Want to learn how to use the baseline grid?
Learning the baseline grid has been the best thing I’ve learnt that’s vastly improved my design work.
You might think learning about Adobe Photoshop skills to learning about colour theory is important, but learning the baseline grid trumps them both.
Within this blog post you will learn what the baseline grid is, how you can apply it to your design work, screenshots to help you and how you can use it in Adobe InDesign.
So let’s get into it!
What Is The Baseline Grid?
The baseline grid is a series of invisible horizontal lines that appear on a document (like a page from a notepad). The spacing between the lines can be adjusted by you, the designer.
The term ‘baseline’ refers to typography, where text sits on a baseline.
Using a baseline grid creates a vertical rhythm throughout your design work (without just placing your text anywhere), and makes sure your design and typography is consistent.
For example, if your baseline grid is set to a increment of 10pt, your whole document will keep to this.
A baseline grid ensures your typography sits on the same baseline with each other. This practice is recommended for all design work, from posters to brochure design. Many people believe that a baseline grid should only be used for double page documents (like a brochure, leaflet or publication).
However this is a backwards way of thinking about it.
To create a sense of rhythm, order and consistency, the baseline grid for single page documents is crucial for good design (not just leaving it to guess work).
Yes, it’s ideal for multiple page designs, but single document designs can hugely benefit from applying the grid.
The baseline grid can be setup and adjusted in Adobe InDesign CC, and can be used with grids too. Grids achieves consistency, order, and can be setup and changed by you. It can be applied to work effortlessly with the baseline grid – a match made in heaven.
When a baseline grid is applied, text automatically ‘snaps’ to these invisible lines within your document (which can also be made visible in Adobe InDesign by going to ‘View’ > ‘Show baseline grid’). This is important, as if you move a text box up or down with the arrow keys, the text box will move, however your text will only move (or when it snaps) to the baseline below or above.
Those new to the baseline grid can become frustrated by this – as you can’t just move a text box randomly. Remember though, the baseline grid keeps a vertical rhythm and will make typography much stronger when it’s applied.
All you need to do is keep practising and make it work for you.
Why Is The Baseline Grid Important?
It turns you from an amateur into a professional.
I guarantee all professional graphic designers use the baseline grid – and for good reason.
The main reason for using the baseline grid is that it takes the guess work from your designs.
When applied, you know all of your your text lines up with each other, regardless if it’s on another page. The baseline grid is good practice; using any other method is like going up to a front-end web developer and saying to code a website using tables (the word n00b will surely be used!).
It takes the guess work from your work and it looks better too.
How To Use The Baseline Grid In Adobe InDesign
The baseline grid can be toggled off and on by clicking on a text box, going to the ‘Paragraph’ tab on the left hand side, and clicking on the bottom right bottom icon (the icon with the two row of lines, which are parallel with each other).
Your piece of text will now snap to the baseline grid.
Text aligned to the baseline grid in Adobe InDesign can be switched off by clicking the icon to the left of this button (where the lines are NOT in line with each other).
You can adjust the increment spacing between each baseline by clicking on InDesign in the top left corner, clicking on ‘File’ > ‘Preferences’ > ‘Grids’, and then changing the ‘Increment every’ field. Here you can change the spacing in pts.
If you already have text in your document which is aligned to a baseline, and then change the baseline grid spacing of a document, it will automatically change the text of your document. This can result in text errors on your pages, so beware!
You can then play around with what works.
Pro tip: Play around with your text height manually first before committing to your baseline grid increment.
How To Use Grids With A Baseline Grid In Adobe InDesign
This is where it gets really fun, and most importantly, ultra satisfying!
If you apply a horizontal and vertical grid to your baseline gridded document, it may not be inline with your baseline.
Look at the example below.
You can see that the baseline of the typography’s doesn’t sit on the grid. This is annoying as the grid doesn’t work hand in hand with your typography.
However, this is easily solved by changing the margin to absorb the baseline.
Step 1: Set the baseline grid to start from your top page margin (which can be changed going to ‘Preferences’ > ‘Grids’ > ‘Start: 0’ > ‘Relative To: Top Margin’. Switch on your baseline grid visibility by going to ‘View’ > ‘Grids > Guides’ > ‘Show Baseline Grid’.
I also prefer to change the ‘View Threshold’ setting to 25%. This allows me to see the baseline grid from 25% (and not having to zoom up close).
Step 2: Using the ‘Rectangle Frame Tool’, click and drag a box from the bottom of your document to a baseline of your choice (a baseline which is similar to the height of your top margin from the start of your document), and copy the height of the box.
Step 3: Go to ‘Layout’ > ‘Margins and Columns’, and paste the height into the ‘Bottom’ field’ – this ensures your baseline is absorbed by the margin, and should be flush with the baseline. Make sure you turn OFF the link anchor (which is in the middle of the number fields – as you only want the bottom margin to be different from the rest).
