Measuring type??

Hi all,
Thanks to some great members I have received and am receiving more pied type… I have a digital caliper and was thinking it would aid in the sorting process.. Is there a chart to go by to measure type? Any help would be greatly appreciated.. I would have to say that in the time I have spent in sorting the type (so far) I have found it sort of relaxing.. Maybe I’m weird??? Thanks….

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“Line Gauge, 12” long, stainless steel”

“One side has inches and Picas and half picas, other side has points and metric. Also known as a “pica pole.”

@Typenut is correct - just remember to measure the body of the type, not the character on the face. The body needs to be large enough to accommodate the tallest ascender as well as the lowest descender - which is how type is measured.

>The body needs to be large enough to accommodate the tallest ascender as well as the lowest descender - which is how type is measured.

Actually, letterpress printing type is measured by measuring the body (as Bill indeed notes), without any regard to the face at all. There may be considerable variation as to the size and alignment of the face on the body. The face can nearly fill the body, or even be larger than the body (extending both above and below, though making vertically kerned type such as this is nontrivial). The face can also be considerably smaller than the body (the face size of 6 pt Lining Plate Gothic No. 1 is closer to what one might expect from 4pt type). To take another extreme, a space or quad has no printing face at all, and yet is still a type of a particular point size.

ATF published a very nice diagram showing the dimensions and parts of type. They put it in several editions of their later “Descriptive Index and Price List” publications. See, for example, the one at:

The diagram is on p. 28. What you are measuring when you measure type is what is labelled as the “Point Body” on this diagram.

As noted, the easy tool with which to measure this is the line gauge. If you get a secondhand one, doublecheck it. I’ve found several which are not accurate.

If you’re measuring with calipers or a micrometer in decimal inches, divide by 0.0138 to get points. I had need of some tables pre-calculating this for various ranges. These are online at:

>Maybe I’m weird???

I’ve spent hours going through buckets of Linotype mats. Probably weird, too. But given what qualifies as normal these days, I’ll take weird. :-)

David M.

re type sizes

During my apprenticeship and throughout the decades I worked after that, we always worked to Mergenthaler Linotype Company measurement of 0.1660 inch as a pica, even when we got into cold type. Eventually in 1966 Australia went metric and sometimes we had to go back to Mergenthaler picas to sort out problems. I did a tabulation of about (from memory) 8 columns in photosetting, only able to make it work when I reverted to picas and points.

But I learn something every day, perhaps there are places where the pica is not what we used?

Occasionally there are problems; I used a (handset) typeface at one site in 1957 where there were fancy characters which were multiples of the nominal size of type e.g. the f extended upwards so that although nominally 18 point, it was on a body of 36 point while some of the rest were on 18 point.

Mergenthaler asked for a particular character as a sample matrix, I think it was a l.c. letter u.

In metal type we had no real problems using the “line gauge” which had picas down one side and inches down the other; I saw (and used) line gauges made with picas still, but with metric centimetres on the other side. When we went metric in cold type, it was sprung onto the layout people with no advance alert, so they merely marked sheets at 2.5 centimetres to the inch, after a few weeks they converted to metric.

Because of the traditions of letterpress (relief printing from metal and wood type characters etc) it may be advisable to stick to points and picas, and try to get a gauge with those marks; otherwise, use a micrometer and convert; a conversion table may be handy.

For some out-of-the-ordinary measurement systems, I have occasionally prepared a measuring stick to the standard in use in that system, avoiding the problem of error in calculation; on one occasion, while working with concrete, I misplaced a decimal point, the slab turned out to be 10 times as heavy as I calculated!

Australians had problems with confusion between centimetres and millimetres for a while, mostly we have overcome that, but one supplier received a shipment of metal boxes much larger than expected, his orderman confused the centimetres and millimetres!

Thank goodness that we no longer use terms like brevier and pearl for the sizes of type!


P.S. Are bearing sets Iin U.S.A. supplied in metric sizes, usually with the inch equivalents marked? I wonder why the strange batches of numbers, till I learned that, in Australia. In this town we have a facility which can make any bearing, to cover problems of shortages, to special order; the maximum diameter is about 9 metres (nearly 30 feet) but these are made only to special order; available at

I would like to see one of these being transported, but have not had that good fortune so far.

Car tyres (tires in U.S.A.) in Australia are marked with a mixture of metric and inch sizes!


When I work:

As a European, by default I think in metric.

However I am stuck with the arbitrary US paper sizes.
And the pound-weight of 500 of a parent sheet. As well as their calipers given in a Mil.

