Grid Systems – Making grids in Illustrator 2

Posted on Jun 29, 2009 in adobe, grid systems, tutorial, type | 16 Comments

200906291006.jpg

There is hardly a one grid system that works for everything or everybody. Different needs call for different grids. Grids that involve certain rules, like proportions being by the Golden Rule are very complex to calculate and really difficult and time consuming to adapt to any page size.

I recently found a system that attempts to fit every need. This grid system is developed by Marcus Gärde, a Swede, who wrote the book called Typografins Väg or The Way of Typography. In the book he released this grid system. As far as I know the book is only available in Swedish but as you can see this award winning book is beautiful inside out. I am going to get a copy.

In the book Marcus explains among other things his grid system and it is also explained on his companies website. Not everyone likes to get involved in complex calculations. For those and everyone else who likes sleek tools, a very nice Grid Calculator is available from Designers Bookshop (click the ad in the side bar) as an stand alone application and soon to be a Pro version, a plug-in for InDesign.

After I read the article I set up the calculations into Excel. Then I found about the Grid Calculator and I was curious to know what the Grid Calculator offered so I bought a copy. I think it is well worth it. Having it handy saves a lot of time and calculations. Although it aims mainly at InDesign you can just as well use it to make grids fast in Illustrator.

The beauty of this system is that the paper size you are working on is always the basis for the grid. It does not matter if you are working in letter size, A4, business card, etc., the system always works. The document grid behind everything is using the same ratio as the paper size.

The best way to get into the system is to buy a copy of the Grid Calculator from the Designer Bookshop, watch their videos and you are on your way. Not only will it speed up the calculation of this grid system but is also a helpful tool to calculate for other systems.

The second best way—if you have the time but no money to spend, is to dive into the description on BachMarcus website. I hope this article will add as a help to you for a better understanding on how this grid system works.

Let’s take a look at the calculation method. You’ll find it in red on the site. Set it up in a spreadsheet. That will make the effort reusable. This is the way the system is outlined on the website with my minor adjustments and explanations.

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 = :

Original leading is the leading you have in mind to use. Put this into a spreadsheet, one in each field and in the next field to right you put your numbers in. Set Illustrator with right-clicking on the Ruler to show all measurements in points and use H and W numbers in points. Then below you put your formulas in.

Formula to create a proportional grid for according to the paper size.

H/OL= Y ≈X (round Y to the nearest whole number) H/X = L L(W/H) = LW L:LW :: H:W (This means: Ratio between New leading L and New leading width LW is the same as the ratio between the height H and the width W of the page.

(To set up a formula in a spreadsheet like Excel you start by typing equation mark and then click on the fields you want into the formula and type / or * between the references.)

In one formula field (Y) you put: =H/OL This divides the paper height H with the leading you have in mind OL. The result will in most cases be a number like 68.13467. In the next field below called X you type the nearest whole number. Note: If you are clever with Excel you can let it do this for you with =ROUND(Y;0)

Now you take the rounded number, X and divide it into the height of the page/paper H. You do it by making a new field in Excel and have it get =H/X The result is the new leading L which you will use as we go further on and which evenly divides the leading from top to bottom.

The same number of lines are used across the width of the page. What ever the proportion of the page is, portrait or landscape, the grid will reflect the shape of the page. It’s called New leading width in this system, LW. To calculate LW in points you need yet another field in Excel and in there you put: =L*(W/H).

What I feel missing here is a formula to work out this grid from another angle. To my experience I don’t always have a certain leading in mind. My starting point could as well be that I like this system (which I do actually) but wanted to use a grid of 6 columns and 9 rows. This means that I need from the beginning a number of lines that can be divided by 9, plus the lines needed for the top and bottom margins. What leading fits that number?

With the Grid Calculator you can easily play with this and quickly try out different leading and number of lines. Use numbers that can be divided by 9 and add, lets say 4 lines for the top margin and 5 for the bottom margin (just an example). This might give you 36+9 lines or 45+9 lines. You get the point. Then play around with the leading field until you get what you want.