Step 4: Using the rectangle frame tool again, measure the height of the baseline’s increment.
Step 5: Go to ‘Layout’ > ‘Creates Guides’, and paste the height of the baseline into the ‘Gutter’. (This ensures the height of your gutters are the same as your baseline grid). Also make sure that you have ‘Preview’ ticked (below the ‘Cancel’ button), and in the ‘Options’ field, ‘Fit Guides to’ are set to ‘Margins’ (this is crucial or this process will not work!).
Pro tip: I also set the column gutter to the same as my row gutter – keeping it consistent!
Step 6: Next, input the number of rows that fit into your baseline grid. This can be a bit fiddly, but you want your grid to fit perfectly with your baseline underneath. This may mean increasing or decreasing the number of rows until you get this spot on.
Step 7: If you find no number fits into your grid, you may need to move your margin up or down one baseline increment, and go back to step 4 of this mini tutorial. (Sometimes it takes a bit of experimenting to make your grids to match the baseline grid – just keep with it!)
Or it would mean that your gutter increment needs to be spaced between 3 rows, instead of just 1 row.
And there you go!
You can now create a text box which aligns to your baseline, and it fits into your grid!
You can turn off the visibility of your baseline grid by going to ‘View’ > ‘Grids & Guides’ > ‘Show Baseline Grid’.
I also highly recommend you lock your guides too.
Adjusting The Baseline Grid In Your Document
If you want to adjust the baseline of an Adobe InDesign document, you can do this easily by going to Indesign > Preferences > Grids > Increment Every. Here you can adjust the baseline (basically the line spacing). As you can see from my example below, I’m working with 11pt text, with a baseline of 28pt. The leading of the typography for this type size is too large, and it needs adjusting. To do this, follow the steps at the top of this paragraph. From my eye, I can see that a baseline of 16pt with 11pt text works a lot better. Or, instead of choosing a baseline of 16pt, I could choose 8pt. This is essentially the same as choosing 16pt (as 8 goes into 16 twice), but gives me flexibility if I want to work with smaller text.
This is what you need to be aware of when using grids / baseline grids. Not every type size is going to look good with the baseline grid turned on, so you need to adapt your grids / typography to make sure it works. Take control of your grid, you aren’t the slave to it. As another example, you may choose 11pt text and 15pt baseline for main text, but you may realise your headings of 20pt with 15pt baseline makes the leading too cramped. It’s up to you to either decrease the heading size to suit (18pt with 15pt might look better), or increasing the baseline to 18pt for example.
I always recommend you choose smaller baseline increments, which is flexible and goes into larger numbers (5pt baseline goes into 10, 15, 20 / 6pt baseline goes into 6, 12, 18 / 7pt baseline goes into 14, 21, 28 and so on.
Baseline Grid Within Adobe XD
Unlike Adobe InDesign, which you can automatically set your typography to a baseline grid, Adobe XD is a bit more fluid and manual than its counterpart. Using the baseline grid in your website and digital designs will make them stronger, more consistent, and bring a sense of rhythm to your work.
With an Adobe XD artboard open (dimensions of your choice), click the file name at the top of the artboard (example image below). This brings up the grid options on the right-hand column. Choose ‘Square’ option (CMD / CONTROL + ‘), and leave the default of 8. With this applied, squares are shown on the document.
When choosing your typography line height and size, be sure to make it divisible by 8. You could choose a body text size of 16, and a line height of 32. With this size, position your text so it rests on the vertical. Your typography is now resting on the baseline grid, exactly what we want! From here, you can create a h1, h2, h3 .etc, with these principles in mind (following the division of 8). In the example above, I’ve gone for a h2 size of 40 and line height of 56, and a h1 size of 80 and line height 96. If you change the square grid, make sure your typography size and line height is divisible by this number. For example, if you choose a grid layout of 10, you might make your body typography 20, with a line height 30.
Zoom into your document and make sure everything sits on the baseline grid – especially the gaps between the paragraphs. And there you go, a baseline grid set up in Adobe XD!
Pro tip: Use the grid option of ‘Layout’, which is very useful!
How Have You Got On?
The baseline grid has been revolutionary for me. When I was a beginner to this process, I HATED IT!
It was a pain, it was frustrating, but I could see how important it was. So I persevered and use it every time I use Adobe InDesign.
If you’re new to the baseline grid, it can be challenging, but it’s crucial that you stick with it.
I’ll love to hear how you get on with using the grid, and how it’s helped your design work! If you’re new to my blog and illustration work, do check out my previous blog post about ‘The Golden Ratio & How It Can Help Your Art, or have a peek at my illustration portfolio!
Let me know what you think of this blog post by commenting below!
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