Pica (typography)

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Not to be confused with small pica, the name for 11-point type.
Unit system typographic unit
Unit of length
Unit conversions
1 pica in ... ... is equal to ...
   typographic units    12 points
   imperial/US units    1/6 in
   metric (SI) units    4.2333 mm

The pica is a typographic unit of measure corresponding to approximately 16 of an inch, or 172 of a foot. One pica is further divided into 12 points.

To date, in printing three pica measures are used:

  • The French pica of 12 Didot points (also called cicéro) generally is: 12 × 0.376 = 4.512 mm (0.1776 in).
  • The American pica of 0.016044 inches (0.4075 mm). It was etsablished by the United States Type Founders' Association in 1886.[1][2] In TeX one pica may be defined as 1272.27 of an inch.
  • The contemporary computer pica is exactly 16 of a inch or 172 of a foot, i.e. 4.233 mm or 0.166 inches.

Publishing applications such as Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress represent pica measurements with whole-number picas left of a lower-case p, followed by the points number, for example: 5p6 represents 5 picas and 6 points, or 512 picas.

Cascading Style Sheets defined by the World Wide Web Consortium use pc as the abbreviation for pica (16 of an inch), and pt for point (172 of an inch).[3]

The pica is also used in measuring the font capacity and is applied in the process of copyfitting.[4] The font length is measured there by the number of characters per pica (cpp). As books are most often printed with proportional fonts, cpp of a given font is usually a fractional number. For example, a 11-point font (like Helvetica) may have 2.4 cpp,[5] thus a 5-inch (30-pica) line of a usual octavo-sized (6×8 in) book page would contain around 72 characters (including spaces).[6][7]

The typographic pica must not be confused with the Pica font of the typewriters, which means a font where 10 typed characters make up a line one inch long.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Legros, Lucien Alphonse; Grant, John Cameron (1916). Typographical Printing-Surfaces. London and New York: Longmann, Green, and Co. pp. 57–60. 
  2. ^ Hyde, Grant Milnor (1920). Newspaper Editing: A Manual for Editors, Copyreaders, and Students of Newspaper Desk Work. New York and London: D. Appleton and Company. pp. 226–227. 
  3. ^ "Syntax and basic data types". W3.org. Retrieved 2016-10-21. 
  4. ^ Pipes, Alan (2005). Production for Graphic Designers (4th ed.). Laurence King Publishing. pp. 48–49. 
  5. ^ Montagnes, Ian (1991). Editing and Publication: A Training Manual. p. 343. 
  6. ^ Dahl, Fred (2006). Book Production Procedures for Today's Technology (2nd ed.). Inkwell Publishing Service. p. 21. 
  7. ^ Jackson, Hartley Everett (1942). Newspaper Typography, a Textbook for Journalism Classes. Stranford University Press. pp. 36–37. 
  • Bringhurst, Robert (1999). The Elements of Typographic Style (2nd ed.). H&M Publishers. pp. 294–295. ISBN 0881791326. 
  • Pasko, W. W. (1894). "Pica". American Dictionary of Printing and Bookmaking. H. Lockwood. p. 436.