If you still haven’t got the money, go into Excel again. Copy the whole formula and paste it to the side. Don’t use the first part of the formula (H/OL=Y) or delete it altogether, but put your own fitting numbers in to the X field. If you used the rounding formula, clear the X field with the Delete button. The remaining fields calculate what you need according to the X field.

On Designers Bookstore website is a video which explains how to set up this grid in Illustrator. This very simple, but I think it can be done in a bit cleaner way using the same technique I explained in the first grid article, using Effects > Distort & Transform > Transform. This effect is an advanced version of Step and Repeat, which is missing in Illustrator. The advantage is that you keep the guides inside the artboard and you don’t have to duplicate over 100 times to make the grid.

I want to show you how to set up a grid using this method. To make this a bit more complex but at the same time more interesting, I am going to use 7 columns and 9 rows. This is not shown on the websites and I am not sure it’s in the book either. This will also show you a little twist on that system.

Another important issue I mentioned slightly before, is that when you want a certain number of rows, the number of lines you are going to work with has to be a multiple of that row number minus one (-1). For 9 rows the line number has to be 17, 26, 35, 44, 62, etc. You can see the reason when you count the lines in one row and one gutter. When you come down to the last one there is no gutter below. Meaning that gutters are always one less than the rows or columns.

Lets continue with this example:

As you see in the video, using 12 point leading which recalculated to 12.027 pt gives us 70 lines on an A4 page, which is not a multiple of 9. 72 lines however is a close rounding and can be divided by 9 (9×8). We also need to add lines for the top and bottom margins and lets stick to a total of 10. Now we have 82 lines in total and we like to divide them from top to bottom. Obviously the leading will be a lot less than 12 points, or down to 10.3 points. We have to find something that closer fits our needs.

Let us then try 62 lines, (remember: (9×7)-1) plus the 10 for the margins. Now we are up to 72 lines in total (X) and that’s more like we are getting there. Calculating a new leading we get: L. H/X=L, or 841,89 pt / 72 = 11.69 pt leading.

And for the vertical grid lines – new leading width LW, we calculate L*(W/H) like this:  11.69 pt * (595,28 / 841,89) = 8.26 pt.

Few things to note:

  1. You don’t have to use 10 lines for the top and bottom margin. It’s up to you and your taste. Pick another number and recalculate.
  2. When deciding on the column number you have to have in mind that the text area you need to use vertically for the columns got to be dividable by the number of columns, minus one. Just like the space for the rows. That is, if you need to have the left and right margins even, like you might want for a poster. In books and magazines this not as much of a problem. In our example we are using 7 columns and that divides nicely to 62 units (63-1).
  3. You see in this example, the leading has gone down from 12.03 to 11.69 points. It may seem a lot but the difference is only 0.119 millimeters! But in any case, if you don’t like what results you get, just calculate again.

Now we have all the numbers we need for now and can start making the grid in Illustrator. Illustrator only offers Grid with all sides even so we have to make our own.

First we make an A4 page in Illustrator. Put the Rulers on, Cmd+R. Click in the upper left corner were the rules meet and drag to the upper left corner of your page to move the zero point of the rulers. Having Smart Guides on is also useful. Cmd+U, and same shortcut to turn it off later if you want to.

Since we have calculated everything in points it’s most convenient to stick to points in Illustrator, at least while we set up the grid, even though you are not used to work with points. I know this is in a way different to what I may have said in the first article you will see that it’s handy this time.

Select the Pen tool, P. Click in the upper left corner and holding down the Shift key, click in the right corner of the page. This makes a line along the top edge of the page.

Check the color. Only use stroke color, no fill. Make the stroke .25 pt and optionally subdue the black stoke color down to 15% black.

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Go to Effects > Distort & Transform > Transform.

To start with, activate the Preview checkbox.

