Point (typography)

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This article is about the unit of typographic measure. For a dot grapheme, see Full stop and Interpunct. For the mark used to separate an integer from a decimal fraction, see Decimal point. For other uses, see Point (disambiguation).
"Small text" redirects here. For microprinting, see Microprinting.
"Minion (typography)" redirects here. For the typeface, see Minion (typeface).
Unit system typographic unit
Unit of length
Unit conversions
1 point in ... ... is equal to ...
   typographic units    1/12 picas
   imperial/US units    1/72 in
   metric (SI) units    0.3528 mm

In typography, the point is the smallest unit of measure. It is used for measuring font size, leading, and other items on a printed page. The size of the point has varied throughout the history of printing. Since the 18th century, the point's size has varied from 0.18 to 0.4 millimeters. Following the advent of desktop publishing in the 1980s and 1990s, digital printing has largely supplanted the letterpress printing and has established the DTP point (desktop publishing point) as the de facto standard. The DTP point is defined as 172 of an international inch (about 0.353 mm) and, as with earlier American point sizes, is considered to be 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]


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]

Varying standards[edit]

Various point definitions, sorted by size
Origin Year µm inch
Truchet 1694 ≈ 188 ≈ 0.007 400 48
JIS,[4] CSS q, DIN[5] 1976 = 250 ≈ 0.009 843 = 5508
Fournier 1737 ≈ 345 ≈ 0.013 582 677
Johnson, ATA 1886 = 351.36 = 0.013 83 = 836000
Japan[6] 1962 = 351.4 ≈ 0.013 835
variant[who?] ≈ 351.406 ≈ 0.013 835
Hawks 1879 ≈ 351.456 = 0.013 837
TeX pt = 351.459 80 ≈ 0.013 837 = 1007227
PS, CSS pt, TeX bp 1984 = 352.7 = 0.013 8 = 172
Tex nd[7] 1975 = 375 ≈ 0.014 764 = 151016
Tschichold ≈ 375.94 ≈ 0.014 801 = 25016891
Didot 1770 ≈ 375.97 ≈ 0.014 802
Berthold = 376 ≈ 0.014 803 = 473175
TeX dd[8] ≈ 376.065 ≈ 0.014 806
Mozilla dt[9] 1997 = 376.296 = 0.014 8 = 2135
Antenna House dd[10] ≈ 376.682 = 0.014 83
L’Imprimerie nationale = 400 ≈ 0.015 748

There have been many definitions of a “point” since the advent of typography. Traditional continental European points at about 375 µm are usually a bit larger than English points at around 350 µm.

French points[edit]

See also: French units of measurement for the units used in this section.

The Truchet point, the first modern typographic point, was 1/144 of a French inch or 1/1728 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. At 9000 lines or 16 inches per foot, this established a length to the royal foot of 9000/27706 or ca. 325 mm, which made the Truchet point equal to 15625/83118mm or about 187.986 µm, although it has also been cited as exactly 188 µm.

The Fournier point established by Pierre Simon Fournier[when?] was about 11/864 French inches or (by 1799) 345 µm. This is very close to the present international point, but Fournier's point did not achieve lasting popularity despite being revived by the Monotype Corporation in 1927. It became standard in Belgium.[citation needed]

The Didot point established by François-Ambroise Didot in the 18th century[when?] was twice Truchet's and thus 1/864 of the royal foot, i.e. by 1799 15625/41559mm or ca. 375.971 µm.

Approximations 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.) Values included Hermann Berthold's 376 µm point and Jan Tschichold's 375.94 µm (266 points to 100 mm). Due to the definition in TeX of 1157 dd = 1238 pt, the slightly larger 376.065 µm became a common value.

TeX also supports a new Didot point (nd) at 3/8mm or 375 µm, and cites a 1978 redefinition for it.[7] The French National Print Office adopted a point of 2/5mm or 400 µm exactly[when?] and continues to use this measurement today. Japanese[4] and German[5] standardization bodies instead opted for a metric typographic base measure of exactly 1/4mm or 250 µm. It is called キゥ kyu in Japanese after the English pronunciation of its letter symbol 'q' from quarter millimetre. Due to demand by Japanese typesetters, CSS adopted q in 2015.

The Didot point has been mostly replaced by the DTP point in Europe and throughout the world.[citation needed]

American points[edit]

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.[11] This is 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 0.013837 in (about 0.35146 mm). A variant was proposed[by whom?] to be exactly 83 picas or 996 points in 350 mm (ca. 0.351405622 mm/pt), giving it a value around 0.013848867 in.

