A tutorial for good typography in InDesign - Setting up a baseline grid

Good clean typography is a fundemental skill of any designer. Most designers believe they have good typography but in my experience it is something which is developed through time and experience. I think we all begin our design lives with a desire to be outrageously creative, and only as we mature, begin realise that simplicity and structure is just as, if not more important. In this article, I will go through some simple steps to acheive good clean well structured typography in Adobe Indesign.

The first step is to choose your typefont. In this case I have chosen a simple standard font of Helvetica Neue. I have set it up at 10pt size and 12pt leading. It is important to consider legibility at this point. I try not to go below 9pt for any brochure or printed material, but if the document is to be viewed digitally such as a pdf, it is worth doing it larger.

Next choose how many columns you want the page to be. Here you must consider aesthetics and legibility. Columns are important as they help give the page more structure, but also make a printed document easier to read. Studies show that 8-10 words per line is the most legible and I have tried to reflect this by choosing a 4 column layout. Also, consider border dimensions and the space between the columns. It is common for the space between columns to be half of the border length. In my example I have chosen a 10mm border and 5mm between the columns. Already we see that the page is taking shape. As I have already said, I believe structure is the key to good typography, and these four columns and borders will provide the structure for the entire document. If it is a brochure it will help bring consistency to the whole thing. Images and quotes could should all submit to this grid.

So we have set up a grid vertically, the next step will be to set up a horizontal or baseline grid, which all our text will stick to. This is a key factor to good typography and InDesign is a great bit of software as it has all the tools to makew this process simple. We have already chosen our leading (12pt) so we will set up a grid to reflect this. Go to the top bar menu InDesign>Preferences>Grid. This menu box should display.

Start the grid at 10mm in accordance with your borders. Type into the Increment Every box, 12pt in accordance with your type leading. Press OK. The grid is now set up, to make it visible, go to the top bar menu again, View>Grids and Guides>Show baseline Grid. You will now see guides running across the page horizontally at the same leading as your type. Now make your type stick to the grid. Bring up the paragraph display box, Window>Type and Tables>Paragraph. Select your type box and click on the Align to baseline grid button in the bottom right hand corner. All type lines should now stick perfectly to your grid lines. All further type we will insert from now on will also be made to align to this grid.

Now we will add a heading. The key here is to set the leading up that it will align nicely to our already set up baseline grid. I have set my title at 95pt with a leading of 72pt. Basically I have made the leading to be a multiple of the 12pt our baseline grid is already set up to. This way each line can naturally line up with a line of the body text. The title size also allows it to sit nicely and not overlap at all. If the tops of letters such as h is hitting a lower curve of a g it can reduce legibility and also make it ugly. Don’t forget to click the Align to baseline grid button on the paragraph formating box again. Also select a text wrap so the text will not overlap the heading but flow round it. It should look something like this.

I shall now add an introduction paragraph in the exact same way. This time I will select 24pt leading, again a multiple of our 12pt grid. Align it to the grid and it should look something like this…

As you can see, everything is aligning perfectly giving the page a neat structured feel. In most cases I try to keep the alignment consistent, but in this case I have been a bit creative and made the intro and title right aligned to stick to the body text paragraph and give a crisp centre line.

So thats it, I have waffled on long enough. Hope you enjoyed this tutorial.Typography is a massive subject, and this article just includes some of the things that have helped me. Please let me know if it has helped you at all. What can I do to make it better?


@chasteauneuf - Great resource. Felt like I was back in Design School in College. Thanks for the refresher!

@Abraham - downloaded the demo a few days ago and yes, it helps greatly in producing grids quickly. Great resource as well.

@1985 - owned Grid Systems by Josef Müller-Brockmann in College and lost it when I moved away from home. That was the Holy Bible and Qur'an rolled into one. Recently enquired about it online and looking to put it back on my bookshelf where it belongs.

I've been told that "real" grids require that horizontal divisions of space (ie columns and gutters) fall on grid units derived from the page proportions... is this a common practice?


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Whilst I've read similar posts/articles on setting up baseline grids, this has got to be the simplest (in a good way!) and easiest to understand. A good, clear reference. Thanks!