In the Copies field type 72

In the Move/Vertical field you type: -11.69 (since we are using points in Illustrator there is no need to type in pt.)

The result appears instantly in the background. Nice?

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If you for curiosity’s shake, take of the Preview in Illustrator you will see that there is only one line along the edge. The other lines only appear in Preview Mode.

We need a vertical line along the left edge of the page. This time you have to be careful not to accidently join the lines. I usually avoid this by starting at the bottom and do the second click not all the way to the corner and then use the white arrow (hit A) to drag the end point to the endpoint of the horizontal line. This is the time you will like the Smart Guides.

The nice thing is that if one is not too precise and want to fix it later, there is only one line you need to correct. The other 72 lines will follow.

When the line is ready we go again to the Effects > Distort & Transform > Transform. This time we fill in the Preview check button, 72 copies and Move / Horizontal: 8.26 (positive number).

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This is a great time to make a few new Layers. Option–click on the New Layer icon in the Layer Panel and make and name these layers:

Document Grid, Boxes, Grid, f-lines. (Skip the Baseline layer. It’s not needed although it’s in the picture.) Remember to uncheck the Print checkbox in the dialog window.

gridcal05 The names and use of the layers get explained as we go along. One thing though, one of the layers we made will have yellow label color. Change it now to orange or something else. It’s a terrible label color and hardly ever useful.

As you see now Layer one has this blue dot which is because either one or both of the lines are selected. For a future step, make sure only the top line is selected and drag it while holding down the Option key all the way up to the f-line layer. Click the Lock (Padlock icon) check box beside the eye to lock that layer. Click on the eye icon to hide what’s on this layer because as you see on the layers icon, this line has an effect on and would confuse us if we didn’t hide it. We will come to back to this f-line later.

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Next step is to select both of the lines in Layer 1 and drag those up to the Document Grid layer.

When the lines have been moved between the layers and while both are selected, go to: Object > Expand Appearance. This expands the effect we put on the lines before and we have now actual Illustrator lines.

While the lines are still selected, hit Command + 5 or go to: View > Guides > Make Guides.

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Note: After Make Guides the lines should turn to this cyan color. If not, your guides are not locked.

What we now have is a Document Grid, very similar to InDesign Document Grid which we can base few important layout features. The grid is according to our calculations and each square has the same proportions as our page. As I said before, this could be any size of a page. Only our calculations would differ.

Column work is next. If you remember, we decided to use a total of 10 Document Grid units for the margins at the top and bottom. That left us with 62 lines for the height of the text columns. We still have not decided on the margins width, but the plan was to use 7 columns. I know that 7 columns is not very common figure, but it happens and can look really good.

As I mentioned before, if we are going to have the same width of margins on both left and right we have to use a number of Document Grid units that the number of columns divides into, minus one. We know we have 72 units across the page. The closest options we have here, when we have subtracted one are: 69 (70-1), 62 (63-1) and 55 (56-1).

62 sounds like a good start. Not the least because we are also going to use 62 lines for the height. This is absolutely no rule to obey, but seems to fit nicely in our case.

To make the text area grid with guides we are going to use a box and split it. Select the Rectangle tool and begin to draw.

gridcalc11 Drag the rectangle from the upper corner of the 5th square from top and 6th left and drag it down to the upper corner of the 6th square from the bottom and 5th from the right edge. If you fail in any way you can always correct the sides with the white arrow and they will snap to the nearest grid line.

Another way is to click with the Rectangular tool anywhere and fill in the dialog box the L (11.69) and LW (8.26) units (points) and multiply with the number of lines we need to cover. Like this: W: 11.6962 and H: 8.6262. Then move the rectangular let it snap into place.

With that box in place we can start to make the columns and rows. Go to Object > Path > Split Into Grid… Fill in the correct numbers there, Number of rows, Number of columns and both the Gutters. For the Gutters you use our famous numbers 11.69 and 8.26 (comma or period depends on your local system). The fantastic thing about this is that everything falls into place! You can try other numbers just to make sure it will not fall into place.