The Johnson point was established by Lawrence Johnson in the mid-1800s 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 (ATA) approved the "Johnson pica" as its official standard in 1886, hence the alias ATA point. Following the 1959 standardization of the foot, this meant the American printer's foot was 303.5808 mm exactly and its point became 351.36 µm.

This size was approximated by Donald Knuth for the default unit of his TeX computer typesetting system and is thus sometimes known as the TeX point, which is 351.45980 mm or exactly 172.27 of the modern inch, and exactly 800803 of the PostScript point (bp in TeX).[12][not in citation given]

Like the French Didot point, the traditional American printer's point was largely replaced by the DTP point system.

Desktop publishing point[edit]

The desktop publishing point (DTP point) or PostScript point is defined as 172 or 0.0138 of the international inch, making it equivalent to 352.7 µm. Twelve points make up a pica, and six picas make an inch. A separate typographic or printer's foot is not needed anymore.

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.[13][14]

In 1996, it was adopted by W3C for Cascading Stylesheets (CSS) where it was later related at a fixed 4:3 ratio to the pixel due to a general (but wrong) assumption of 96 px/in screens.

Point-size names[edit]

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"[15]—acquired traditional names in English, French, German, and Dutch, usually from their principal early uses.[16] 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;[16] metal type known as "agate" later ranged from 5 to 5.8 points. The sizes were gradually standardized as described above.[17] 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.[citation needed]

Point American system Continental system Chinese system
American[18] British[15] French[19] German[20] Dutch Character Pinyin Meaning
1 American[22] Achtelpetit Achtste petit
1 1/2 German Achtelcicero Achtste cicero
2 Saxon Non Plus Ultra[23]
Non plus ultra[24]
Vierde petit
2 1/2 Norse Microscopique[25] Microscopique[23] Microscoop
3 Excelsior[26][28] Minikin[26] Diamant Brillant[23]
Kwart cicero
3 1/2 Ruby
4 Brilliant Perle Diamant
Halve petit
4 1/4 Gem
4 1/2 Diamond
5 Pearl Parisienne
Perl Parel
5 1/2 Agate Ruby[30][31] "Seven"
6 Nonpareil Nonpareille Nonpareille Nonparel
6 1/2 Minionette[32] Emerald[32] Insertio Insertio Xiǎoliù "Little Six"
7 Minion Mignonne Kolonel Kolonel
7 1/2 Petit-texte Liù "Six"
8 Brevier Gaillarde
9 Bourgeois[34] Petit-romain
Xiǎowǔ "Little Five"
10 Long Primer Philosophie Korpus
10 1/2 "Five"
11 Small Pica Cicéro Rheinländer
12 Pica St.-Augustin Cicero Cicero
Xiǎosì "Little Four"
14 English Gros-texte[36] Mittel Grote cicero
Grote augustijn
15 Gros-texte[36] 小三 Xiǎosān "Little Three"
16 Columbian Gros-texte[36] Tertia Tertia Sān "Three"
18 Great Primer Gros-romain 1 1/2 Cicero Paragon
小二 Xiǎoèr "Little Two"
20 Paragon[16][18] Petit-parangon Text
22 Double Small Pica[16][18] 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[40]
Große Kanon[41]
42 Seven-line Nonpareil Große Kanon[41] Grote Kanon Chū "Initial"
44 Canon Gros-canon[42] Missal[43] Parijs Romein[44]
48 Four-line Pica
French canon
Canon Gros-canon[42] Kleine Missal Konkordanz
Kleine missaal
54 Missal Missaal
56 Double-canon
60 Five-line pica Große Missal Sabon
66 Große Sabon[23] Grote sabon
72 Six-line pica
Double-trismégiste Sabon
Kleine Sabon[40]
6 cicero
84 Seven-line pica Siebencicero[23]
Große Sabon[40]
7 cicero
88 Triple-canon
96 Eight-line pica Grosse-nonpareille Achtcicero[23]
8 cicero
100 Moyenne de fonte
108 Nine-line pica Imperial[40] 9 cicero

