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Typography also has its own unique measurement system, and that is picas, and points; picas being the parent, points being a subset of picas. So let's take a look. There are 12 points to one pica, six picas to 72 points, or 1 inch. Or if we're working with the metric system, we have 6 picas to 2.54 centimeters, or 25.4 millimeters.
Picas and points are expressed like this: if you are working with 18 points, you can either type in 18 pt, or 1p6. It's not a decimal unit; they are in blocks of 12. So one pica and six points is the same as 18 points. My personal preference is to work with points, but I can totally see the logic behind working with picas. It's essentially the same thing. And the reason I like to work with points is that typefaces are always measured in points.
Other elements that we work with -- the size of our page, the size of our photograph, the size of different graphic elements on our page -- these can all be expressed in points, or picas, or inches, or millimeters, or centimeters, but for type sizes, there is no alternative but to express this in points. So things that relate to type sizes, specifically, the space between the lines, the leading value, this is also expressed in points, and points only.
Now, I know in Web typography that's not true; you can express your line height in different ways, but here in InDesign, it's points, and you better get used to it, because points are the only measurement system that you can use for your leading. Good typography is all about setting a rhythm, and to set a rhythm, we need things to relate to each other. So that we can relate the spacing of our different blocks of text, it makes it easier to work with points when we're setting such values as indents, first line indents, and spacing between paragraphs.
It makes sense to have these also measured in points, so they relate back to our type size, and to our leading. Now, they may be a bit difficult to get used to if you have never used picas or points. You may be more familiar with working in millimeters if you are in Europe, or in inches if you're in the US, but I strongly recommend you get used to working with picas and points. You can, and I do, move back and forth between measurement systems with great frequency, and InDesign, in fact, encourages this, because we can express values -- if I select this text frame, I currently see it as its width and height shown in points, but I can express that, if I wanted to, in millimeters, if for some reason this particular element makes most sense to express in millimeters.
So let's say I wanted this to be 20 mm. I just -- I am explicit about it. I'll type in mm, then when I press my Tab key, InDesign converts that to its point equivalent. It's very easy to switch your unit of measurement. You can do this in your Preferences > Units & Increments, but easier still than that, if you come to where the rulers intersect at the top left, and right-click, you can switch your unit of measurement right there. You can also, if you want to, although I don't really recommend this; you can have a separate measurement system for your horizontal ruler, and for your vertical ruler.
So you can set these separately, but if you want them both your horizontal and vertical measurements to be in one unit, then you can right-click where the rulers intersect to change that, and you can change it as often as you need to. So as well as picas, and points, Typography also uses relative units of ems, and half of that value, ens. If we look under the Type menu, we have different white space characters of varying widths, and I will be talking about these in an upcoming chapter.
But for now, I just want to point out that an em is the size of your type. So if you are working with 12 point type, that is the size of an em, and en is half that. Another place where you will see the em unit referenced is when you specify the increment in which you track, or kern your text. Tracking and kerning refers to adjusting the space between the characters. I'll will be talking about how to do that, and the distinction between the two, in upcoming movies.
But for now, I just want to point out here in Units & Increments, Kerning/Tracking. You see this is expressed in a relative unit, and currently I have the value set at the lowest possible unit, 1/1000s of an em. So what on earth does that mean? Let's have a look at this diagram. Here we have some screen captures of a font creation program called FontLab Studio, and in FontLab Studio, and other pieces of software that do the same thing, letter forms are constructed within a square that traditionally is 1000 units by 1000 units.
There are almost no characters, with the exception of the em dash, or long dash, that use that full width, and you can see in the case of this lowercase g that these lines on the side have been reduced to shave off the unnecessary space around the letters. Because we are working with proportionally space fonts, each of our letter forms is going to occupy a different width, but they all begin within this square of 1000 units by 1000 units.
And when we apply kerning or tracking, we are either adding or subtracting space, using that em increment relative to the point size. Another possible area of confusion when sizing type is that the size that you see on the control panel actually refers to the size of the type block, and this is a legacy of traditional printing metal type, where each block letter needed to incorporate some space around the actual letter form. So here I have an H, and if I select this H, and if I draw some guides at the top of caps, and the baseline, and then I will use my Frame tool just to measure that space.
I am going to draw myself a frame right there, and it tells me the height of that frame is 47.75 points. And yet, when I select that letter, and go to my Character Formats, we actually see that its size is 72 points. So the point being here that when you size your type, there is some white space at top and bottom of the actual letter form. This is a legacy of the days of movable type. Something else to consider is that not all typefaces look the same size when set at the same size.
On the left, we have a paragraph set in Helvetica 10 point. 10/12, the second number, is the leading value, or space between the lines, and we can see that this looks considerably larger than the paragraph on the right, which is also 10 points, Minion Pro, also on 12 point leading. So this means that we need to take each typeface on its own merits and shortcomings, and evaluate its particular characteristics, and how it looks.
The size alone is not going to tell you everything; trust your eyes. So just to summarize, we have picas, and points, we also have relative units, such as ems, and ens. The size of the type reflects the size of the type block, not the actual height of the letter form itself, and some typefaces look bigger than others when set at the same size.
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