Hit the OK button. We need one more step before we check into the Add Guides checkbox.

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After you hit OK and the dialog box closes, you Group the boxes together, Cmd + G and then you go back to Object > Path > Split Into Grid. Now you can check Add guides.

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The reason I asked you to do this side step is because we will definitely want to have the boxes in one layer and the guides in another one. Actually you can throw the boxes away but it’s not a bad idea just to keep them on a separate layer and hide them there while you are getting used to making grids. This is up to you.

At least for now we do it like this, move the boxes to the Boxes layer and the gridlines to the Grid layer we have ready in the Layer panel.

Hide the Boxes layer by clicking the eye icon and hide the Document Grid layer too in the same manner. We will need it later on.

gridcal15Select the Grid layer and shorten the lines to the width and height of the page. Do this by selecting the horizontal lines with the white arrow and type in the W field 210 mm. That is converted to points. Do the same for the vertical lines but type in 297 mm. Of course, if you are used to points use points by all means.

When all the lines fit inside the page we make them into guides with Cmd + 5.

200906282300.jpg If you already read the first article about grid making in Illustrator you might remember that at this point we would make the baseline for the text. In this system it is already there. The Document Grid has the baseline built in.

However if you turn the Document Grid layer on you will see that since we have all the lines in the Document Grid layer and the Grid layer as guides there is no way to see where the columns are or anything for that matter. Illustrator does not allow more than one color for guides. The Document Grid has now served its purpose more and less but we definitely want to keep it.

Lets make it look more like the Document Grid of InDesign. Turn all layers off but the Document Grid layer. Unlock the guides by unchecking the View > Guides > Lock Guides. Select all and do: View > Guides > Release Guides (Option + Cmd + 5). The lines should still be in 15% black and you can lock them with Cmd + 2, or lock the Document Grid layer. Both, if you prefer.

Turn the Grid layer on and together with the Document Grid layer we get this nice looking grid.

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Earlier in this article you see that the pictures show a Baseline layer. Using this system we don’t need any extra baselines. They are already included in this system in the Document Grid. If you for some reason want to make them and keep on a separate layer it’s fine. You can then choose between the Document Grid and the Baselines when one suites you better than the other. Refer to the first article to see how it is done and keep in mind that you use -11.69 pt for the vertical copying and 62 for the number of lines.

But wait—there is more.

This grid system has a thing called f-line. The f-line is a line to align the pictures you use not to the fine grid we already made but to the type we are going to use. The grid is based on the leading we are going to use. In our example it is 11.69 points. That’s fine for aligning the pictures bottom but if we used the same grid for aligning the pictures top they sit too high.

The key here is the height of the letter f. Thus the f-line name.

gridcal19 Let’s assume that we are going to use 10 pt type in a job on this grid. We need to get the height of the f to calculate the f-line. Select the Type tool in Illustrator and click once on the pasteboard (outside the artboard) and type the letter f in 10 pt and of course in the font you are going to use. Switch to a Selection tool, select the f and make it an outline.

Here we see in the Transform panel that the height of this letter f is 7.216 points. Now we have what we need for this calculation. The f character sits of course on the leading / grid line and the f-line sits at top of the f. 11.69 pt – 7.216 pt is 4.477 pt. The f-line is then offset vertically by 4.477 points.

The Grid Calculator application has f-line calculator built in. That is, we always have to find the height of the f first but leading is already calculated so get results for the f-line quickly. As you probably have seen by now in the Grid Calculator video for InDesign, the f-line is set all over the page. In our example I am assuming that our pictures will be used inside the columns and the rows. That means we only have to use one f-line for each row, that is, for the top of the pictures. Besides that means less clutter.

