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Point (typography)

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Point (typography)

1 point (typography) =
SI units
352.78×10^−6 m 352.778 μm
US customary units (Imperial units)
1.1574×10^−3 ft 13.889×10^−3 in

The point is the smallest whole unit of measure in typography. It is used for measuring font size, leading, and other minute items on a printed page. Different points have been used since the 18th century, with measures varying from 0.18 to 0.4 millimeters. Following the advent of desktop publishing in the 1980s and '90s, the importance of digital printing supplanted the letterpress printing systems around the world and established the DTP point as the de facto standard. This measures 172 of the international inch (about 0.35 mm) and, as with earlier American points, is considered 112 of a pica.

In metal type, the point size of the font described the height of the metal body on which the typeface's characters were cast. In digital type, letters of a font are designed around an imaginary space called an "em square". When a point size of a font is specified, the font is scaled so that its em square has a side length of that particular length in points. Although the letters of a font usually fit within the font's em square, there is not necessarily any size relationship between the two, so the point size does not necessarily correspond to any measurement of the size of the letters on the printed page.[1][2]


  • Notations 1
  • French points 2
  • American points 3
  • Desktop publishing point 4
  • Point-size names 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


A measurement in points can be represented in three different ways. For example, 14 points (1 pica plus 2 points) can be written:

  • 1P̸2p (12 points would be just "1P̸")—traditional style
  • 1p2 (12 points would be just "1p")—format for desktop
  • 14pt (12 points would be "12pt" or "1pc" since it is the same as 1 pica)—format used by Cascading Style Sheets defined by the World Wide Web Consortium[3]

French points

The Truchet point, the first modern typographic point, was 1144 of a French inch or 11728 of the royal foot. It was invented by the French clergyman Sébastien Truchet. During the metrication of France amid its revolution, a 1799 law declared the meter to be exactly 443.296 French lines long, establishing a length to the royal foot of 9,00027,706 or 0.325 m. This made the Truchet Point equal to 15,62583,124 or 0.187 972 186 mm.

The Fournier point established by Pierre Simon Fournier was about 11864 French inches or (by 1799) 0.345 mm. This is very close to the present international point described above, but Fournier's point did not achieve lasting popularity despite being revived by the Monotype Corporation in 1927. It became standard in Belgium.

The Didot point established by François-Ambroise Didot was twice Truchet's and thus 1864 of the royal foot or (by 1799) 15,62541,559 or 0.375 971 51 mm.

Other French points were subsequently employed, largely owing to the Didot point's unwieldy conversion to metric units. (The divisor of its conversion ratio has the prime factorization of 3 × 7 × 1979.) The standard value in European printers' offices came to be the slightly larger 0.376 065 mm'. Other values included Hermann Berthold's 0.376 mm point, Jan Tschichold's 0.375 94 mm (266 points to 100 mm), and a generally ignored proposal to use 0.375 mm offered in 1975. The French National Print Office adopted a point of 0.4 mm exactly and continues to use this measurement today.

The Didot point has been replaced by the DTP point in France and throughout the world.

American points

A typographic or printer's foot contains 72 picas or 864 points. The Metric Act of 1866 established a legal ratio of 1200 : 3937 between the foot and the meter.[4] For the survey foot used prior to 1959, this was 0.0002% more than 304.8 mm, the length of the international foot established by the 1959 International Yard and Pound Agreement.

The Hawks point was established by Nelson Hawks in 1879, based on a printer's foot reduced by 0.375% from the standard foot of his time. It had a value of 0.013 837 inch (about 0.35146 mm).

Another point was proposed to be exactly 996 points or 83 picas in 350 mm, giving it a value around 0.013 848 867 inch (0.351 405 622 mm).

The Johnson point was established by Lawrence Johnson based on a printer's foot 249250 as large as the standard foot (11.952 inches or 0.996 foot). It thus had a value of 0.01383 inch. The 15th meeting of the Type Founders Association of the United States approved the "Johnson pica" as its official standard in 1886. Following the 1959 standardization of the foot, this meant the American printer's foot was 303.5808 mm exactly. This size was used by Donald Knuth's TeX computer typesetting system and is thus sometimes known as the TeX point, which is exactly 0.35145980 mm, or exactly 172.27 of the modern (post-1959) inch, or exactly 800803 of the PostScript point (bp in TeX).[5]

Like the French Didot point, the traditional American printer's point was replaced in the 1980s by the current computer-based DTP point system.

Desktop publishing point

The desktop publishing point (DTP point) or PostScript point is defined as 172 or 0.0138 of the international inch, making it equivalent to 0.3527 mm. Twelve points make up a pica, and six picas make an inch.

This specification was developed by John Warnock and Charles Geschke when they created Adobe PostScript. It was adopted by Apple Computer as the standard for the display resolution of the original Macintosh desktop computer and the print resolution for the LaserWriter printer.[6][7]

Point-size names

Fonts originally consisted of a set of moveable type letterpunches purchased from a type foundry. As early as 1600, the sizes of these types—their "bodies"[8]—acquired traditional names in English, French, German, and Dutch, usually from their principal early uses.[9] These names were used relative to the others and their exact length would vary over time, from country to country, and from foundry to foundry. For example, "agate" and "ruby" used to be a single size "agate ruby" of about 5 points;[9] metal type known as "agate" later ranged from 5 to 5.8 points. The sizes were gradually standardized as described above.[10] Modern Chinese typography uses the following names in general preference to stating the number of points. In ambiguous contexts, the word hào (t , s , lit. "number") is added to the end of the size name to clarify the meaning.

