Sunday, 21 February 2010

Müller-Brockmann’s Grids in InDesign

This post is partly a note-to-self but could also be handy for anyone wanting to set up grids in InDesign or understand more about how type and leading works.

Having read his book on grid systems, I wanted to try M-B’s grid set-ups and, in doing so, noticed something that’s maybe worth pointing out. The text in M-B’s grids always seems to sit very comfortably into the grid line corners, whether it’s a capital in a larger size or small body copy. In his day, typographers would always sketch out words/titles/paragraphs so there’s a difference between drawing text by hand to sit on the baseline and extend to the edge of the grid line and getting a type size on InDesign that will do the same thing (without going into decimal points). 

Also, many designers will either choose to align images with the x-height of the type (the top of the letter ‘x’ from the baseline, in other words) or to align images with the ascender line/cap height (whichever is highest). The latter is M–B’s method and ensures that the top of any images will line up with the top of any lettering that may be alongside it on the page. This is my preference also – more simple and better looking.

I got into confusion at first when setting up some grids because of the point size system. The point size is not actually the size of the lettering itself but of the metal shapes that were used in letterpress originally. This explains why there’s a mysterious little bit of leading still in on the screen when you type with 10/10 type (size 10/10 leading). If the leading value is equal to the size it means there should really be no leading – no space between the lines of text. However, because there is a tiny bit, it means you have to make lots of calculations to get the grid working if you don’t deal with it first.

So, as it’s the modern world and letterpress is but a fragment of the old, it’s time to tech-up and get rid of unwanted leading.

Say we want a column of text. There are to be 59 lines. We want 5 fields with a one-line break between each. So we take away 4 from 59 because we need them as spaces, and are left with 55 lines (11 lines per field).

We want to use Univers size 10 with 2pt of leading (12 in the InDesign tab). Remembering that point size is not type size, we need to measure the text. So write a line in Univers size 10 making sure to use caps/ascenders and descenders in the sentence (something like HPSklpgj). Then use type>create outlines. This makes the sentence an object. You can check out the height of the object (which should (?) be equal to 10 points, but it’s not) in the bar at the top. It’ll be about 3.305mm. If you then search google for ‘3.305mm in points’ you’ll get 9.368…which isn’t 10. Thus, the confusion is thwarted!

We can then make a rectangle whose length is irrelevant and whose height is 3.305mm (or convert the outlined text to a rectangle) and what we have is the corner of the grid – whose height means it will touch the top of the ascenders and the base of the descenders. The baseline will have to pass somewhere through this area for the line to sit on – this is worked out later. For now, we can duplicate the shape underneath to get a second line without leading. To add 2pt leading, go to the ‘y’ measurement for the shape below and type in ‘+2pt’ after what is already there. This should push the object down by 2 pt – leaving a 2pt gap. If you do this 59 times, you’ll get the grid height. After every 11, there’ll be a shape that signifies the space between fields – text/images can still fill it but nothing should align on it – that’s what the fields are for.

So, as it’s the more simple number, we’ll use 3.305mm as our guide. If our baselines re-occur every 3.305 our text will sit tightly with no leading (because it is the full measurement from descender to ascender). We need to add leading (2pt leading) so we type in ‘3.305mm+2pt’ in the baseline menu (under preferences) and it gives you a deeper baseline.

Now that your baseline is at the right measurement (with 2pt leading added) you can type away in Univers size ‘10’ (9.368). The leading will be 2pt but InDesign will want to make it a tiny bit more which is why you need to select 11 (rather than 12 – even though that is what we’re after) on the leading bar when ‘align to baseline’ is ticked. Making sure everything is aligned to the baseline is key though.

So now our baseline is the right measurement but will not be aligned to our grid properly. Aligning it to the grid will make sure the text sits comfortably right up to the edges of the fields. Let’s say the big list of 59 rectangles we made – with 2pt leading between – is all one object. Have it sitting 20mm from the top of the page (y measurement). Type in 20mm in the baseline menu to make it begin there. Now we need a measurement to add to that so that the baseline sits inside our rectangles and the text touches the top and bottom of them all as a result. Going back to our outline object of the text, take a measurement of the highest ascender/cap height (so the height of an ‘h’ perhaps, or capital T). I got 2.6mm. Add this to the baseline start-measurement so it’s 22.6mm and you’ll see all the text shift so that everything sits inside each rectangle. Done.

The edges of the rectangles are where images should align and so on but these can be removed once you draw a grid around them. It’s a slightly tricky process to get your head around but if you rely on making your own measurements and not on InDesign, you’ll find it’s not so technical. Remember, though, that all of your text/images and design decisions should be made before drawing up the grid so you don’t have to re-do the whole thing in order to make amendments. 

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