How do you make the formula to make divisions in a grid given a ratio? For example 2÷3.

I like the tool gridappset.com, but I would prefer to do the math myself and experiment with the results.

Any insight on this would be great, thanks.

  • Are you talking web design? If so, there is no real concept of a ratio as you really only deal with the x-axis (the y-axis tends to be infinite)
    – DA01
    May 12 '14 at 22:25
  • I am talking about print design,graphic design, design with grids generally....is that why they use columnar design? because there's not a constraint for an Y axis.?
    – Alex
    May 12 '14 at 22:31
  • Less so in print, but yea, the issue is still there. Grids are not exclusively for text-based layouts, but that's mostly what they are used for...text-heavy publications such as newspapers, magazines, flyers, etc. And one doesn't always have full control over the y-axis in those situations. As for math, though, there isn't any secret formula. Choose how many columns you want to work with and go from there. The key is to make things consistent within that one publication more than anything.
    – DA01
    May 12 '14 at 22:33
  • 1
    @Scott that's half-true. In a lot of situations, the ratio can change...for instance in newspaper layouts (do people still do that?) you may not know the actual word count until the very end, so you have to design with some fluidity to your y-axis.
    – DA01
    May 12 '14 at 22:55
  • 1
    Let's just not get into agates and newspapers.. pleeeeeaaaase :)
    – Scott
    May 12 '14 at 23:20

To answer the very specific question regarding ratios:

The grid isn't correlated to the ratio of page/design. So, use whatever grid set up you feel works for whatever ratio you're working in.

The point of a grid is to provide some flexibility, yet consistency within the context of a piece of work. Whether that's 3 columns or 10 doesn't matter. As long as the grid layout works for your particular needs, that's the grid to use!


Grids have an very complicated history, and there are a lot of opinions as to the best way to approach it. The modernist tradition might provide a nice grounding for your own experimentation.

The recently (and very sadly) passed Massimo Vignelli wrote an elaborate text on grid and page construction (that you can download free!). Great read: http://www.vignelli.com/canon.pdf

Jan Tshichold's work with the Golden Section is kind of a fascinating as well. His work with modernist principles wound up coming to a lot of the same conclusions as medieval manuscripts in regards to "proper proportions." His famous text is The New Typography. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canons_of_page_construction#Tschichold_and_the_golden_section

Tshichold's work heavily inspired Josef Müller-Brockman's ideas for Grid Systems in Graphic Design. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josef_M%C3%BCller-Brockmann


Grids and their ratios are entirely arbitrary. There's no functional perfection or ideal. It's all stylistic.

There was/is some research about ideal column widths for line text character lengths with regards the fonts used, their leading and kerning... etc.

Some consider a line length of about 95/6 characters long to be ideal for the fastest and easiest reading with high retention. For example.

This is a far more constructive place to start considering the ideal widths of your ideal columns. Then build a custom grid around that, as and how it suits your purpose(s).

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