Looking into Columns

I wanted to understand more about what exactly makes a good grid structure in a magazine. I found a great article online by magazinedesigning.com detailing all about columns, so by looking more into columns I was able to get a better understanding of this important design element in an editorial spread. Columns are the vertical grid divisions within an editorial, they are used for text and image placement.

There are unwritten rules in magazines when it comes to columns such as having more important stories on fewer columns, for example having an important article on a two column grid will give the  story more importance, look better and the reader wont have to keep jumping lines and having less important stories laid out in a 5 or more column structure because they are shorter articles.

In a one column structure the line length is ideally 60-65 characters, 80 or more and the readers will get lost when reading. One column is not commonly used because the text laid out looks heavy and unappealing. There are a few things that can be done to improve this: making the type size bigger and leading larger, making the column narrower by making the margins a lot wider and trying to keep the type size 9-12 depending on the font.

A two column structure is more appropriate for top stories in magazines, making sure not too use all of the space and allowing whitespace for the article to breathe. This can also be manipulated by creating wider margins and narrowing down the two columns.

Three columns should ideally have a line length of 40-50 characters. Things such as ‘pull out quotes’ can be used to break up the columns.

Four columns and more allows for more creative layouts. The line length should be around 30-35 characters. The more columns you have the more combinations are possible like having three columns of text and the fourth with images or vice versa.

Five columns are usually found in the news sections or other informational part of the magazine. With this layout you are still able to create different variations and dynamic layouts. Because the columns are narrower the type size will be smaller.

You can find many columns in an editorial spread and even up to twelve columns. Although this is not common in magazines because the columns would be too narrow, newspapers use twelve columns as a flexible layout for combining a variation of columns and for placement of small bits of text.

Using a number of different columns in a page structure is not the only thing that affects the effectiveness of the layout. Column width is a measurement as the result of line length (the number of character or words per line). Both of them are closely related and have an effect on how visually appealing and readable the text is. If its too wide the reader will get lost because if it becomes harder for the eye to follow, too narrow and the eye will be jumping rows constantly.

In order to get the proper line length there should be around 30 characters in a row minimum for multi column layouts of four or more columns, although some newspapers use less than 30. The optimal line length is around 40-50 characters usually for a 2-3 column layout across an entire page. The maximum should be around 70 characters, bigger counts can be found on books but books utilise bigger leading than the 120 percent (of a character point size.)

Instead of having to measure columns or line length manually a better way to calculate column width is by multiplying the type point size your are using by 1.5 to 2.5 times giving you the width in picas (the standard measure of column width). A line length of above 30 pica is too wide and bellow 10 is too narrow.


Nikola. (2013). Magazine Columns – Backbone of Every Good Layout. Available: http://www.magazinedesigning.com/magazine-columns/. Last accessed 13th Feb 2015.

Nikola. (2013). Columns pt. 2: Line Lengths and Column Width. Available: http://www.magazinedesigning.com/columns-pt-2-line-lengths-and-column-width/. Last accessed 13th Feb 2015.


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