Point (typography)
In typography
Typography is the art and technique of arranging type in order to make language visible. The arrangement of type involves the selection of typefaces, point size, line length, leading , adjusting the spaces between groups of letters and adjusting the space between pairs of letters...

, a point is the smallest unit
Typographic unit
Typographic units are the units of measurement used in typography or typesetting. The traditional units are different from common metric units, as they were established earlier. Even though these units are all very small, across a line of print they add up quickly...

 of measure, being a subdivision of the larger pica. It is commonly abbreviated as pt. The point has long been the usual unit for measuring font
In typography, a typeface is the artistic representation or interpretation of characters; it is the way the type looks. Each type is designed and there are thousands of different typefaces in existence, with new ones being developed constantly....

 size and leading
In typography, leading refers to the distance between the baselines of successive lines of type. The term originated in the days of hand-typesetting, when thin strips of lead were inserted into the formes to increase the vertical distance between lines of type...

 and other minute items on a printed page.
The original printer's point, from the era of foundry metal typesetting and letter press printing
Printing press
A printing press is a device for applying pressure to an inked surface resting upon a print medium , thereby transferring the ink...

, varied between 0.18 and 0.4 mm depending on various definitions of the foot. By the end of the 19th Century, it had settled to around 0.35 to 0.38 mm, depending on one’s geographical location.

In the late 1980s to the 1990s, the traditional point was supplanted by the desktop publishing point (also called the PostScript
PostScript is a dynamically typed concatenative programming language created by John Warnock and Charles Geschke in 1982. It is best known for its use as a page description language in the electronic and desktop publishing areas. Adobe PostScript 3 is also the worldwide printing and imaging...

 point), which was defined as 72 points to the inch
An inch is the name of a unit of length in a number of different systems, including Imperial units, and United States customary units. There are 36 inches in a yard and 12 inches in a foot...

 (1 point =  inches =  mm = 0.352 mm). In either system, there are 12 points to the pica.
In metal type, the point size of the font described the size (height) of the metal body on which the typeface
In typography, a typeface is the artistic representation or interpretation of characters; it is the way the type looks. Each type is designed and there are thousands of different typefaces in existence, with new ones being developed constantly....

's characters were cast. In digital type, the body is now an imaginary design space, but is used as the basis from which the type is scaled (see em
Em (typography)
An em is a unit of measurement in the field of typography, equal to the currently specified point size.The name of em is related to M. Originally the unit was derived from the width of the capital "M" in the given typeface....


A measurement in picas is usually represented by placing a lower case p after the number, such as "10p" meaning "10 picas." Points are represented by placing the number of points after the p, such as 0p5 for "5 points," 6p2 for "6 picas and 2 points," or 1p1 for "13 points" which is converted to a mixed fraction of 1 pica and 1 point. (An alternate nomenclature is described in the pica article.)

French printer’s points

See French units of measurement
French units of measurement
France has a unique history of units of measurement due to radical attempts to adopt a metric system following the French Revolution.In the Ancien régime, before 1795, France used a system of measures that had many of the characteristics of the modern Imperial System of units...

 for the definitions of the units used in this section.

A French law of 1799 defined the meter to be exactly 443.296 French lines—or 3 French feet, 0 French inches and 11.296 French lines, superseding extant definitions which exchanged the dependent and independent parameters. Since the meter is now the standard unit by statute law, this change to a derived unit implicitly defines the modern day Pied du Roi— literally: a French Royal foot— as exactly meters (about 0.325 m). Like the English and Roman foot, the French foot also used twelve subdivisions—twelve French-inches.
This value is used in the conversions below; also note 12 × 12=122=144—a dozen-dozen, and 12 (French inches) × 144=1728 used below or 123.


The modern typographic point was invented in France by the clergyman Sébastien Truchet
Sebastien Truchet
Sébastien Truchet was an eclectic Dominican Father born in Lyon and lived in Louis XIV times. He is known for being active in areas such as mathematics, hydraulics, graphics, typography, and for many inventions....

 (1657–1729). The size he chose was such that 1728 of these made one Pied du Roi— using the 1799 definition, mm (or about 0.188 mm). To Truchent, a point was defined the other way, there were a dozen-dozen points per French inch—or 1728 or 123 points to a French-Foot.


