Sidebearings = Edges of Metal/Wood Type ?

Jason Walley's picture

As part of a research project for school I'm going to be designing and then producing woodtype using a laser engraver. I'm wondering how best to approximate the traditional size of the wood block surrounding each letter.

I know that the 1000 UPM is essentially defining the vertical dimensions of the letter block, but, how do I determine where to place the letter vertically? That is, how do I determine how far above the cap-height, or ascender height, the edge of the type block is? Also, I am wondering if the left and right sidebearing measurements equate to the left and right sides of the block. At first guess, that would appear to be where those measurements come from, but I could be wrong and would prefer to know for sure.

k.l.'s picture


Jason Walley's picture

haha, so simple. thanks.

what about vertical placement? how do I know where the letter sits vertically?

twardoch's picture


in digital fonts, the body of the letter (the block) is intangible. It is only a scaling measure.

The linespacing is determined by the ascender and the descender. In many text fonts, however, the sum of ascender and descender equals the body size (i.e. the UPM size, i.e. the point size). In other words, such fonts produce 10 pt type on a 10 pt leading when set solid (with no extra leading). So you could use the ascender and descender lines to determine the vertical size of the block. However, keep in mind that diacritics or tall elements of a face may hang over the vertical boundaries of the body, just like the kern of the italic f typically hangs over the horizontal boundaries of the body.


Quincunx's picture

Are you planning on using it on a letterpress? If so you need to keep in mind that the type height (the thickness of the block, so from the bottom of the block to the top surface of the letter) has to be a certain value, otherwise it won't print.

I don't know exactly how high though (since this is sometimes different in other countries). Overhere it's usually measured in augustijn (= 1 cicero = 12 didot points). If I'm not mistaken (it has been a long time since I did letterpress printing) the type height is also measured in these units. I believe the UK/US used Pica, which is 12 points.

In any case, I would just get some woodtype, and start measuring some things, like what the type height must be. Look how they aswered the questions you have in your post, too, like the vertical placement of the letters on the block.

Thomas Phinney's picture

For metal type, the position of the baseline was standardized at the end of the 19th century, although there was more than one standard ("art line" allowed for longer descenders than usual). Of course, this position is dependent also on the point size.

The amount of depth is referred to as "type high." I read that the value is 23.3 mm, or 0.9186". I think there may have been a competing standard for this in Europe, however.



Bert Vanderveen's picture

Typecasting (in metal) was rather flexible in this — eg if a customer needed say 10 pt type and wanted to have 14 pt leading, one could order a certain amount of 10pt type on a 14 pt body (incorporating the leading, thus eliminating the need for ‘real’ leading).

Just do what feels right (and take in account that wood has a different way of behaving — having some latitude is handy: you can always shave off some material).

If all of the material you are going to print is your woodtype, depth is not an issue. Clamp it together, ink and make an impression…

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

Quincunx's picture

> If all of the material you are going to print is your woodtype, depth is not an issue. Clamp it together, ink and make an impression…

It is if he wants to print it on a letterpress, since the cilinder(s) of the press are at a certain distance from the printing bed thing. Whatever all that stuff is called in English. If the type is too low, it will not touch the paper.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

My guess was that the run won’t be hundreds or thousands. No need then for sophisticated stuff apart from household items (like when Gutenberg started this business with a pimped winepress. ; ) )

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

Quincunx's picture

Yeah ok, I am referring to presses like for example a Vandercook. :)

mariuscannard's picture

Pimped wine press... I like that.

dberlow's picture

...I was also pondering that there used to be, per point size, minimums for head and foot space as well as sidebearings because the matrix needed to include a minimal amount of material or fail. But here, the matrix is digital, so I guess it won't?


Jason Walley's picture

thanks to all for the responses.

right now, actually printing on a letterpress is not a huge concern—i'm having some trouble finding someone who knows where/how to find the letterpress here in Cincinnati, if it still is sitting around somewhere. not too mention one of my studio friends recently built a homemade 8.5x11 wood-and-hydraulic-jack letter press—so i can just use that. while it would be nice to print a specimen poster, i'm mostly concerned with the statement that will be made by presenting internet slang (i'm trying to do for "lol" what the ampersand has done for "and") and emoticons as physical type.

were it practical for the remaining 12 weeks of school i have, i would love to punch my own metal type—just to push the statement as far as possible, but i don't have that kind of time.

Syndicate content Syndicate content