingbats and eccentric fonts in 19th century printed advertisements and information posters, when printers sometimes erred on the side of garishness to get the point across.

As trends in typography change, the use of dingbats also changes, with some periods being marked by relatively austere typesetting, and others with explosions of dingbats, borders, and other ornamental features. You may find that the use of dingbats in your own printed materials can change the mood of the material dramatically, and dingbats can be advantageously used to add space, to delineate different sections in a piece, and to draw attention to a particular area of interest. Most computers come with several default dingbat fonts such as Wingdings and Webdings, and you can also find more from font manufacturers. A number of dingbats also come with their own Unicodes, like this one: ✿.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Musical Expert researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By cloudel — On Sep 17, 2011

I love those dingbats that look like they belong on ancient manuscripts. I am in charge of typing up the church bulletin every week, and I use these dingbats to start each section. They just seem so formal and appropriate.

I like to put a really ornate one in the top left corner to start things off. Then, I put a large capital letter on top of it but skewed more to the lower left corner and hanging off the edge of the dingbat. This letter will start the paragraph. By placing it off to the side a bit, I let people see the design underneath better.

By Oceana — On Sep 16, 2011

I design ads for a newspaper, and I have become familiar with certain customers’ preference for dingbats over regular bullet points. Some people hate them and think they are tacky, especially when placed in a vertical row beside a list. However, I know of two customers who request them.

The owner of a local garden center loved it the first time I used a flower dingbat in his ad. He frequently lists items that have arrived in a new shipment in his ad, and he hates bland ads. He always tells me to use the flower dingbat now.

The other customer owns a bakery. I use a cupcake dingbat to list her specials of the day in her ad, and she thinks that her customers have come to associate that cupcake symbol with her store. Whether that’s true or not, she does sell a large amount of cupcakes.

By wavy58 — On Sep 15, 2011

I am a secretary, and I frequently have to type and send out letters for my company. I make use of several types of dingbats in these formal letters to break up the monotony and add a subtle element of design.

If the letter includes more than one topic, I often use a row of diamond dingbats in between the sections. If it includes bullet points, I sometimes use ornate blocks out beside each one. If part of the letter is particularly important, I use an arrow to point it out.

My boss doesn’t seem to mind, and I’ve never heard anyone complain about my use of dingbats. I enjoy spicing up bland documents. Sometimes, I think I should have been a designer instead of a secretary.

By seag47 — On Sep 15, 2011

I have to use dingbats in advertisements all the time. I am a graphic designer, and on my computer at work, I have several dingbat fonts to work with.

Around Christmastime, I often use different snowflake dingbats. I make them different sizes, and no one could tell that they are actually a font instead of clip art. I have even used giant ones as backgrounds in ads before.

I also have some gift box, tree, and reindeer dingbats. I even have a bunch of Halloween dingbats. I have a font family called Holidays that includes dingbats for every holiday. Though I do use clip art for some projects, it helps to have these simple characters readily available to me.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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