Pierre Simon Fournier
Pierre Simon Fournier
Pierre Simon Fournier was a French mid-18th century punch-cutter, typefounder and typographic theoretician. He was both a collector and originator of types”. Fournier's contributions to printing were his creation of initials and ornaments, his design of letters, and his standardization of type...

 (1712–1768) used a typographic point of about French Royal inches ≈ 0.345 mm. A close resemblance compared to the modern 72 points to the inch
An inch is the name of a unit of length in a number of different systems, including Imperial units, and United States customary units. There are 36 inches in a yard and 12 inches in a foot...

 of the American personal computer industry (As referenced above, 1 point =  inches =  mm = 0.352 mm) Fournier’s point did not achieve lasting popularity, despite being revived by the Monotype Corporation Ltd. in 1927. Nowadays, Belgium remains one of the few countries to employ Fournier's point. According to the Second Edition of Simon's 1963 Introduction to Typography, type styles such as, Fournier, Plantin and Imprint "are more successful in their smaller sizes."


François-Ambroise Didot (1730–1801) returned to Truchet’s idea, but chose a size twice as large. Thus 864 of his points made one Pied du Roi—that is, .

This value—somewhat odd due to the divisor, which has the prime factorization 3 × 7 × 1979—was not very flexible for use by typesetters and printers. Though the general size of the Didot point continued to be preferred to that of Truchet, several other printers each chose his or her own value for the point. These are compared below:
  • 0.376065 mm (0.0249% larger than Didot's point)—the traditional value in European printers' offices
  • 0.376000 mm (0.0076% larger)—used by Hermann Berthold (1831–1904) and many others
  • 0.375940 mm (0.0084% smaller)—Jan Tschichold
    Jan Tschichold
    Jan Tschichold was a typographer, book designer, teacher and writer.-Life:Tschichold was the son of a provincial signwriter, and he was trained in calligraphy...

     (1902–1974), who used 266 points in 100 mm
  • 0.375000 mm (0.2584% smaller)—proposed in 1975, but hardly adopted

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.

Traditional American point system

By the (Kasson) Metric Act of 1866 (Public Law 39-183), the US (survey) foot is m. This is 0.0002% more than 304.8 mm, which is the length of the 1959 foot, used below.
A typographic foot contains 72 picas or 864 points.
  • Nelson C. Hawks
    Nelson Hawks
    Nelson Crocker Hawks was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA on August 21, 1840. He is notable for creating the 12-points-per-inch pica typographical standard [1]. This system was first used by typographers to make the standard-sized letter-blocks used by printers, and now by font designers to make...

    , in 1879, used a printer’s foot of a statute foot decreased by 0.375%. Therefore, the traditional ratio (which reduces to ) places Hawks’ point at 0.013 837 inch, or about 0.35146 mm.
  • A second definition was proposed whereby there were exactly 996 printer’s points (= 83 picas) in 350 mm, which made the printer’s point about 0.013 848 867 inch ≈ 0.351405622 mm.
  • Finally, Lawrence Johnson
    Lawrence Johnson (type-founder)
    Lawrence Johnson , was born and educated in England. After an early apprenticeship in the printing industry, he emigrated to the United States of America in his youth, and became an eminent stereotyper and type-founder in Philadelphia and one of the most extensive and successful type-founders in...

     stated in a third definition of printer’s foot that it should be (99.6%) English foot. This means that the Johnson’s typographical point was 0.01383 inch, and was then converted by the 1959 value to 0.35136 mm.

In 1886, the Fifteenth Meeting of the Type Founders Association of the United States approved the so-called Johnson pica be adopted as the official standard. This makes the traditional American printer’s foot measure 11.952 inches (303.6 mm), or 303.5808 mm exactly, giving a point size of approximately of an inch, or 0.3515 mm.

This is the size of the point in the TeX
TeX is a typesetting system designed and mostly written by Donald Knuth and released in 1978. Within the typesetting system, its name is formatted as ....

 computer typesetting system by Donald Knuth
Donald Knuth
Donald Ervin Knuth is a computer scientist and Professor Emeritus at Stanford University.He is the author of the seminal multi-volume work The Art of Computer Programming. Knuth has been called the "father" of the analysis of algorithms...

, which predates PostScript slightly. Thus the latter unit is sometimes called the TeX point.