My clients and fellow designers expect things to be explained in inches and their fractions.

I set type and build layouts in Pica and points.

Unless I design in pixels, where I tend use CSS to size type in % of the Em of < b >.

Then comes time to output, in PPI, DPI or LPI. Or perhaps thread count?



Thanks for all the helpful advise! I am ordering one of the line gauges and will go from there.. I am also going to download a chart or two to try that! Thanks again!

You can’t use the Mergenthaler standard to measure foundry type. Mergenthaler rounded up the standard typefounder’s point of .1338” to .140” to make it easier for machinists and their micrometers (as opposed to typographers).
A complication arises when European type has been cast on American bodies. That’s where 22-point small and 22-point large, etc, come into existance. There are also many cases of casting uneven-sized type onto standard-sized bodies (7/8, 9/10, 11/12, etc.).
To really know what you have, you need to measure the physical body and compare the face to type specimens.

> Mergenthaler rounded up the standard typefounder’s point of .1338” to .140”

I think you meant to type 0.0138 inches and 0.014 inches.

David M.

It is usually fairly hard for beginners to measure the size of type - especially the smaller sizes. So to make this easier just remember to line up four pices of type at-a-time, note the size and then divide by four to get an accurate individual size. The line guage is usually only divided into 6 and 12 point increments.

Also note that many antique faces were cast well before the point system was standardized, leading to some very oddball sizes (17 1/2 pt. for instance).

Many European fonts are on the Didot system.


If you are old and slow like me, you find one of these gauges. It takes care of 95 percent of the type you have to sort.

image: Blatchford Type Scale.jpg

Blatchford Type Scale.jpg

platenpress, where do you get one of those??????? That looks like the cats meow!


Once again you’ve come up with something I have never seen before. Very neat.

One thing I find weird is that to the right of the Blatchford logo is what appears to be the Dutch Boy (as in paints)logo. I wonder what that was all about?????


Blatchford and Dutch Boy both were brands of the National Lead Company.

I was lucky enough to find one of those gauges in a box of Intertype parts. It was a nice find!

Blatchford made non-ferrous bases for plate mounting. I have that same gauge, and note that it has sections for Linotype mats as well as type, and also different plate bevels (Blatchford and PMC bases use different bevel angles).
And here is a non-technical method of measuring foundry type (which I hope I haven’t misremebered as well): counting by 12 lines of type, which has less margin of error than measuring individual types. 12 lines of 10-point type will be exactly 10 picas, and 12 lines of 12-point type will be 12 picas etc. If it is not an exact match, then the type body is either an import, or older than standardization. There is still a bit of type out there that was cast to unique foundry specs before standardization.

I sell metal letterpress on Etsy and I designed a couple of charts to help people understand sizing. All the math is done for you :) You can see them here:

I purchased a reproduction of the Blatchford Gage-it from someone in the past year. It is invaluable. I’d been looking for the Blatchford for years as I also have many forms to take apart and sort. It may have been from Paul Aken, but I don’t see it on his website now.

Paul Aken did have a version of the Blatchford gauge made recently - he was selling them at the APA convention this year. You could contact him to see if he has any left. His contact info is on his website:

David M.

Once you have found a piece/sort of each size, tape it (nick downwards) to a piece of MDF or other flat surface with a one inch space between. With one hand take and put each piece/sort against the size that looks right, feel it against the example piece with the index finger of the other hand to check, and slide it into the relevant space in an egg-box type container.
You can sort several buckets of pied type quite quickly like this. It is possible to do this while watching tv
(Not of course that I’d do anything as weird…)

Dana’s etsy chart may work but anyone using a micrometer will end up being confused. The ATF Standard for one point was .0138”, 10 pt is .1383”, 18 pt is .2490”, 36 pt is .4981” (vs. Dana’s .500”), 48 pt is .6641”, and 72 pt is .9961”. One inch for 72 pt is convenient for some, but off by almost .004” for someone being accurate. This is from Theo Rehak’s Practical Typecasting. The early computerization of type set a one inch equals 72 pts as a standard those folks could work with and comprehend.

That is great information, Fritz1! Thanks for clarifying

I sell a reproduction Blatchford type gauge for $25.00 including shipping in the US.

image: Blatchford Gauge.jpg

Blatchford Gauge.jpg

The Blatchford gauge looks like just the thing for sorting out a lot of pi. For general use, also get a pica gauge (line gauge) with a point scale (actually 2-point increments). I use it constantly.