What’s another name for one-sixth of an inch? If you’re a typography nerd, you probably know the answer: a pica. Used commonly to measure the size of typeset letters, the pica can further be broken into points (12 points = 1 pica). Like inches and centimeters, these can be measured using a simple ruler. If you work in publishing or graphic design, you’ll need one that is at the very least accurate and easily deciphered. Depending on your needs, you can purchase pica rulers with all sorts of other calibrations, like inches or agate. We’ve rounded up five favorites to help you make your choice. A note before you shop: Before desktop publishing (DTP) standardized typesetting measurements around the world, a pica was understood as approximately one sixth of an inch, but standards varied from country to country. Know that all our picks below are accurate for the modern DTP pica.
1. Westcott Graphic Arts Pica Ruler
Easy to read and easy to use, Westcott’s ruler is the best pick if you need to measure picas and not much else. The 18-inch stick features pica measurements on one edge and inches on the other, as well as markings for standard column spacing and a zero-centered scale so you can use it as a center finder. The resulting product doesn’t overwhelm with information, and figures are printed in a red that stands out against the translucent plastic. While metal might be a more durable material, this ruler isn’t flimsy, and we prefer a tool you can see through for accurate placement, anyway.
2. Alumicolor Pica-Point Graph Ruler
If you need to measure text in both picas and points, Alumicolor’s double-sided ruler is a good option. It features inches and picas on one side and points and centimeters on the other, and the markings, in black on silver, are clear and uncluttered. This smooth ruler is less prone to breakage than a plastic counterpart, and its markings won’t easily rub off as they are set through an anodizing process.
3. Westcott 12-Inch Graphic Arts Combo
If you’re a graphic designer, you might want a ruler that does even more. This 12-inch plastic ruler from Westcott has a scale for picas on one long edge, one for inches on the opposite edge, a third for points on one short edge, and a display of sample line thicknesses (from hairline to 12-point) on the other. And that’s not all: You also get a leading gauge and an E-gauge. Despite all this information, the ruler’s sizable width ensures that all data can be clearly marked in black and laid out to avoid misreading.
4. Schaedler Combo “D” Precision Rule
Another workhorse for anyone in the graphic design or printing industry, Schaedler’s ruler is widely considered the top dog in the field. This is a pricey tool, but it will last you years and offer unmatched precision. On one edge, find measurements for standard inches (in 64ths!); on the other, find the metric scale in millimeters and centimeters. A die-cut slit down the middle accommodates two more scales: one for points and picas and another for decimal inches. The design allows you to compare or convert with ease, since all the information is on one side and carefully aligned. And that’s not all: You also get a display of bullet sizes and line thicknesses. The markings appear bold on the stabilized polyester surface, but the effect can be a little overwhelming to new users, and you might even need a magnifying glass for some of the tinier figures.
5. Pacific Arc Pica Pole Metal Ruler
This metal ruler offers the one line scale that others on our list lack: measurements in agate. Officially equivalent to 5.5 typographical points, the agate was originally used to measure and define the depth of advertising space in newspapers; many printers still value this classic unit. You’ll find agate calibrations opposite an edge for inches on one side of this tool, and picas and points on the other side. Made of stainless steel to withstand daily use, this ruler comes in three lengths.