If you click the eye icon of the Document Grid layer to turn it off and make the f-lines layer visible by clicking its eye icon, you remember that we made a copy of the horizontal line we were using for the Document Grid and put it in the f-layer. The only thing we needed to do if we wanted to have the f-line all over the page (might be useful in some other grid you make later) we select this line, go to Obejct > Transform > Move and put -4.477 pt in the vertical field and we are done.

But we only want one f-line for each row. Here is how we do this.

200906290112.jpg Turn the Grid layer visibility on. In the f-lines layer we take that top line (there is only one line although you see many. Effects, remember!)

Obejct > Transform > Move and type in the Vertical field: -11.69*4 This moves the line 4 units down until it aligns with the top of the topmost row.

And then again: Obejct > Transform > Move and now type in the vertical field: -4.477 This is the first f-line. All the other lines follow and now descends off the page.

While we have the line selected why don’t we change the color of it. I would like mine to be 70% Magenta.

gridcal17 Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform has already been applied to this line before to make the 72 lines, so beware! Putting a double Effect is generally not a good idea. Instead we go to the Appearance panel and click on the Transform word there to open up the Transform dialog window. This is the way to change Effects that have previously been applied to an object.

We know by simple counting that there are 7 lines in each row and we also know that we have 9 rows. Fill in like this: Move Vertical: -11,69*7. Copies 8 and have Preview on. This time there is no need to expand the lines using Expand Appearances.

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This is the finished grid system. You can turn visibility off and on any of the layers and merge layers if you feel like. Same method applies for any paper or page size which makes it very adaptable and nice to work with. It will take you a little while to make the first grid but very soon you will be making this kind of a grid in two or three minutes. The Grid Calculator is, as I mentioned a few times, a great tool to speed up the process and fun to play with because you can roll out many different options in a snap.

Here is an example of the f-line feature and below there are a few different views of the same file. This is just something I put together to make the example.

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gridcal22200906291243.jpg

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16 Comments

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  3. Grez
    06.07.2009

    Once again – an interesting article. I had never even considered the full extent of how much mathematics is involved in creating the harmonious grid.

    I’d be even more interested to know how this would be practical in a busy, commercial working environment. For instance what if the client decides to up the font size, hence effecting the leading and so on? Are you expected to return to these calculations every time a typographic amendment is made? I guess it’s fine if either you/you’re employer have costed it into the job, but I’m just curious…

    • Sigurdur Armannsson
      06.07.2009

      Yes, there are other grids that are much more difficult to calculate. However using these methods, especially this one becomes very easy and fast after you have made a few.
      I made this a tiny bit more complicated by adding the row thing into it here, but I feel it’s very important to point out few of the not so obvious things that I stumbled on. And in the end a better understanding makes it much easier to bend and bow the system.
      And yes, I guess you have to calculate each time. But then again, it’s the leading we calculate, so the client probably has some space to enlarge the type without you having to recalculate the leading. Personally I love to use rather large leading, like 11pt type on 16pt which leaves me some freedom to change the type size.
      Trust me, with in a few calculations it will not matte if you are freelance or employed. Plus the rest of the job will most likely go faster with a good grid.
      I have planned the third article where I want to take on a simple, but nice system. It will be rewarding to get one like that after all this struggle.
      I am about to go for a vacation but let’s say sometime in August. Hope to finish it by then. It takes me an awful long time to write these articles.
      Thanks for commenting. Remember to grab the wallpaper I just made. (Actually using this grid system 12 columns, 5 rows).

      • Grez
        08.07.2009

        Noted on the point sizes. I often feel the throughout the design process (after clients changes, more content added then further more removed, re-prioritizing typographical hierarchies and so on) that the initial grid either becomes a hinderance or obsolete. The simpler and more flexible the better – to accommodate for these things.

        I look forward to the third article!

  4. Deano
    17.07.2009

    Sigurdur –

    Excellent article demonstrating only some of the hard work and thought processes that go into the constructive use of a well designed and defined grid system.

