Re: Metric Typography Units

From: Michael Everson (
Date: Thu Jan 14 1999 - 06:22:21 EST

Ar 01:29 +0000 1999-01-14, scríobh Markus Kuhn:

>Asking for an ISO definition of the "point" is the wrong question.
>Typography really should only use metric units like *any* other modern
>field of science and technology. There is absolutely no need for special
>length units in typography.

Ever set type? Ever design a book? Ever design type? One thinks in the
units one knows. Though when I was in the US I used inches, and did
successfully convert my page layout habits to metric when I came to
Ireland, point size has been constant.

>Everything else is just
>ridiculous historic ballast and it boggles the mind that we still use it
>and waste a lot of time with converting units. Surely some old
>typographers will turn out to be conservative and mentally inflexible
>and express their irrational love for the points, but we can't continue
>this unit nonsense forever, even if it means breaking quite some

It would not be _easy_ to make such a change, and it's not mental
inflexibility, thank you very much. Nor irrational love. Points are
_convenient_. Typography is not a purely calculative activity. It's an art,
a skill learned with much experience. Visualizing a page set in 10/12 or
9/11 Bembo is something one learns to do, and switching that to (whatever
it is in metric) is not necessarily easy, even if it, in the abstract,
might be a good idea.

But a holier-than-thou metricism is not the way to win people over to your
viewpoint, Markus....

>DIN 16507-2 also contains a list of preferred font sizes in mm. This is
>a geometric series, similar to the well-known ISO 3 preferred numbers
>and the IEC preferred dimensions of electronics components.

Man hätte gerne DIN 16507-2 sehn...

>The legacy we have to fight with is that typewriters were invented in
>the US and most typographic software used today is exported from the US,
>and therefore the rest of the world has to suffer under the silly
>inch-based Flintstone units and will continue to do so in the 21st
>century. It's a real hassle.

Nonsense. Quark XPress and much other software allows the user to measure
in inches, centimetres, millimetres, decimal inches (for Canada), points,
and picas.

>Dear ISO community: Please start a project to write a standard guide for
>the use of a simple and consistent set of metric typographic units. Such
>a guide with examples of how to use them would be a really useful
>contribution. DIN 16507-2 is available as a good starting point.

What WG would have jurisdiction on this one?

>Examples for metric dimensions: a typical book font size is 4.25 mm and
>a modern laser printer as a resolution of 40 µm. It really does not take
>much time to get used to metric typography.


Michael Everson, Everson Gunn Teoranta **
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