A typometer is a specialized ruler used mainly to measure type, that is, the size of the letters and characters in a piece of design.
The world of graphic design, typography and layout has a number of tools and utensils that, although they may seem obsolete in the digital world in which we live, are still relevant both for their history and their function. One of these tools is the typometer. Although its name may not be widely recognized, especially among young designers who have been trained in the digital age, the typometer has been an essential tool for generations of design professionals.
Definition and physical description
As we have already seen, a typometer is a special ruler used to measure the size of letters in a design. But it is not just a simple ruler; it is an instrument that has been carefully designed to meet the specific needs of designers and typographers.
Typometers are generally made of sturdy plastic, metal or, in some older editions, even ivory. Their size is compact, allowing easy handling and portability. At first glance, it looks like a common ruler, but on closer inspection, various scales and markings not found on standard rulers can be identified.
Main features and components of the typometer
- Scale: Unlike common rulers that measure in centimeters or inches, the typometer measures in typographic points, a unit of measurement that is essential in the design world. A typographic point is approximately 1/72 of an inch or 0.3527 millimeters. This measurement is used to determine type size. For example, when text is said to be 12 point size, it means that the height of the letters is 12 typographic points.
- Unit of Measurement: Although the typographic point is the primary unit of measurement of the typometer, many modern versions also include millimeter and inch scales to provide greater versatility.
- Material: As mentioned, most typometers are made of durable materials. Modern editions are usually made of sturdy plastic, making them lightweight and easy to use, while older editions might be made of metal or even ivory.
- Additional marks: Some advanced typometers come with additional marks that help measure other aspects of the design, such as line spacing (known as line spacing) or column width. These additional marks are evidence of how this instrument adapted and evolved according to the changing needs of designers.
Importance in the World of Design
Graphic design and typography are disciplines that require great precision. Even small errors in measurement can lead to undesirable results, such as text that does not fit correctly, visual imbalances or legibility problems. Before the advent of digital graphic design software, such as Adobe Illustrator or InDesign, where these measurements are automatically adjusted, designers relied on the typometer to ensure that their layouts were accurate and aesthetically pleasing.
The typometer allowed designers and typographers to accurately determine the size of type, which in turn allowed them to make accurate estimates of how a text would look on a page. It also served to keep type sizes consistent across different layouts, which is critical for visual consistency, especially in larger publications such as magazines or newspapers.
What is the Typometer used for?
Although the typometer no longer has the prominence it once had, it has been a fundamental tool in the world of design to be able to make graphic compositions with precision. These are the uses that have been given to the typographer:
Measuring type or font size
One of the most obvious, but at the same time most essential, functions of the typometer is to measure the size of letters or type. The size of a typeface refers not only to its height, but also to other dimensions that affect the way it is perceived and read in a design. The following are some of the dimensions that can be measured with a type size meter:
- Body height: refers to the overall height of the type, including ascending and descending parts. For example, in an “h” letter, the upstroke is the part that extends above the baseline, while in a “p” letter, the downstroke is the part that goes below the baseline.
- Height of the x: This is the height of lowercase letters that do not have ascending or descending strokes, such as “x” or “a”. It is a crucial measurement because it determines the legibility of text at different sizes and on different media.
- Type width: The typometer can also be used to measure the width of letters, especially in fixed-width typefaces.
Determining spacing and margins
Spacing is a fundamental part of the design. The way space is distributed can affect the legibility, aesthetics and overall interpretation of a composition. The typometer helps designers to measure and adjust these spaces accurately:
- Leading: the spacing between lines of text. Correct spacing allows text to read comfortably, while spacing that is too narrow or too wide can make it difficult to read.
- Leading: The space between individual letters. The typometer can help identify and correct kerning problems by ensuring that letters are not too close together or too far apart.
- Margins: In editorial design, it is essential to define consistent and adequate margins so that the content is legible and aesthetically pleasing. The typometer allows these margins to be measured accurately.
Use in typesetting and layout and editorial design
Typesetting and typesetting is an art that requires meticulous attention to detail. The typometer played an essential role in this process in the pre-digital era:
- Checking columns: In editorial design, especially in newspapers and magazines, text is often arranged in columns. Using a typometer, designers could ensure that columns were of equal width and that the spacing between them was consistent.
- Alignment: Whether checking the alignment of text left, right, centered or justified, the typometer was an indispensable tool to ensure that text was aligned correctly.
- Checking text boxes: Sometimes text is placed inside specific boxes or shapes. The typometer can help measure these boxes to make sure they fit the design correctly.
Other relevant applications
Beyond typography and layout, the typometer has other applications in the design world:
- Measuring images and graphics: Although most commonly associated with typography, the typometer is also useful for measuring and adjusting images, illustrations and other graphic elements in a design.
- Creating grids: Grids are essential in design to establish a consistent and balanced structure. Using a typometer, designers could create precise grids to guide the layout of elements on the page.
The Poscript System
To understand the big picture of graphic design, typography and printing, it is crucial to consider how technology has transformed these fields. One of the most revolutionary developments in the history of digital typography and printing is the PostScript system. While the typeface symbolizes the analog and manual era of design, PostScript represents the leap toward digitization and automation.
PostScript is a page description language developed in 1984 by John Warnock and Charles Geschke of Adobe Systems. It was created to provide a standardized and consistent way to describe how a page would look and print, regardless of the output device (such as different types of printers). In essence, PostScript allows documents with complex graphic and typographic layouts to be displayed and printed exactly as the designer intended.
The invention of PostScript coincided with the advent of personal computers and graphic design software. One of the most outstanding features of PostScript is its ability to handle typefaces. Unlike bitmap fonts, which are composed of a series of pixels and are best viewed at a specific size, PostScript enabled the development of vector fonts. These fonts are described by mathematical curves and can be scaled to any size without loss of sharpness or quality. This was a true revolution in the world of design and typography.
The relationship between PostScript and the typeface
You’re probably wondering what the typometer has to do with the PostScript system. Here’s the answer:
- From physical to digital: While the typometer is a physical tool that facilitates the manual measurement of typographic elements in design, PostScript automates and digitizes this process. The precision that a designer might have sought with a typometer is intrinsically found in the PostScript system, thanks to its ability to represent graphics and text with mathematical accuracy.
- Consistency and accuracy: One of the main concerns when using a typometer is to ensure that the design is consistent and accurate. With PostScript, this consistency and accuracy is achieved automatically. Whereas with a typometer one might manually measure and adjust font size, spacing and other aspects of the design, with PostScript, these elements are encoded and rendered uniformly, ensuring that they are viewed and printed consistently on different devices.
- Evolution of the designer’s role: The advent of PostScript, along with other technological advances, transformed the role of the designer. Whereas previously considerable manual skill and experience was required to use tools such as the typesetter, with the introduction of systems such as PostScript, the focus shifted to the ability to handle software and understand digital language. This does not mean that the art and aesthetics of design were lost; rather, the medium and tools evolved.
- Unification of typography: Before PostScript, designers were often limited by the physical fonts available for specific typesetting machines. With PostScript, a standard was created, allowing designers to access a much wider variety of fonts and use them with confidence, knowing that they would be faithfully reproduced in print.