Newspaper design tip: baseline grids


Part of the beauty of good newspaper design lies in the typography, part in the use of color
and visuals, part in the coordinated placement of elements to enhance the transfer of
meaning. But none of that can take place without a good foundation: the underlying column

Basic column grid

Basic column grid

Most column grids are based simply on vertical columns separated by gutters. These represent
the basic grid, but layout people are still expected to place elements on the page using
their eye to get the horizontal spacing right. Even if you have a design stylebook with
spacing guidelines (which you should!) this can sometimes lead to sloppy presentation of the

A good solution is to use a baseline grid. With this grid, the baselines of your body type
type adhere to horizontal grid lines, usually based on your linespacing figure or a multiple
of it.

You can even take it further by making your headline sizes, and more important, your head
linespacing, adhere to the basic spacing dictated by your body type linespacing figure. This
way all your type, even your display type, will line up on the baselines. This will give
your layouts a clean and organized look.

Heads, body on baselines

Heads, body on baselines

This, of course means that your headline schedule will have some odd sizes, but who says we have to stick to the old hot metal sizes? The main thing is to keep a 6-point or so difference between sizes.

For instance, the heds to the right are 51/54 and 21/24. The body type is 11/12.

Here’s how you do it. In InDesign, go to Edit > Preferences > Grids. You can set the size and color here and where you want your grid to start. I use orange so it stands out from the blue and pink of your guides and frames.

Preferences box

Preferences box

You may need to go to View > Grids and Guides and Show Baseline Grid. Now as you place elements and text frames, you can line up the baselines, allowing the spacing above the type to one or two “lines,” along with the occasional point or two of extra spacing. The extra white space this approach takes is usually good, as most pages are jammed too tightly. So don’t panic that the tops of the lines of type don’t exactly line up. The technical term for that extra space is “smidgen.”

This method also assures that your body type lines up across multiple-column presentations, something that is difficult to do without the baseline grid. You can also do all this same basic adjusting of the grid within a frame — instead of globally on a page — by accessing the baseline options in the Text Frame Options box.

Text frame options

Text frame options

Remember, consistency is a key component of of good newspaper design. Grids are a key to consistent design.

Play around with the baseline grid concept a bit, and I am sure you will see its benefits.

Let me know if you would like some help in setting up a baseline grid for your paper.

Categories : InDesign

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It was the winter of 1994, and I put up my first news design site at According to some estimates, that made it one of the first 10,000 sites in web history. Makes me feel old. If you need advice with your design work, let me know. I would be happy to help. You can contact me by e-mail  (bobatnewsdesignschooldotcom)  .

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