InDesign Typography
Illustration by John Hersey

Comparing points, picas, and ems


InDesign Typography

with Nigel French

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Video: Comparing points, picas, and ems

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.
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  1. 4m 4s
    1. Welcome
    2. Using the exercise files
    3. Customizing the workspace for type
      2m 18s
  2. 9m 25s
    1. What is Typekit? (CC 2014.1)
      1m 56s
    2. Choosing and syncing fonts (CC 2014.1)
      3m 6s
    3. Syncing problems (CC 2014.1)
      1m 43s
    4. Typekit resources (CC 2014.1)
      1m 5s
    5. Using the Font menu (CC 2014.1)
      1m 35s
  3. 55m 41s
    1. Working with text frames
      8m 26s
    2. Using a primary text frame (CS6 and later)
      3m 59s
    3. Understanding text flow methods
      6m 25s
    4. Understanding text threads
      3m 40s
    5. Understanding Smart Text Reflow
      2m 27s
    6. Mocking up pages with placeholder text
      5m 47s
    7. Placing multiple text files
      3m 50s
    8. Using Auto-Size text frames (CS6 and later)
      4m 1s
    9. Copying and pasting vs. placing
      2m 25s
    10. Cleaning up text with Find/Change
      5m 46s
    11. Using the Story Editor
      3m 41s
    12. Spanning columns
      5m 14s
  4. 48m 34s
    1. Choosing your type
      6m 46s
    2. Understanding text essentials
      6m 37s
    3. Scaling type
      2m 27s
    4. Using italic and oblique type
      4m 33s
    5. Working with condensed and extended type
      4m 26s
    6. Setting type in all caps
      3m 46s
    7. Setting type in small caps
      4m 21s
    8. Underlining type
      4m 11s
    9. Using superscript and subscript
      4m 35s
    10. Applying baseline shift
      4m 8s
    11. Combining typefaces (CC 2014.1)
      2m 44s
  5. 16m 6s
    1. Understanding type anatomy
      3m 25s
    2. Exploring serif and sans serif
      2m 48s
    3. Comparing points, picas, and ems
      8m 34s
    4. What's in a name?
      1m 19s
  6. 16m 27s
    1. Setting leading
      4m 56s
    2. Avoiding auto-leading
      4m 12s
    3. Leading shortcuts and preferences
      4m 7s
    4. Using autoleading with inline graphics
      3m 12s
  7. 21m 25s
    1. Defining kerning and tracking
      2m 5s
    2. Understanding kerning methods
      5m 10s
    3. When and how to kern
      5m 53s
    4. When and how to track
      8m 17s
  8. 48m 42s
    1. Working with quotes, primes, and apostrophes
      8m 16s
    2. Using dashes
      5m 24s
    3. Using ellipses
      2m 56s
    4. Working with accents and special characters
      4m 1s
    5. Using space characters
      4m 15s
    6. Working with ligatures
      4m 29s
    7. Setting fractions
      3m 56s
    8. Using lining and proportional numerals
      2m 49s
    9. Using alternates, swashes, and ornaments
      5m 2s
    10. Working with optical sizes
      4m 40s
    11. Stylistic sets (CC 2014.1)
      2m 54s
  9. 57m 20s
    1. Understanding alignment
      3m 47s
    2. Working with left-aligned type
      3m 24s
    3. Working with justified type
      7m 5s
    4. Using Optical Margin Alignment
      3m 39s
    5. Determining column width
      4m 53s
    6. Working with center alignment
      5m 36s
    7. Working with right alignment
      1m 22s
    8. Aligning to or away from the spine
      1m 50s
    9. Understanding the Paragraph Composer and Single-line Composer
      3m 44s
    10. Combining alignments
      9m 20s
    11. Using hanging punctuation
      2m 13s
    12. Working with vertical alignment
      10m 27s
  10. 14m 9s
    1. Using first-line indents
      2m 26s
    2. Using indent alternatives
      2m 3s
    3. Working with left and right indents
      4m 0s
    4. Using last-line indents and outdents
      1m 26s
    5. Using paragraph spacing
      4m 14s
  11. 23m 19s
    1. Setting hyphenation
      6m 14s
    2. Working with line breaks and discretionary hyphens
      4m 48s
    3. Balancing ragged lines
      1m 36s
    4. Using the No Break feature and non-breaking characters
      2m 52s
    5. Using frame, column, and page breaks
      3m 42s
    6. Defining Keep Options
      4m 7s
  12. 37m 53s
    1. Understanding tabs
      8m 58s
    2. Considerations for table text
      3m 55s
    3. Table tips and tricks
      11m 55s
    4. Creating a bulleted list
      6m 50s
    5. Creating a numbered list
      3m 46s
    6. Creating a multi-level numbered list
      2m 29s
  13. 23m 12s
    1. Understanding drop caps
      11m 3s
    2. Navigating tricky drop caps
      5m 14s
    3. Using a nested character style with a drop cap
      3m 59s
    4. Other uses of drop caps
      2m 56s
  14. 1h 11m
    1. Understanding paragraph and character styles
      7m 13s
    2. Creating, applying, and editing styles
      7m 3s
    3. Removing overrides
      4m 58s
    4. Creating and applying character styles
      5m 4s
    5. Creating and applying nested styles
      12m 30s
    6. Using GREP styles (regular expressions)
      4m 8s
    7. Creating and applying sequential styles
      6m 19s
    8. Using paragraph rules creatively
      11m 48s
    9. Mapping Word styles
      6m 12s
    10. Working with anchored objects and object styles
      6m 24s
  15. 25m 30s
    1. Applying a text wrap
      6m 7s
    2. Making items ignore a text wrap
      1m 46s
    3. Using text wraps for flexible layouts
      3m 2s
    4. Working with difficult text wraps
      8m 39s
    5. Inverting text wraps
      2m 7s
    6. Setting text wrap preferences
      3m 49s
  16. 29m 33s
    1. Choosing a page size and setting margins
      6m 33s
    2. Setting up columns
      2m 53s
    3. Dividing a page into rows
      3m 27s
    4. Setting up a baseline grid
      5m 40s
    5. Handling baseline grid problems
      3m 37s
    6. Baseline grid tricks
      7m 23s
  17. 44m 26s
    1. Working with type outlines (CC 2014.1)
      6m 50s
    2. Creating an interlocking effect (CC 2014.1)
      3m 31s
    3. Fusing letterforms (CC 2014.1)
      7m 15s
    4. Type and gradients (CC 2014.1)
      4m 57s
    5. Type and transparency (CC 2014.1)
      1m 50s
    6. Type on a path: Circles (CC 2014.1)
      4m 48s
    7. Type on a path: Calligram (CC 2014.1)
      6m 16s
    8. Vertical type (CC 2014.1)
      2m 58s
    9. Type and image: Gradient (CC 2014.1)
      1m 38s
    10. Type and image: "See-through" type (CC 2014.1)
      1m 8s
    11. Type and image: "Disappearing" type (CC 2014.1)
      3m 15s
  18. 12m 19s
    1. Looking at screen documents
      4m 2s
    2. Setting size, leading, and line length onscreen
      3m 13s
    3. Exploring typefaces designed for the screen
      3m 36s
    4. Accessibility: Contrast and color
      1m 28s
  19. 28s
    1. Goodbye

