How to Use Picas & Type E-Scale Rulers

Written by jean fritz
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How to Use Picas & Type E-Scale Rulers
Picas and points have been a printer's standard unit of measure since the invention of movable type. (Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Picas and points are units of measure used by typographers and graphic designers. The "E" scale is a specialised measuring device found in most design studios, desktop publishing houses and newspaper and magazine layout rooms. This scale is normally 6 inches long and made of clear plexiglass or acrylic. One edge of the ruler is graded in inches and fractions of inches; the other edge is graded in points and picas. The middle is printed with the letter "E" in a range of type sizes, from 6 point through 72 point. Following is information on using this device to maximise productivity in performing page layout and design.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • A 6" or 12" transparent pica ruler

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    How to Use Picas & Type E-Scale Rulers

  1. 1

    Measure the layout space with the "inch" side of the pica rule and convert the measurements from inches to picas. For example, a standard business card is 3 in. wide by 2 in. tall, and margins are normally set at 1/4 in. all around, leaving a space of 2 1/2 in. by 1 1/2 in. available for type. One inch equals 6 picas, so the space to fill would equal 15 picas by 9 picas.

  2. 2

    Convert the vertical measurement of the blank space from picas to points. There are 12 points to each pica, so the blank space on the business card equals 108 points (9 picas x 12 points / pica).

  3. 3

    Choose the point size(s) of type for the layout. The point size of type refers to the vertical size of a font's capital letter. Normally, there are 2 points of white space (leading) added to each line of type in order to achieve legibility and balance. Use the "E" s to find the most aesthetically pleasing point sizes of type to use for the main line (headline) and filler lines. The example business card would look good using a 14 point mainline and 9 point filler lines.

  4. 4

    Calculate the number of lines of type that will fit on the page and begin to design the layout. Using the business card example, if 14 point type is used for the mainline, then subtract 16 points (point size of type + 2 points of leading) from the 108 points available. This leaves 92 points of space left. Using 9 point type for the filler, this means that a maximum of 8 lines (9 points + 2 point of leading) will fit on the card. If more white space is desired, then the number of lines and/or the point size of the type needs to be reduced accordingly.

Tips and warnings

  • If graphics are to be included in the layout, place these into the layout first. Resize the graphic elements so that they attractive and then fit the type around the graphics. Subtract the vertical point size of the graphic from the total size of the area to be filled in order to calculate the amount of space left for type.
  • Some measurement conversions, such as 1/16 in., will never convert evenly to points. In this instance, it is better to round down and allow a little more white space to be in the layout.
  • Script or artistic fonts often print up to two points smaller than the size shown for a given point size on the "E" scale. If using one of these fonts, then increase the point size of the type and decrease the leading to compensate for the size disparity.

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