Graphic designer Marcus Gärde

Grid Systems

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A NEW method developed by Marcus Gärde to produce gridsystems based on old books and scrolls.

During his research when writing his first book, The Way of Typography, Garde found out that old bibles and scrolls where not designed in the same manner as todays books – they where actually more complex!
In fact, the baselinegrid always fitted perfectly on the page. And even the gutter was in proportion to the lead. For exampel, in Gutenbergs B36 the gutter is 1/3 of the outer margin. The inner margin is 1/2 of the outer. The upper margin is 1/2 of the lower. The typographic area contains 6 modules and each of these modules are divided 6 times. That creates the 36 lines of text. In Gutenbergs first book, B42, the 6 modules where each divided 7 times. Therefore 42 lines of text.

Today, when working with grid systems, we sometimes "cheat". We just decide where the baseline grid should start and then just let it flow to the bottom of the page. We dont know how the upper margin fits to the lead.
That was not how they did it during the old days!

We know that the Jewish people began writing with letters early (around 850 bc, the Moabite Stone) with the Canaanite-Phoenician alphabet consisting of 22 consonants and no vowels. When Jerusalem fell in 587 bc, the Canaanite-Phoenician alphabet was replaced with the Aramaic alphabet, which also had 22 consonants. With time, Hebrew ceased to be used as a spoken language, but remained in use for writing for the holy texts.

For the holiest Torah texts, including the 5 books of Moses, a design was used which didn’t allow any mistakes at all. If the Sopher (the writer of the Torah scrolls) made one mistake he was forced to throw out the whole scroll. A different ink was used each time the name of God was written. A Sefer Torah scroll includes 304,805 letters and if a single one of these had been written incorrectly, the whole scroll would be invalidated. This means the scrolls remaining today have had the same design for the past 2000 years, which provides an excellent window into the design in general practice when the Codex arrived.

Scrolls were produced by sewing animal hides (vellum) together into one long scroll.

After Marcus had examined the books, he created a step-to.step guide howe to create a perfect gridsystem, where all the baselines fit inside the page and the gutter is based on the proportion of the lead. He released this method in his book The Way of Typography august 2007.

His former student at Berghs School of Communication, Abraham Georges, developed a Grid Calculator for Designers Bookshop based on Marcus teaching and calculations.

Marcus thinks that the Grid Calculator is a perfect substitute for the person that has not yet learnt the system by hand and wants to create the grid quick and easy.

We will now show some examples from my book,
The Way of Typography. Please try these at home.

Famous Grids
Jan Tschichold, 1902–1974, wrote three classic works concerning typography; Die neue T ypographie (1927), The Proportion of the Book (1955) and The Form of the Book (A collection of essays written between 1937 and 1975 that discusses all elements influencing classical book design.) For many years, he worked for Penguin Books where he laid the foundation for the design of their paperbacks.

Where grid systems are concerned, Tschichold measured a number of older works and discovered a number of different systems. He was enamored with one method made popular by J. A Van de Graaf. In his book, Nieuwe berekening voor de vormgeving (1946), (he published this method for the first time in 1946 in the November issue of the Amsterdam journal, Tete) Van de Graaf writes about a method, similar to Rosarivo’s, where the page is divided into nine parts with the help of double diagonals and a guideline (figure below).

The method results in margins with ratios of 2:3:4:6, where the original area has the ratio 2:3. Tschichold appreciated this method and made it popular in his books The Proportion of the Book and The Form of the Book. The method has sometimes incorrectly been called Tschichold’s method. However he can take credit for a similar construction that generates the same result (below).

Raul Mario Rosarivo (1903–1966), born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was a typographer, researcher, designer, poet, painter and illustrator, famous for his work analyzing Gutenberg’s Bibles. In his book, Divina proporcion tipografica (Typographical Divine Proportion, 1948) he shows how many of the classic books were designed via a module he calls MODULE 1.5. By taking a close look at some of the first printed books – for example B36 (printed 1458) and B42 (printed 1455) and even Fust and Schöffers 48-line Bible printed 1462 – you’ll notice all are based on the number 3. There are two ways to create such a layout. The first is Rosarivo’s version, which I first found in Hermann Zapf ’s book Hermann Zapf & His design Philosophy (the method is also inTschichold’s and Hans Rudolf Bosshard’s books). Below is Rosarivos method, 9 x 9 grid:

TORAH – 5 COLUMNS The picture shown above is a Torah scroll I purchased in Prague. It is written on Vellum and dated from the 19th century. The actual size of the piece shown is 786 x 560mm. Its grid is based on 8 mm leading/line spacing, making it evenly divisible by the page’s height. The text columns are 464 mm high and made up of 58 lines. The widths of the columns are 131 mm with 26 mm spacing between. The lower margins are 56 mm and upper margins 40 mm. By dividing these margins by the leading, 56/8 = 7 and 40/8 = 5, we see that both of the margins result in uneven numbers. There are 58 lines of text, which is an even number. The outer margins are half as wide as the inner margins, that is to say, 13 mm. A seam with a width of 7mm can be seen where the vellum had been folded and sewn to the next part. When the pieces were sewn together, this resulted in 13 mm overlap on both sides, which together made 26 mm. Because of this, the column spacing was maintained throughout the whole scroll. I will take a closer look at this design to see if I can find an underlying grid system. The question is, how did they know that the height of the columns would be exactly 464 mm and that the spacing would be 26mm?

That the scroll follows a baseline grid with a line spacing evenly divisible by the height of the page, as well as the ability to equally space 5 columns so that they fall evenly in each part of the vellum, is to me proof that the person
who wrote this was well-acquainted with the rules of grid design. If the design now follows the old tradition of a Sefer Torah it ought to look about the same as it did 2000 years ago. This is evidence that the design of books seems to be inspired by this system – widely known within the Jewish tradition at the time – and merely adapted to fit the Codex format.

This technique of writing text is generally accepted today and has been adapted throughout time.
Christian monks made use of the holy trinity – all measurements divisible by three – to create books that were holy according to the Christian faith.



This scroll is also from the 19th century and the piece of vellum measures 646 mm wide and 584 mm high. Keep in mind that these measurements aren’t exact since the vellum is old and has shrunken somewhat with time. It has 3 columns with 28 mm spacing between columns and 8 mm line spacing. The left and right margins are 14 mm, that is to say half of 28. The height of the columns is 440 mm with a width of 187 mm, and 440/8 results in 55 lines per column. The upper margin is 64 mm and the lower 80 mm. By dividing the margins by the leading, 64/8 = 8 and 80/8 = 10, wee see that both margins result in an even number. The 55 lines of text result in an odd number. To examine this scroll, I start out exactly as I did with the previous one by making a document with all the values in InDesign. We will now see how the symbol I worked with on the preceding scroll also works with this one.

It’s interesting that both scrolls derive from a 8 mm line spacing. Obviously, millimeters didn’t exist 2000 years ago, but the method of dividing something in eight parts was however known (triangulation). The number eight is a holy number within Judaism – the Jewish holiday Brit Milah is held on the newborn boy’s eighth day. Hannukkah is an eight-day long Jewish holiday beginning on the 25th day of Kislev, Shemini A tzeret is a one-day holiday held directly after the seven-day holiday Sukkot. This can be the reason both scrolls derive from the number 8.



  Method He further examined these scrolls and also a number of older books to arrive to his calculating method.

After Marcus had examined the books, he created a step-to-step guide howe to create a perfect gridsystem, where all the baselines fit inside the page and the gutter is based on the proportion of the lead.

He released this method in his book The Way of Typography august 2007.
Below you can try one of the step-to-step guides.


Original leading = OL
Paper width = W
Paper height = H
New leading = L
Paper width:Paper height = W:H
Paper height:Paper width = H:W
New leading width = LW
Same as = ::
Ratio = :
Formula for creating a grid proportional to the area of the paper.
H/OL= Y ≈X (round Y to the nearest whole number)
H/X = L
L(W/H) = LW
L:LW :: H:W



  ADOBE IN DESIGN WITH FIXED FORMAT Now I will teach you a method that works with all paper formats and always results in both horizontal and vertical lines fitting perfectly within the area.

The paper format is converted to points:
297 mm ≈ 841.89 pt. 210 mm ≈ 595.276 pt
Text size = 9 pt. Line spacing = 11 pt.


Paper proportion
841.89/595.276 ≈ 1.414
595.276/841.89 ≈ 0.7070

Baseline grid
I choose a leading that I believe suits the format
and the type space. In this case 11 pt.