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Watch the Online Video Course InDesign Typography
9h 20m Intermediate Aug 03, 2012 Updated Nov 12, 2014

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Explore the numerous type options, type-related features, and type-specific preferences of Adobe InDesign. Using practical, real-world examples, instructor and designer Nigel French dissects the anatomy of a typeface and defines the vocabulary of typography. The course moves from the micro to the macro level, addressing issues such as choosing page size, determining the size of margins, adjusting number columns, and achieving a clean look with baseline grids. This course takes you from laying out a page to delving into the hows and whys of typography.

Topics include:
  • Understanding text threads and text flow methods in InDesign
  • Using Copy and Paste vs. Place
  • Choosing and combining typefaces
  • Understanding leading and how it relates to type size and column width
  • Comparing points, picas, and ems
  • Learning the proper use of white space and break characters
  • Understanding the finer points of kerning and tracking
  • Working with punctuation, special characters, ornaments, and ligatures
  • Aligning text
  • Applying global formatting with paragraph, character, and object styles
  • Refining spacing with indents
  • Creating drop caps
  • Avoiding common problems associated with justified type and text wraps
  • Setting up margins and columns
Nigel French

Comparing points, picas, and ems

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.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about InDesign Typography .

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The exercise files provided aren't working in my version of InDesign (CS4, CS5, or CS5.5). What should I use?
This course was recorded using InDesign CS6. For InDesign users working with CS4, CS5, or CS5.5, IDML files are provided.
Q: Where can I learn more about graphic design?
A: Discover more about this topic by visiting graphic design on
Q: This course was updated on 11/12/2014. What changed?
A: We added 18 new movies, primarily in the "Using Typekit" and "Type Treatments and Effects" chapters. These movies describe new and enhanced typography features in the latest release of InDesign CC, and are indicated by the "(CC 2014.1)" tag in their names.
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