Note that the Chinese font sizes use American points; the Continental systems traditionally used the Fournier or Didot points. The Fournier points, being smaller than Didot's, were associated with the names of the Didot type closest in size rather than identical in number of points.

Point American system Continental system Chinese system
American[11] British[8] French[12] German[13] Dutch Character Pinyin Meaning
1 American[15] Achtelpetit Achtste petit
German Achtelcicero Achtste cicero
2 Saxon Non Plus Ultra[16]
Non plus ultra[17]
Vierde petit
Norse Microscopique[18] Microscopique[16] Microscoop
3 Excelsior[19][21] Minikin[19] Diamant Brillant[16]
Kwart cicero
4 Brilliant Perle Diamant
Halve petit
5 Pearl Parisienne
Perl Parel
Agate Ruby[23][24] "Seven"
6 Nonpareil Nonpareille Nonpareille Nonparel
Minionette[25] Emerald[25] Insertio Insertio 小六 Xiǎoliù "Little Six"
7 Minion Mignonne Kolonel Kolonel
Petit-texte Liù "Six"
8 Brevier Gaillarde
9 Bourgeois[27] Petit-romain
小五 Xiǎowǔ "Little Five"
10 Long Primer Philosophie Korpus
10½ "Five"
11 Small Pica Cicéro Rheinländer
12 Pica St.-Augustin Cicero Cicero
小四 Xiǎosì "Little Four"
14 English Gros-texte[29] Mittel Grote cicero
Grote augustijn
15 Gros-texte[29] 小三 Xiǎosān "Little Three"
16 Columbian Gros-texte[29] Tertia Tertia Sān "Three"
18 Great Primer Gros-romain 1½ Cicero Paragon
小二 Xiǎoèr "Little Two"
20 Paragon[9][11] Petit-parangon Text
22 Double Small Pica[9][11] Gros-parangon Èr "Two"
24 Double Pica Palestine Doppelcicero Dubbele cicero
小一 Xiǎoyī "Little One"
26 "One"
28 Double English Petit-canon Doppelmittel Dubbele mediaan
30 Five-line Nonpareil
32 Double Columbian Kleine Kanon
Dubbele tertia
36 Double Great Primer Trismégiste Kanon
Kanon 小初 Xiǎochū "Little Initial"
40 Double Paragon Doppeltext[33]
Grobe Kanon[34]
42 Seven-line Nonpareil Grobe Kanon[34] Grote Kanon Chū "Initial"
44 Canon Gros-canon[35] Missal[36] Parijs Romein[37]
48 Four-line Pica
French canon
Canon Gros-canon[35] Kleine Missal Konkordanz
Kleine missaal
54 Missal Missaal
56 Double-canon
60 Five-line pica Grobe Missal Sabon
66 Grobe Sabon[16] Grote sabon
72 Six-line pica
Double-trismégiste Sabon
Kleine Sabon[33]
6 cicero
84 Seven-line pica Siebencicero[16]
Grobe Sabon[33]
7 cicero
88 Triple-canon
96 Eight-line pica Grosse-nonpareille Achtcicero[16]
8 cicero
100 Moyenne de fonte
108 Nine-line pica Imperial[33] 9 cicero

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Public Law 39-183.
  5. ^ pdftex source code l. 13773 ff.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b .
  9. ^ a b c d e
  10. ^ .
  11. ^ a b c d e .
  12. ^ a b c Pasko (1894), p. 215.
  13. ^ . (German)
  14. ^ Pasko (1894), p. 18.
  15. ^ The existence of such small bodies was only notional in the age of metal type.[14]
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bauer (1934).
  17. ^ De Vinne (1900), p. 68.
  18. ^ .
  19. ^ a b .
  20. ^ .
  21. ^ Note that the American name for 3-point type was initially "Brilliant"[11] and the English name was initially "Excelsior".[9] The American "Excelsior", meanwhile, was originally 4-point type.[11][20] The situation subsequently changed.
  22. ^ a b c d Pasko (1894), p. 70.
  23. ^
  24. ^ Pasko (1894), p. 11.
  25. ^ a b .
  26. ^ a b c Pasko (1894), p. 65.
  27. ^ Pronounced "burjoyce".[26]
  28. ^ a b c Pasko (1894), p. 229.
  29. ^ a b c The French gros-texte referred indifferently to type sizes between 14 and 16 points.[12]
  30. ^ Pasko (1894), p. 172.
  31. ^ Pasko (1894), p. 238.
  32. ^ . (German)
  33. ^ a b c d Staeck (1980).
  34. ^ a b The German Grobe Kanon referred indifferently to 40- or 42-point type.
  35. ^ a b The French gros-canon referred indifferently to type sizes of 44 or 48 points.[12]
  36. ^ Pasko (1894), p. 79.
  37. ^ Pasko (1894), p. 213.
  38. ^ . (German)

External links

  • Printing type
  • More on the story of the typographical point
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