Page Layout Measurements

Measuring in Points and Picas

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Stop inching your way into desktop publishing -- plunge into picas for page layout measurements. For many, the measurement system of choice for typesetting and publication design is picas and points. If your work involves complex, multi-page designs such as books, magazines, newspapers, or newsletters, working in picas and points can be a real timesaver. And if you plan to work in the newspaper or magazine publishing industry, you'll likely be required to stop thinking in inches or millimeters for page layout.

So why not start now. In fact, you're already halfway there if you use type you already work with points.

Newsletter layouts frequently involve small pieces that are difficult to measure in fractions of inches. Picas and points provide easily for those tiny amounts. Have you heard of the magic of thirds in design? Here's an example: divide an 8.5-inch by 11-inch piece of paper into thirds horizontally. Now, find 3.66 inches on the ruler. It's not the simplest concept, but just remember the rule that 11 inches is 66 picas, so each third is 22 picas. 

More points to remember:

  • Points are the smallest unit of measurement. Type and leading are measured in points with 72 points to the inch.


  • Use picas for measuring column width and depth, margins, and other larger distances.


  • Picas and points have a direct relationship to each other. There are 12 points in a pica.


  • If you're a metric maven, you may have a bit more trouble with the conversion to picas but for those of us raised on inches it's simpler. There are 6 picas to an inch. A standard US letter size page is 8.5 by 11 inches or 51 by 66 picas. (6 picas are approximately 25 mm.)


  • The letter "p" is used to designate picas as in 22p or 6p. With 12 points to the pica, half a pica would be 6 points written as 0p6. 17 points would be 1p5 (1 pica = 12 pts, plus the leftover 5 pts).

More Mathematical Tips and Tricks

Your software can solve some of the math for you. For instance, with picas as your default measurements in PageMaker, if you type 0p28 (28 points) into the control palette when setting indents or other paragraph settings, it will convert it to 2p4 automatically.

If you're converting existing designs to pica measurements, you may find it necessary to know the size of fractions of points (for example 3/32 of an inch converts to 6.75 points or 0p6.75). 

If you want to create dummy layouts for a design, remember that depth is measured in picas. So if you want to know how much vertical space a 48 point headline occupies divide 48 by 12 (12 pts to the pica) to get 4 picas of vertical space. You can read about this in more detail in an article from an online journalism related course. Hopefully, you'll have at least a slightly better understanding of how picas and points are used in desktop publishing.

While they may not make you a Pica Professor overnight try these exercises to help you become accustomed to working in picas and points. One involves old fashioned division, multiplication, addition, and subtraction. The second exercise uses your page layout software (it must be a program capable of using picas and points as the measurement system). Enjoy.

Picas and Points Exercise #1
Using paper and pencil do some of these calculations (put that calculator away!).

  1. Divide an 8.5" by 11" piece of paper in even thirds vertically using inches. What is the width of one-third of the page?


  2. Divide an 8.5" by 11" piece of paper (51p by 66p) in even thirds vertically using picas. What is the width of one-third of the page?


  3. Add 1 inch margins (sides, top, and bottom) to that 8.5" by 11" piece of paper, how much horizontal and vertical space remains? Express it in inches and in picas.


  4. Divide the live page area (paper size minus margins) from Step 3 into three columns of equal size with .167" between columns (That's the default space used by PageMaker when creating column guides). How wide and deep is each column, in inches? How wide and deep is each column, in picas?


  5. Calculate how many lines of body type will fit in one of those columns if you use 12 point leading for your type (assume no space between paragraphs).


  6. Using the calculations from Step 5, how many lines of body type will fit if you add a 36 point 2-line headline at the top of the column with 6 points of space between the headline and the start of the body copy?


    Picas and Points Exercise #2
    This exercise requires that your page layout program be able to use picas and points as the measurement system. If you prefer to skip Exercise #1, use the solutions to the calcuations found at the end of this page to complete Exercise #2.

    1. Using inches as the measurement system (the default in many programs) set up an 8.5" by 11" page with 1 inch margins. Don't use any automatic column or grid setup. Instead, manually place guidelines to define three columns of the width you calculated in Step #4 of Exercise 1 (that should be four guidelines since the guidelines for the margins define the outer edge of the 1st and 3rd columns).


    1. Remove the guidelines and change the measurement system and rulers to picas. The margins should be 6 picas (1 inch). Manually place guidelines again to define the three columns from Step #4 of Exercise 1. Which measurement system made it easier for you to manually and precisely place the guidelines where they needed to go? I find it easier to use the picas system. Do you?

    Next > Measuring Paper


    Solutions to the calculations from Exercise #1 and placement for guidelines in Exercise #2