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Phinney, Thomas (16 August 2012). "Point Size and the Em Square: Not What People Think". Phinney on Fonts. Retrieved 24 February 2015. 
  2. ^ "Chapter 15: Fonts". Cascading Style Sheets Level 2 Revision 1 (CSS 2.1) Specification. 17 December 2014. § 15.8. Retrieved 24 February 2015. 
  3. ^ http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-CSS2/syndata.html#length-units
  4. ^ a b JIS X 4052:2000, JIS Z 8125:2004
  5. ^ a b as an unnamed module first in DIN 16507-2:1984 and still in DIN 16507-2:1999
  6. ^ JIS Z 8305
  7. ^ a b pdftex source code l. 10443 ff.
  8. ^ "What are the various units (ex, em, in, pt, bp, dd, pc) expressed in mm?". Stacke Exchange. 
  9. ^ David Baron (2009-03-09). "Remove internal support for units that were never in CSS (feet, miles, meters, kilometers, didots, ciceros)". Mozilla.org. 
  10. ^ "AH Formatter: XSL/CSS Extensions". p. Extended Units. 
  11. ^ Public Law 39-183.
  12. ^ pdftex source code l. 13773 ff.
  13. ^ Tucker, H. A. (1988). "Desktop Publishing". In Ruiter, Maurice M. de. Advances in Computer Graphics III. Springer. p. 296. ISBN 3-540-18788-X. 
  14. ^ Spring, Michael B. (1991). Electronic printing and publishing: the document processing revolution. CRC Press. p. 46. ISBN 0-8247-8544-4. 
  15. ^ a b Southward, John (1888), "Typography", Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th ed., Vol. XXIII, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, p. 698 .
  16. ^ a b c d e Romano, Frank (Summer 2009). "The History of the Typographic Point" (PDF). APHA Newsletter (171): 3–4. 
  17. ^ "Type", Sizes.com, Santa Monica: Sizes Inc., 2004 .
  18. ^ a b c d e Pasko, Wesley Washington, ed. (1894), American Dictionary of Printing and Bookmaking, Containing a History of These Arts in Europe and America, with Definitions of Technical Terms and Biographical Sketches, New York: Howard Lockwood & Co., p. 522 .
  19. ^ a b c Pasko (1894), p. 215.
  20. ^ Bauer, Friedrich (1929), Die Normung der Buchdrucklettern: Schrifthöhe, Schriftkegel, und Schriftlinie in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwichlung, Leipzig: Deutscher Buchgewerbeverein, p. 64 . (German)
  21. ^ Pasko (1894), p. 18.
  22. ^ The existence of such small bodies was only notional in the age of metal type.[21]
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bauer (1934).
  24. ^ De Vinne (1900), p. 68.
  25. ^ De Vinne, Theodore Low (1900), The Practice of Typography: A Treatise on the Processes of Type-Making, the Point System, the Names, Sizes, Styles, and Prices of Plain Printing Types, New York: The Century Co., p. 68 .
  26. ^ a b "minikin, n.¹ and adj.¹", Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002 .
  27. ^ "excelsior, n."'", Oxford English Dictionary, 1st ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1894 .
  28. ^ Note that the American name for 3-point type was initially "Brilliant"[18] and the English name was initially "Excelsior".[16] The American "Excelsior", meanwhile, was originally 4-point type.[18][27] The situation subsequently changed.
  29. ^ a b c d Pasko (1894), p. 70.
  30. ^ "ruby, n.¹", Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011 
  31. ^ Pasko (1894), p. 11.
  32. ^ a b "minionette, n.", Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002 .
  33. ^ a b c Pasko (1894), p. 65.
  34. ^ Pronounced "burjoyce".[33]
  35. ^ a b c Pasko (1894), p. 229.
  36. ^ a b c The French gros-texte referred indifferently to type sizes between 14 and 16 points.[19]
  37. ^ Pasko (1894), p. 172.
  38. ^ Pasko (1894), p. 238.
  39. ^ von Bauer, Friedrich (1934), Handbuch für Schriftsetzer, Frankfurt: Verlag von Klimsch & Co. . (German)
  40. ^ a b c d Staeck (1980).
  41. ^ a b The German Große Kanon referred indifferently to 40- or 42-point type.
  42. ^ a b The French gros-canon referred indifferently to type sizes of 44 or 48 points.[19]
  43. ^ Pasko (1894), p. 79.
  44. ^ Pasko (1894), p. 213.
  45. ^ Staeck, Erich; et al. (1980), Rechenbuch für die Druckindustrie, Itzehoe: Verlag Beruf und Schule, ISBN 3-88013-155-4 . (German)

External links[edit]