Josna Rege

327. x-Height

In blogs and blogging, Media, Stories, Words & phrases, Work on April 30, 2015 at 12:00 am

atoz [2015] - BANNER - 910


In typography, the x-height has historically been the distance between the baseline of a line of type and the mean line in the typeface. Typically, this is the height of the lower-case x, as well as the u, v, w, and z. It does not include ascenders or descenders. (Wikipedia).

Type Basics Part 1 (from

Type Basics Part 1 (from

The x-height of a typeface—which of course, varies considerably from font to font— has an important bearing on its readability. Faces with large x-heights in proportion to the total height of the font have shorter ascenders and descenders and less white space between the lines (reading between the lines—another idiom from the printing trade?), making them more difficult to read; those with relatively small x-heights and more white space draw more attention to the ascenders and descenders (Typography Deconstructed).

Antique Olive (left) and Gill Sans (right) set solid (from, by Allan Haley)

Antique Olive (left) and Gill Sans (right) set solid (from, by Allan Haley)

Not all scripts sit upon a baseline. North Indian scripts, like Devanagari, drop down from it. The letters are aligned to the top of the writing line, marked by an overbar, with diacritics extending above the baseline. This is known as a hanging baseline. East Asian scripts do not use a baseline at all; each glyph sits in a square box, with no ascenders or descenders (Wikipedia).


At the outset I used the word “historically” in my definition of x-height. That is because, apparently, the lower-case x’s of modern typefaces cannot be assumed to be the mean height of the face. We moderns do what we want, I suppose, but I will leave someone better versed in typography to speak to this.

                                     X-Acto Knife

images-1I couldn’t resist this while we were on the letter x. Who can forget the x-acto knife during the days when layout, or paste-up, was all done by hand rather than digitally, with an x-acto knife, rubber cement, and a waxer? For makeready, too, the x-acto was indispensable, but you had to keep alert; it was dangerous.

hand waxer (

hand waxer (

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atoz [2015] - BANNER - 910

  1. So why was it dangerous? What did you have to do with the knife, the waxer and the
    rubber cement? Sounds most mysterious!

    • It does sound nefarious, doesn’t it, Marianne! We used them for layout before everything was done on the computer: cutting the paper very precisely with the x-acto knife, and using either rubber cement or the waxer to coat the back of the paper and fix it on the layout sheet. The waxer was great because you could pick it up and re-position it at any time. We also used the x-acto knife for makeready: building up or cutting down layers of paper to as to get the impression just right before printing.

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