Metric and em size

In .otf, the em size is usually 1000.
However in some fonts (for example the EB Garamond) the effective size of the glyphs exceeds that measure it adopts a standard partitions of 800 for the ascender and of 200 for the discender, but then the actual descender of p and q, for example , is greater, so much so that there is an undershooting zone defined by [-291 -281].
Is it a technique that can cause drawbacks?


  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,346
    The em is the body height of the type that is scaled to the text size in applications. So, for example, if type is set to 10pt in an application, it is the em height of the font that equals 10 points.

    The actual size of the glyph outlines in the font can have any relationship to the em, but are typically either close to the em height (ascender + descender in a typical Latin font), or slightly less than the em height (very notably smaller in some cases e.g. Eric Gill’s Perpetua type). The situation you describe, in which the outlines are notably large compared to the em height is unusual, and yes, it could have drawbacks. Since it is the em that is scaled to the text size in applications, if parts of the glyphs significantly exceed the em height, then a text setting with tight leading (interline spacing) will appear tighter than in other, more typical fonts.
  • mauro sacchettomauro sacchetto Posts: 334
    Thanks for the answer, technically tough as always.
    Does this however mean that modest deviations, for example of about fifteen points, are permissible or that it is always (much) better to stay within 1000?
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,346
    edited May 2
    A modest overshoot of the em is usually okay, and typically at least some parts of a glyph set of a digital font—accent marks on caps or above ascenders, usually—will exceed the em height.

    What may have happened in the EB Garamond example you cite is that the design originally had shorter descenders, but these were later lengthened. Instead of rescaling the whole design, the new descenders were allowed to overshoot the bottom of the em. That’s jusy a guess, though.
  • Saurabh SharmaSaurabh Sharma Posts: 23
    Is it a technique that can cause drawbacks?

    In such cases, if the Ascender/Descender and the TypoAscender/TypoDescender values are safely increased inside the hhea and the OS/2 tables, respectively; no clipping will occur. In your example, if the Descender is still at -200, clipping may occur at 1em line height.

    About overshoots, I have found around 4 to 10 units (on 1000 UPM) and 15 to 20 units (on 2000/2048 UPM) looks okay. Beyond that they are recognizable. Though it will depend upon the design and it's curves. For rounded terminals in an uppercase 'A', around 4 units undershoot looks fine, whereas in case of an 'o', it may go up to 10 units (for 1000 UPM).
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,166
    Since a line spacing of 1.2em is typical, not exceeding the UPM size by 20% is good. 

    Vertical metrics also effect how text engines handle the situation of ink outside the UPM. 

  • Historically font size was equal body size and equal line advance (baseline to baseline).

    They had no point measures, but they used fractions of an inch, which was maybe different between countries or regions, but not so much.

    In historical prints before 18th century we see overshoots (or undercuts), i.e. ascenders or descenders "hanging" over the edge of the body. They can come into conflict, if a descender of the previous line meets an ascender of the next line. Paper was expensive.

    They also had leading what they called "grobe" in German. Something like 10 pt on a 11 pt body. 

    Back to metrics. For empirical statistics of fonts and calculating back from scans of historical prints I normalise EM-size to 100. That's better readable as 1 unit is 1% of EM-size.

    In Latin fonts the baseline is easy to detect. Next x-height in Romans is typically the top of \x (or one of u, v, w, x, y). I call the capitals line H-line, because \M can overshoot. Overall size is sometimes called hp-size. But in reality g, j, y have longer descenders in most fonts. Capitals with accents are the highest. 

    If we take the top and bottom of each glyph relative to the baseline (= 0), we can calculate vertical proportions.

    Thus we get e.g. for BigCaslonM in 100 UPM (Units per EM):

    H-line: 72
    ascender line (h): 72
    descender line (p): -22
    hp-size: 94
    x-line: 47
    max top (Ö, Ü): 87
    min bottom (9): -26

    Vertical proportions:

    accent zone: 15 (87 - 72)
    ascender zone: 25 (72 - 47)
    minuscle zone: 47
    descender zone: 22

    Thus maximum height is 87 + 26 = 113 (13% more than EM-size), but fits into a default line advance of 1.2 x EM.
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