International Typographic Units

TylerEldredge's picture

Hi guys! I'm a student, so, needless to say, I've definitely never done any professional design work, but I do work a lot on InDesign in class, so I'm pretty familiar with the way things work in the USA. My question concerns typographic units outside of the English speaking world. I was reading some article somewhere that mentioned that other countries don't use picas--which was a novel idea to me. I'm just used to twelve points in a pica, six picas in an inch etc. So I started looking.

I've found, that, in countries like Italy and France, there's a system in place originally created by Françoise-Ambroise Didot which goes like this:
12 lignes = 1 French Royal Inch
6 didot points (dd) = 1 ligne
12 dd = 1 cicero
6 ciceros = 1 French Royal Inch

It makes sense to me, although it takes a little thought to get my head wrapped around it. But I love the names, they're much prettier than the American/British method. I also read that Japan uses the American/British system, but I haven't been able to find anything else out about other countries. Are there units tailored to the metric system, used in other places? It would be nice, the ratios are admittedly pretty weird :P

hrant's picture

AFAIK Japan uses something called "Q", which is 1/4 of a mm.
IIRC Otl Aicher wanted to see Europe adopt this system.
BTW you might have already learned that before any unit was invented
type sizes were referred to by names (like "pearl" meant 5 point).

Sorry for all the acronyms. LOL. Not really.


Nick Shinn's picture

I would occasionally work in Ciceros, in Quark XPress.
I found it useful, when creating tables (or tabs) with irregular column widths, to switch measurement units until I came up with something that divided into manageable integers.

TylerEldredge's picture

I like acronyms, they're classy :]

Nick, where are you from? I have never used Quark at all, but does it use didot points, too? Or does it incorporate Ciceros into picas?

riccard0's picture

You can set Ciceros as unit in InDesign too.

Nick Shinn's picture


TylerEldredge's picture

Whoa. Cool!

blank's picture

Some designers just work in millimeters.

What exactly does a Cicero equal in Indesign? Is that 12 Didot points as opposed to PS points?

quadibloc's picture

A Didot point was somewhere around 0.03759 centimetres; I think that the current "official" value is one of 0.037593985 centimeters, as established by Berthold in 1879.

As for the metric system, a revised Didone of 0.04 centimetres is apparently in use by the French Imprimerie Nationale, I once read somewhere. 0.0375 would be closer, and quite convenient.

Myself, I find it annoying that the point is 0.013837 inches instead of exactly 1/72". In any event, a Didot point is about 15/14 of an English point.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

The fact that Quark rounded off the pica to the order of 72 pts to an inch has troubled me deeply for years. InDesign at least offers an option to define the correct 72,27 pts…

The Dutch measure was called Augustijn (although Cicero has been in use too) and is equal to 4.5112781 mm. Commonly rounded of to 4,5 mm, I am afraid.

Another baffling fact: the working height of lead type varies enormously (if I may use that expression) — I will have to dive into the literature to substantiate that claim, but maybe others can chime in here…

hrant's picture

Metal type height: AFAIK there are two, US and European.
The latter is taller, which is why in the US you can find metal
fonts with the bottoms filed down.


qualitycontrol's picture

There are more than two metal type heights, but the most common are North America/UK at .918" and a European 23.56mm. There are many different European type heights, but 23.56 is common (if I remember correctly) in Germany and France, among others.

I have never heard of European type being "converted" to UK/NA height. It would not match up to spacing available, regardless, as it is all still cast to Didot point/cicero and not the ATF point specs.

Is this stuff really relevant? Very few are doing repro proofing. Why lament the "bastardization" of one point to 1/72 of one inch? The only reason I can think is that it's not metric, but other than that, why make conversions more complicated? I'm a letterpress printer myself, but I embrace the digital point of 1/72".

hrant's picture

> I have never heard of European type being "converted" to UK/NA height.

From what I've seen it's not that rare. In fact the one metal font of
type I own (Pascal, from Tetterode) exhibits the tell-tale filing.
Actually only my 60 though - the 30 was cast to US height.


quadibloc's picture

Um, if one doesn't round off the Augustijn, 1/12 of it is about 0.375939841667 mm, which compares rather closely to a Didot point of 0.37593985 mm, as used by Berthold. So I'm not sure if the unit is actually distinct, as compared to the name.

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