I divide the leading with the height of the paper:
841.89/11=76.5354…≈ 77

I divide the height of the paper again to
determine the new leading:
841.89/77 ≈ 10.934 pt

Adobe InDesign

Start by creating a new document with A4 format.

Baseline grid with the new leading
Now we will write in the new values in InDesign
Go to: InDesign>Settings>Grids.
Increase every: 10.934

You have now set the guidelines, which distribute evenly along the paper’s height.


    Guidelines for images and upper margins
Choose the font you want to use and place it in
the top edge of the area.

The font size is 9 pt. Write a lowercase “f ” with your chosen font and create outlines of the letter (Type>Outlines). In the pallet Transform, you now see the height of the “f ” (in this example, with the font Times: 6.148 pt). Take this value and subtract 10.934 (the leading). Now extend a guideline to the papers upper edge, select this and step it down (under transform) by the value you determined (in this example: 4.786 pt). Now select the baseline position and go to Edit>Step and Repeat. Write 76 (number of baselines, minus 1) and spacing 10.934 (leading). Now we have the guidelines to align images (figure 2, line 2).

Vertical lines

I take the new leading (841.89/77) and multiply it by the width of the paper divided by its height (595.276/841.89) and get the distance between
the vertical lines. (841.89/77) x (595.276/841.89) ≈ 7.731

Use step and repeat

Show>Show rulers. Drag a guideline out from the ruler on the left side of the document. Select the guideline (if this doesn’t work, it has to be unlocked by Show>Unlock guideline) and go to Edit>Step and repeat and write in the same number you had for the baseline grid. Repeat count: 77, Move to the side: 7.731. See the result in figure 2.

Or guidelines for document
Alternately, you can form the vertical guidelines with Guidelines for document, found under InDesign>Settings>Grids.

Here you write in the measurement you figured out. (leading: 10.934 & vertical line: 7.731).
This is the method that I use today. I think this is quicker then step and repeat.



  Columns and rows
Draw in any number of black blocks (in this example, four) to figure out the margins (see figure 3) Measure the inner and outer margins and write the value of these in Layout>Margins and columns. Choose four columns and be careful that the spacing between columns is the same as the vertical lines.

That is: 7.731 x 2 ≈ 15.4617 pt. Write this number in Column spacing.
Choose how many rows you want your document to have, in this case, we’ve made five rows. Draw these, just as you did with the columns, and when you see that they fit, measure the upper and lower margins and write this in Layout>Margins and spacing. Make sure the upper margin follows the line indicating the “f ” height, and that every lower edge of the rows are lined along the baseline, line 1 (see example).

Create rows with guidelines
Make five rows under Layout>Make guidelines. To figure out the spacing (C), take the leading plus the difference between the leading and the text’s “f ” height: 10.934 + (10,934 - 6.148) = 15.72 pt Make sure to mark the box for guides to start from the margins. Now you have a well-made grid (see figure 5). The purpose of a grid is to structure the area so that all the elements find their natural place. This can seem contradictory, that a strict grid is used to get a form to feel harmonic, but it isn’t unique to graphic design, architecture, which also feels beautiful and harmonic, makes use of strict measurements. ¶ The classic methods can be used to determine margins when creating this grid (i.e. 2:3:4:6). But this isn’t always desirable since it creates very large margins, which don’t
work in magazine design. The number of columns and the best way to take advantage of the paper area are things that must be taken into consideration.

  With this method, you can create a grid that will help you in every design process.

You can customize the grid for the format of the page, the proportions and more.
The sky is the limit ;-)

Additional Grid!
New Grid based on the size of the
text (Em space)
Start by Creating the above grid based on modules.
Then, lets say you would like your size of the text to be 10 pt.
Your page is 150 mm wide (425,197 pt).
425,197/10=42,5197≈42 (or 43, you decide)

New textsize: 10,124
Go to InDesign >Preferences >Grids

In document grid:
Horisontal: 10,124 pt
In Subdivisions you can choose have many divisions of the EM square you want. I like 4 divisions because I work a lot with Thin space (1/4 EM).
Subdivisions: 4

In vertical you can keep the lead you created in previous example or you can change it if you want it to fit better with the new text size.
Now you have a grid that gives you a very accurate and visible view of the horizontal space of the text. And now its more easy to choose a type area based on the Em square in width.

Dont forget to change the size of the text in your Paragraph Style.