Re: Metric Typography Units

From: Markus Kuhn (
Date: Thu Jan 14 1999 - 09:19:12 EST

Miles Ellis wrote on 1999-01-14 13:19 UTC:
> If Adobe, Apple, Microsoft,
> W3C, ... don't support metric font sizes, for example, it is because their
> customers don't want them. And why should they if many of them don't use
> metric measurements for anything else? We who use points know without
> thinking how big 10 point is, and in the words of the prophet "if it ain't
> broke, don't fix it!"

But it *is* badly brocken and I *do* want metric font sizes. In my
layout work, I always work on a millimeter grid. I have been drawing and
writing on millimeter grids since I joined elementary school in 1977.
Thinking in cm and mm is the most natural thing to me. School note pads
in Europe usually come with a fine 5x5 mm grid on them.

US software does not allow me to select fonts sizes for which the
optimal inter-line spacing neatly aligns the base lines with my metric
grid. This is extremely inconvenient and a source of deep frustration,
because it makes proper alignment of other graphical objects with the
text lines more difficult. I am a software customer who grew up with the
metric system from earliest childhood, and I consider points and inches
a pain and an alien concept. I understand that this is difficult to
grasp for the average US programmer of typographic software who grew up
either in an inch world, or in a world where complex conversions between
numerous archaic units is considered to be a cultural fetish (how many
gallons are there in a cubic foot again?)

Sure, many US typographic programs do have some sort of metric modes,
but they often have loose ends and were clearly designed by people who
never use these themselves. In addition, I have yet to see a US font
software that does offer font sizes designed for metric inter-line
spacing (Helvetica 4.25).

I guess most programmers are reluctant to offer metric font sizes,
because underlying font APIs do not offer them. In the beginning of mass
market digital typography there was Postscript, and Postscript used some
form of point denoting the k/H size as their font measurement (based on
US lead typography tradition), so nobody later dared to reform that.

IMHO, this typographic unit business needs a bit more innovative
critical thinking and a bit less blind following of ancient traditions.


Markus G. Kuhn, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, UK
Email: mkuhn at,  WWW: <>

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