type measurement help!

wonderboy's picture

Hello all,
i have few problems understanding the type measurement, while i was reading the book (Designing With type) the author was talking about how you measure type in picas and points and that the (1 pica makes 15 point), and i am getting more and more confused with those measurement and i would love if someone could tell me more about it and explain it and what is it used for and how it would help me with my typography.


Ken Messenger's picture

Not sure where you read that in Designing With Type but there are 12 points in a Pica and 6 Picas in an inch. Exact measures have changed over time but this is the current standard.

It's possible you're confusing points (typographic) with pixels (digital) or dots (halftone printing) which are not the same. Both pixels and dots are a variable measure and can contain any number per standard measure (e.g. 300 ppi or 1200 dpi).

wonderboy's picture

Hello Ken,
Thanks for your reply and for correcting my mistake yeah 1 pica makes 12point not 15.
thanks for the correction and yeah i am getting confused by it also i would love some great explanation from you guys, what does it help me to know these measures for a line and what is it used for.

Don McCahill's picture

Picas and points are the north American system. I think there is a different French/European system using Didot points and ciceros. I don't know the rules on that.

Points were developed in the late 19th century, and at the time metric was largely unknown in the Americas. Points were chosen to provide a means of expressing type measurements. Up to that time, type was measured arbitrarily with measurements called agate, pearl, primer, and many more. I think Pica was one of those type sizes and the point worked out to be 1/12 of this.

Until 1970-80 there was a point that was 72.27 to the inch. Computer programmers didn't like that, and they rounded it to 72 to the inch, which makes it much easier for you to remember. The changeover was hell on typesetters though, as we had to compensate for the difference, which builds up to a third of a line on a full A4 page.

Now, if you really want to be confused, look up the dimensions for the en and em.

JCSalomon's picture

Actually, a point was always ¹⁄₇₂″; it's the size of the inch that varied! Can't recall what standard Fournier used, but Didot used an inch ¹⁄₁₂ the size of the French legal foot, with his point ¹⁄₇₂ of that. And of course the Adobe PostScript point is ¹⁄₇₂ of the current U.S. inch.


wonderboy's picture

Ok guys thanks alot for your reply :)

PublishingMojo's picture

Points and picas are artifacts of an archaic technology, like cubits and furlongs. "Point size" refers not to any measurable dimension of the letters themselves, but to the pieces of metal the letters would be sitting on, if they were sitting on pieces of metal, which they're not.
Look at this diagram. At the lower right it shows why two alphabets that differ visibly in size can both be called 24-point type.

When designers had to write specifications to be carried out by typesetters, it was very important to specify point sizes precisely, especially because there often were no intermediate sizes: If 24-point was too big, you had to use 18-point.
Now that designers do their own typesetting, and can adjust sizes in minuscule increments, you can customize size and spacing any way necessary to make the type look good, read well, and fit the required space. Points and picas are just a way to measure what you did so you can do it that way again.
Designing with Type is a great book--I used to use it for a course I taught--but it's a revised edition of a book published 38 years ago, and it still assumes its readers have letterpress as a frame of reference. Don't get hung up on the imaginary slab of metal. Just make it look good, read well, and fit.

Don McCahill's picture

> it’s the size of the inch that varied!

Really? I did not know that. The US and UK inches have been the same size for the past 500 years. What nations have had different inches?

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