    Thanks for the link to the Typografins Väg book. Looks like that will be heading into the typographic section of my collection – hope it’s available in English (I’ve sent a request to the author and will post here when I have a reply).

    @Grez –

    We all have all encountered clients who, in their blissful ignorance but with all good intentions, request everything as big as possible and see white space not as an integral part of a design but as a waste and an opportunity to up the size of type, logos and pictures. It’s up to us as designers to educate these people, be ready to expect these sort of comments and go into presentations armed with rational reasoning and arguments to support our supplied design solutions. There will always be clients who believe they know better but if you trust in your skills as a designer and can back up your solutions with good examples of proven work that support your submissions you should always be able to get your “perfect design” approved. After all, you are the expert, that is why the client is paying you all that money in the first place instead of doing it themselves – maybe they are just testing the water to see how convinced you are of the viability of your submission. I understand that clients are our bread and butter and I admit that it took me a long, and painful, time to realise and enforce this type of thinking upon my clients as I am a designer first and a business man and negotiator second – but stick with what you supply whenever you can and trust in your skills as a designer/typographer and you won’t go far wrong.

    Best of luck and regards to all – Deano

  5. carlo
    10.08.2009

    With these two articles you really make me understand how in practice I can use grids on my designs.

    I love modularity and smart standardisation in every thing from business cards to objects, i.e. in everything design is about.

    So I have to thank you because these articles are really well written and very understandable even for ‘beginners’ in this field.

    I have only a very little problem in illustrator: when I double-click on the top-left corner of the rulers it seems it doesn’t happen anything, the vertical ruler still starts from the bottom instead of top. Is it a CS4 feature? I use CS3, but i don’t think this is the point.

    Anyone can solve this?

    • Sigurdur Armannsson
      10.08.2009

      Carlo. This was an error of my behalf which I have corrected. It should and does now read: Click in the upper left corner were the rules meet and drag to the upper left corner of your page to move the zero point of the rulers.

      As you experienced, double-click moves the zero point to the lower-left corner.

      Thanks for pointing that out. And great to hear that you like these articles. It’s always great to hear readers comments.

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  7. John del Rosario
    30.09.2009

    Hi,

    thanks for this great tutorial.

    you mentioned you put the equations on a spreadsheet.

    can you make it available for download? :)

    • Sigurdur Armannsson
      30.09.2009

      Right now the spreadsheet is kind of a mess as I left it few months back. What I need to do is to clean it up a lot and write some text around each formula so it makes sense to anyone else than me.

      But when I can get back to that and finish I am pretty sure I’ll make it available in some way or another. I really didn’t think that far, but it’s not a bad idea. Sorry to keep you waiting but I am a bit short of time these days. I will, when the time comes, advertise that properly.

      Thanks for your interest.

      • John del Rosario
        01.10.2009

        oh, that’s cool. :)

        i’ll be waiting then. thanks!

  8. Иван Сычев
    19.10.2009

    Бедность учит, а счастье портит. :)

  9. torin
    05.01.2011

    This construction (while elegant) doesn’t quite match up with Garde’s format.
    That one requires the inclusion of text height into the creation of all Rows (what I refer to as Toplines).

    I have a .numbers file I’d love to send you, that makes all of the calculations easier, and even yields a cleaner working grid :)

  10. torin
    05.01.2011

    It also takes into account Illustrator’s horrible lead control, and makes a functional grid—in spite of it.

  11. admin
    05.01.2011

    @torin: I would love to see your Numbers file (sigurarm@islenska.is) I never seem to get enough of investigating grid making.

    You are correct about Garde’s method. I made this little variation of it. The imagelines / toplines can easily be multiplied for every row in the Transform effects using the correct leading for vertical copy and multiply for every line. I just thought it was a bit busy to have it for every line.

    Personally I use square Document Grid more often. You are probably aware of the calculator I have here online too: http://font.is/EasyGrid/EasyGridCalculator.htm Maybe I should make another one with proportional Document Grid?

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

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