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Newbie Question: Best Option for First Baseline?

Mar 19, 2013 1:20 AM

Tags: #baseline

I understand that in book design, it's important for the bottom line on the left-hand page to be in the same vertical position as the bottom line on the right-hand page. I've read that the way to do this is with Text Frame Options->Baseline Options->First Baseline Offset.  I see the following options there:


  • Ascent
  • Cap Height
  • Leading
  • x Height
  • Fixed


Are these options all equally preferable for book design?


Thanks in advance to all for any thoughts or info.

  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 19, 2013 1:54 AM   in reply to Vik_R

    I think it is a design question.

    When I layout with facing pages I try to set the images so the upper edge is aligned with Cap Height of text on the baseline grid of the same spread. That means for me that I try to get (depending on the font) the upper border aligned with text and image as well. So I choose the baseline grid that the Cap Height  is aligning with the border. Because I work with mm and InDesign with Inch and DTP-Points I have to take care on internal rounding problems (e.g. sometimes InDesign tells me that a 5mm distance is to small and should be at least 5mm, that is caused by rounding errors to the metric system). So I add always small values to get rid of those messages.

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  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 19, 2013 2:00 AM   in reply to Vik_R

    Good question.


    In my opinion (and there's 2 long shelves of books that I've designed

    over the past few years sitting in the bookcase behind me), the best

    choice is "fixed."


    The main reason is this: any of the other choices can lead to subtle,

    but significant misalignments -- and this can cause the page to be 1

    line short, depending on the text that appears on the top line of the page.


    Why? Because everything except "fixed" is dependent on the font that

    happens to appear on the top line. So clearly, if you happen to have a

    larger font in the middle of the book text (not just subheads -- perhaps

    for some reason one word, or even one letter, is enlarged somewhere in

    the book; or, if you've chosen "leading", then the leading might be

    different for one character), and that letter happens to fall at the top

    of the text frame, all the text on that page will not be aligning to the



    So let's say you fix that for the one page. But then there's a late edit

    -- and that top line gets bumped to the second line on the page. Now

    everything on that page is badly adjusted again, and the page has to be



    You might say, How often, in a regular book, is there a larger word in

    the middle of a line? So here we come to the most insidious problem with

    the other settings: italics.


    Believe it or not, the x-height of an italic font is not necessarily

    identical to the x-height of the companion roman font. It can be

    slightly taller than the roman, even on well designed pro fonts. This is

    a design decision of the font maker.


    So, if you've aligned everything perfectly to the baseline grid, and set

    your text frame first baseline option to "x-height", and you've made

    sure that the depth of your text frame is a perfect multiple of your

    baseline grid, what can happen is this: The first word on the page is

    italics. So all the lines are imperceptibly shifted down a fraction

    below the baseline grid. Therefore, the LAST line on the page will be

    bumped off the page because there won't be quite enough room there, and

    the result is that your page is one line short! And good luck finding

    the cause of that (it took me ages first time because I never imagined

    that the italics x-height was taller than the roman)! (Of course, now

    I've told you the secret!)


    And once again, if you have a late edit to make, you'll have to check

    the entire book to see that no pages are inadvertently short.


    And if you decide to be clever, and make the text frame (or margins)

    just that little bit deeper to accommodate the necessary extra space for

    italics at the top of the page, it will mean that your footnotes (if

    there are any) won't be aligning perfectly to a regular line of text on

    the facing page (admittedly by an almost negligible amount).


    So what are the cons? Why not use "fixed"?


    The biggest reason against that I know of is that for some reason, using

    "fixed" disables the option of keeping any paragraph rules within the

    text frame. Keeping a rule (or line) within the text frame can be a

    useful way of making some text start lower down on the page (if you use

    an invisible white rule). With "fixed", for some reason, this option is



    Another reason against is that with "fixed", if an inline graphic

    happens to fall at the top of the page, it will often end up floating

    above the text frame.


    But for books without graphics (and even with), I would recommend

    "fixed" as the best, most predictable option.



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  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 19, 2013 3:46 AM   in reply to Vik_R

    I haven't done as many books as Ariel, but I think it bears mentioning that running a line short, or having a misalinment at the bottom, in my experience, is usually unrelated to the first baseline position.


    Misalignment is caused by shifts in leading (as mentioned) which might be caused by adding a block quote or some other differently formatted paragraph or line, or by adding paragraph spacing that is not equal to a full line space.


    Whitespace at the bottom of a page is usally the result of keep options kicking in. INn those cases I usually "cheat" by making the frames on both pages in the spread one line longer or one line shorter to try to move the paragraph withthe problem keep option off it's current position. I find this to be less obvious to the reader than a blank line, but it's a matter of personal taste, I think.

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  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 19, 2013 4:28 AM   in reply to Vik_R

    It depends on what comes at the top of each page.


    If you are designing plain-text-only books, you wouldn't notice the difference between the options! For ease of calculating how much text lines you can fit on each page, I'd recommend Leading -- then the total text frame height is simply number of lines * leading.


    However, if you have freely-positioned material such as tables or figures, that may appear at the top of a text frame, and where there may be text on the verso, you need to take different font sizes into account. If you use Leading and your caption text at the top is smaller (and thus should have a smaller leading), your table text would appear higher than the text on the reverse page. So in that case you could use Ascent or Cap Height -- but then you'd have the *baseline* visibly higher.


    I prefer using an Object style for floating matter, so I can adjust the top position of floating materials. Depending on the font, font size, and sometimes other graphical elements (top lines etc.), I adjust the top distance so I get either the top of capitals *or* the baseline equal to "regular" text -- whatever looks best.

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  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 19, 2013 12:21 PM   in reply to Vik_R

    I realize this doesn't apply to all cases, but if you are in command of the text (meaning you are allow to split paragraphs), I would usually "cheat", splitting a paragraph in two where is makes sense. That way a line will be added at the bottom and I get my two pages even. In your video, I would split a paragraph in your left page or if not possible there then in previous pages.

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