How is type measured? And more…

Hi guys,

First off, I would like to make some business cards for friends.

Is it common to use type to spell everything out or do most shops just design die’s instead? I was thinking it would be more cost beneficial to use type to spell everything out.

Second, how do you measure type? I see it is in points, but what do those points equate to? What is the smallest type that was produced?

What other things will I need for setting the type in the chase? Any tips?

Much appreciated.

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Many people these days do their composition on the computer and order a plate (die) to print their images.

It may indeed be more cost effective to use handset type if you have it available, and have easy to do once you have a little experience under your belt.

Type is measured by the body on which it was cast, and the type size includes ascenders and descenders, so if you are setting something in all capital letters, the printed image will not measure the same as the nominal point size of the typeface.

One point is nearly 1/72 of an inch, with 12 points being called a pica, which then measures approximately 1/6 of an inch.

I believe the smalles typeface ever commercially produced was a 2pt. face, but the smallest most generally found is 6pt., and that’s pretty darned small, but may work well on a business card for address lines, etc.

If you want to keep your friends as friends, I’d recommend you begin by making some business cards for yourself, your dog, and your cat before you do work for anyone else. Practice a bit and get a good book which explains the basics of the craft before you begin.

I suggest you locate a copy of “Printing for Pleasure” by John Ryder, or perhaps Herbert Simon’s “Introduction to Printing, The Craft of Letterpress” and “Introduction to Typography” by Oliver Simon. All are inexpensive and readily available on the used book market. The questions you ask are somewhat broad, and you would be better served by doing a little reading.

The smallest type produced in type metal was called ‘Flies eye’ and was 2 points tall. The smallest types in general use today are 6 point, which generally measures from the top of the tallest ascender to the bottom of the longest descender. A point is the equivalent of 1/72 of an inch, or .335145 mm.

You will need: Type, spacing, leading, furniture, quoins, and a composing stick. There is a lot of information on-line, and much, much more in print. A visit to your local library might be a good place to start.


Hello Shovelneck,

It depends on how many cards you are making for how many friends, and whether you intend to include graphics.

If you’re making lots of cards for lots of friends and they all want different typefaces, then handset type could get expensive since you have to buy an entire font for each typeface and each size. If you’re printing more than one card at a time — say four-up — you might need even more than one font each. If you buy monotype, it won’t last forever, especially under heavy impression, so you have to replace it when it starts to show wear. You wouldn’t want to subject foundry type to heavy impression since there’s not much of it made anymore.

You can order a plate, including a plate with the cards laid out two- or four-up, with any kind of typeface and size available on your computer. If your friends want some sort of graphic design, then you’d have to have a plate made anyway. The base for your plates will be expensive, but once you have it you can use it for anything you might want to print, as long as it fits. You could also have metal plates mounted on wood, in which case you wouldn’t need a base.

Plates are much easier to store. Handset type requires rather large cabinetry; all you need for plates are Ziploc bags and a file drawer. Wood-mounted plates would take up more space, but not as much as fonts of handset type.

You also have to decide which process you prefer — sitting in front of a computer screen pressing keys or sitting at a work table manipulating little pieces of metal. Handset type has nowhere near the flexibility of electronically generated type, but some people find that its limitations foster creativity.

Just some thoughts,


Thank you for the excellent responses.

I will take your advice and invest in a book.

I have been looking at ebay for type. Im not sure if this is the best place to go.

Anyhow, did type sets come with spacing and leading or did one invest in a set of spacing and a set of leading along with their type?

M & H Type in San Francisco sells new fonts of Monotype, and has a particularly good starter deal on a font of 12pt and 18pt types in several styles.

NA Graphics in Silverton, Colorado sells new true foundry type cast on the ATF casters by Dale Guild Foundry which is a better investment, but a very limited choice.

Used type on eBay can be great or a disaster, and not all sellers know what they have or represent its condition accurately. You are taking a chance at auction, but it may be the only way to get some things you want. I would recommend getting a copy of Mac McGrew’s “American Metal Type Faces of the 20th Century”. It is the Bible for people interested in the type that was available over the last 100 years, and gives examples of faces for your comparison.

Spacing for type is sold separately in weighted fonts and leads and slugs are sold in strip lengths and must be cut to size. Slug cutters come up pretty often on eBay, and a hunt through the Briar Press Yellow Pages will give you some names so you can look for used tools.

Good luck and happy hunting.