The Grid System Guide

What is this?

This is an ongoing guide to creating grid systems for print, which will be continually updated.


There are plenty of guides out now online about how to create grid systems for the web, even grid generators. But I’ve had trouble finding sufficient material online about creating grids for print. What I did find was a lot of vague terminology. Most of what I’ve learned about setting up the grid comes from this book: Grid Systems in Graphic Design, and Vignelli’s Canon. This guide is geared towards the designer who does not have access to the book, I can not thank you enough, Brockmann. This guide is just my way of constructing the grid, and should in no way serve as the only way.

Let’s Get Started:

I’m going to assume you have chosen an appropriate paper size and margins. I could go in depth about these two subjects but for now it’s better to stay as an assumption.

The grid is based on leading. Baseline to baseline of next line.

1. Start by placing a block of fully justified text from your top margin down to your bottom margin.


Page: 8×10 inches. Margins: top – 1/4, inside – 1/2, outside – 1/4, bottom – 1/2.

2. Choose a typeface, size, and leading. This will serve as your body copy. Please do not use the default leading. For example: 10pt sans-serif type has a default leading of 12pt. This is generally too tight and will be harder to read. I like to stay 3-4pts above the type size. So 10pt with 14pt leading is appropriate. If you choose a serif font you can get away with 3pts above type size.

Place a blue line under each baseline.


Typeface: Helvetica. Size: 10pt. Leading: 14pt.

3. Count the number of lines of text in your block. The point of the grid is to divide the page into even blocks of space vertically. Determining how many blocks of space varies from project to project. 12 is a good starting place. 12 can be divided into 6, 4, 3, or 2. Lets say you have counted 52 lines. Divide 52 by 12, we get 4.33. No good. We need to minus 4 lines of text. 48 divided by 12, we get 4. So at every 4th line of text we place a red line under the baseline.


Right now you have a block of text with 48 lines. Which is divided into 12 rows. If 12 rows seems too restrictive, divide in half to get 6 rows for more freedom.

4. Place a green line on top of each cap-height. All 48 lines. The green line will help align photos. Photos should always align with some grid line, whether it be cap-height or baseline, or be extended to the edge of the page. Do not align the bottom of a photo with the cap-height. (green lines)


5. Now for columns. The number of columns is essentially up to you and the information you are displaying. If you have a lot of tabular data, for example an annual report, 6 columns might be more appropriate than 2. Columns are divided evenly across the page, staying inside the margins of course.

Place a red vertical line to mark the columns.


Page divided into 6 columns.

We can’t stop here, though. There needs to be space between each column. We can’t have words or photos running into each other. The space is determined by the distance between a baseline and the cap-height of the next line.


Black bar represents distance between baseline and cap-height.

Now translate that into the space between columns.


6. Each row needs space as well. Bottom of photos can’t run into the top of another. Simply place a red line on the cap-height of the next line.


Page: 12 rows by 6 columns.

7. The grid is constructed. Now it’s time for the real fun. Playing around with many different layouts to find the right one. Here are some examples.




These are just a very few of what is possible in a matter of minutes. All represent the left page of a full spread. Please don’t hold these layouts against me. They were just quick mockups.

I will talk about page numbers later, and edit if anything is unclear. Stay tuned.

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3 Responses to “The Grid System Guide”

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  3. [...] Sad Bird Designs Grid System Guide [...]

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