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

Current DTP point system

The desktop publishing
Desktop publishing
Desktop publishing is the creation of documents using page layout software on a personal computer.The term has been used for publishing at all levels, from small-circulation documents such as local newsletters to books, magazines and newspapers...

 point (DTP point) is defined as 1/72 of the Anglo-Saxon compromise inch of 1959 (25.4 mm), it is approximately 0.0139 inch or 0.3528 mm. Twelve points make up a pica, and six picas make an inch.

This system was notably promoted by John Warnock
John Warnock
John Edward Warnock is an American computer scientist best known as the co-founder with Charles Geschke of Adobe Systems Inc., the graphics and publishing software company. Dr. Warnock was President of Adobe for his first two years and Chairman and CEO for his remaining sixteen years at the company...

 and Charles Geschke
Charles Geschke
Charles Geschke, is best known as the 1982 co-founder with John Warnock of Adobe Systems Inc., the graphics and publishing software company.-Education:...

, the inventors of Adobe
Adobe Systems
Adobe Systems Incorporated is an American computer software company founded in 1982 and headquartered in San Jose, California, United States...

 PostScript, and therefore it is sometimes also called PostScript point.

Traditional point-size names

The following names were often used in the English-speaking world for the point sizes usually available for letterpress printing:
  • 3 pt: excelsior (US), minikin (Brit.)
  • 4 pt: brilliant
  • 4.5 pt: diamond
  • 5 pt: pearl
  • 5.5 pt: agate (US), ruby (Brit.)
  • 6 pt: nonpareille
  • 6.5 pt: minionette (US), emerald (Brit.)
  • 7 pt: minion
  • 8 pt: brevier, petit or small text
  • 9 pt: bourgeois or Galliard
  • 10 pt: long primer, corpus or Garamond (c.f. Garamond
    Claude Garamond
    Claude Garamond was a French publisher from Paris. He was one of the leading type designers of his time, and is credited with the introduction of the apostrophe, the accent and the cedilla to the French language. Several contemporary typefaces, including those currently known as Garamond, Granjon,...

  • 11 pt: small pica or philosophy
  • 12 pt: pica
  • 14 pt: English, mittel or Augustin
  • 16 pt: Columbian (US), two-line brevier (Brit.)
  • 18 pt: great primer
  • 20 pt: paragon
  • 21 pt: double small pica
  • 22 pt: double small pica (US), double pica (Brit.)
  • 24 pt: double pica (US) two-line pica (Brit.)
  • 28 pt: double English (US), two-line English (Brit.)
  • 30 pt: five-line nonpareil (US)
  • 32 pt: four-line brevier (US)
  • 36 pt: double great primer (US), two-line great primer (Brit.)
  • 44 pt: Meridian (US), two-line double pica (Brit.), or Trafalgar
  • 48 pt: canon or four-line
  • 60 pt: five-line pica
  • 72 pt: inch

Note that the point sizes given here are approximate—often, especially for smaller ones, the exact size would vary from foundry to foundry or country to country. For example, metal type which was called agate has been known to have been from 5 points and up to 5.8 points. Note also that some of the sizes given are no longer considered part of the "traditional scale", such as 44 point type.

Correspondence to Chinese font sizes

In China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, point size is not used much; instead the following Chinese size names are used (e.g. in the Chinese version of Microsoft Word):
Chinese size name Translation Equivalent point size
chū (初) "initial" 42 points
xiǎo chū (小初) "small initial" 36 points
(一) "one" 26 points
xiǎo yī (小一) "small one" 24 points
èr (二) "two" 22 points
xiǎo èr (小二) "small two" 18 points
sān (三) "three" 16 points
xiǎo sān (小三) "small three" 15 points
(四) "four" 14 points
xiǎo sì (小四) "small four" 12 points
(五) "five" 10.5 points
xiǎo wǔ (小五) "small five" 9 points
liù (六) "six" 7.5 points
xiǎo liù (小六) "small six" 6.5 points
(七) "seven" 5.5 points
(八) "eight" 5 points

The character "号" in simplified Chinese or "號" in traditional Chinese (pinyin
Pinyin is the official system to transcribe Chinese characters into the Roman alphabet in China, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. It is also often used to teach Mandarin Chinese and spell Chinese names in foreign publications and used as an input method to enter Chinese characters into...

hào, English: "size") is appended to the Chinese name when it is not obvious that a font size is being referred to.

External links

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