The Bottom Line: Should I Use a Baseline Grid?

And why does Vertical Justification only work sometimes?

When it comes to aligning text on a page, there seems to be two different schools of thought. Some publications seem to only care about aligning the bottom line of text, while others want a more uniform alignment throughout their documents. Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives of both.

A Baseline Grid is an invisible set of horizontal lines that you can make the baseline of your text snap or lock to (the “baseline” is the imaginary line that the bottom of a line of text sits on, with the decenders hanging below it). To view the Baseline Grid in QuarkXPress choose View> Baseline Grid. Don’t worry: you don’t have to leave this on once you’ve set your text to lock to the Baseline Grid – it’s difficult enough to ignore the edges of text and picture boxes, ruler guides and margin guides, without adding this extra distraction.

Baseline Grid

The Preferences dialog box with the start and increment settings.

The trick now is to set the increment of the Baseline Grid so that the lines of text don’t appear too far apart when you lock the text to it. You can find your grid settings under Edit> Preferences (Mac: QuarkXPress> Preferences). In the Print Layout section choose Paragraph. By default the Baseline Grid is set to .5 inches from the top of your document. You should change the starting point to wherever your margin ends at the top of your document. The next setting is your increment. This number indicates how far apart the lines will be.

Here are some helpful tips for judging the increment: Generally speaking, you would use the Baseline Grid to align the body of your text. Therefore your increment should be set to the same point size as your leading. So if you use Warnock Pro at 14 pt for the size, and 16 for the leading, your increment should be 16 pt. If you use auto leading, you can figure out your leading by simply adding 20% to the font size. Cool huh? That is the number you need to enter into the increment box. Click OK to leave the Preferences dialog box.

Baseline Grid

In QuarkXPress 7 you can lock your text to the Baseline Grid right inside the Measurements palette.

Baseline Grid

To lock your text to the baseline grid in earlier versions of QuarkXPress, choose Style> Formats.

Now that you’ve set up the grid, it’s time to lock the text to it. First select all of your text you want to lock to the Baseline Grid. In QuarkXPress 7 you can do it right inside the Measurements palette by clicking the tab for Paragraph Attributes and checking the Lock to Baseline Grid box. In earlier versions of QuarkXPress, choose Style> Formats and click the checkbox for Lock to Baseline Grid, then click OK. Then check it out! You just locked the text to the grid! You can now save this as a Style so all of your body text will lock to the Baseline Grid and the final lines of text will always line up perfectly.

Baseline Grid

The text is now locked to the Baseline Grid.

The most common issue I see when text is locked to the grid can be seen in figure 5. Because the font size of the “Byline” is bigger than the font size of the body text, the next line of body text has to begin on the next corresponding grid line. The result is a huge space between the byline and the body of the text. So, while Baseline Grid can make your document appear neater, be sure to watch out for pitfalls like this.

You may think you can fix this by adjusting the leading of the text, but the leading has no effect on the body text because it is locked to the Baseline Grid. A good way to fix these little problems is to test out what effect locking to Baseline Grid will have on layouts beforehand, and adjusting things like Byline accordingly. By just bringing down the point size of “Bylines” by 1 point size would fix the problem.

Baseline Grid

The Byline style is bumping the body text to the next line in the baseline grid.

Why does Vertical Justification only work sometimes?

Baseline Grid

Vertical Justification can be found in Item> Modify under the Text tab. In QuarkXPress 7, it’s also in the Text tab of the Measurements palette:

Baseline Grid

The other way to force text to align to the top and bottom of a text box is to just Vertically Justify your text to the box. This method automatically snaps the tallest ascender in the first line of text to the top of the text box, and the lowest decender in the bottom line of text to the bottom of the text box. As long as the bottom of your text boxes are aligned, your bottom lines of text will always line up. The only bad part is that as you adjust the height of the text box, the leading adjusts to fill the text box, and most of the baselines will not line up across the page. This is especially true if you put an image with Runaround on top of the text box.

In figure 7, notice how the Runaround affects the type: the baselines in the left column are aligned differently from the baselines on the right. Using Justify will never align the baselines across a document the way a Baseline Grid will – it only aligns the bottom line of text.

Baseline Grid

One problem I frequently see with Vertical Justification occurs when a picture box is placed on top of a column of text. If the picture box is narrower than the width of the column, or is not aligned to the top of the column or higher than the column, the text stops justifying to the bottom of the text box. (The same problem occurs if the picture box is near the bottom of the column but doesn’t extend to or beyond the bottom of the text box.) That is why if you try to Vertically Justify across a two column text box with a pull-quote over it, the text will never Justify to the bottom of the box. In figure 8 you can see that because the left side of the image is on the inside of the column, Vertical Justification stopped working.

Baseline Grid

I have seen this problem most often at newspapers that place ads over text boxes with runaround on the ads. If the ads are not aligned perfectly to the columns of text, some columns will Justify to the bottom of the text box while others won’t. The fix is to make sure that all the sides of an image or ad extend beyond the sides and either the bottom or top of the column it is placed over.

So the bottom line is that if you use Justify, your bottom lines will always be straight across your documents, but there is no guarantee that the rest of your lines will be. Baseline Grid provides the cleanest look for your text – that’s the Bottom Line.