How to Measure Copperplate Guidelines (Part 1 – 3:2:3 ratio)


What is the 3:2:3 ratio?

Hey. I made this video to (hopefully) answer some questions submitted by a fellow learner to my blog. How to measure the guidelines? Is the 3:2:3 ratio different from the 1/4″ height? What does the numbers represent? Why is it expressed in mm and inches? So this is basically the blog post/written verison of the video.

In this video, I will assume that you’re familiar with the terms x-height, ascenders, and descenders. Maybe you don’t enjoy math, it’s okay, I will try to explain without sounding like your math teacher from school. I do enjoy math to an extent – I like measuring and being precise in things. But I really want to try and make this easy to understand, and keep the calculating to minimum.

But first, pound cake.

Have you ever had a pound cake? Do you know why it’s called that? Well, it’s traditionally made with a pound of each for ingredients: flour, butter, sugar, and eggs. We can say it’s a 1:1:1:1 ratio – equal parts of each ingredients. Mix ‘em, bake’ em, and you’ll get a standard sized pound cake.

Well, what if we want to make a smaller pound cake? Easy. Say we want to half the size. The ratio stays the same – so you’ll need half a pound of flour, half a pound of butter, half a pound of sugar, and (you guessed it) half a pound of eggs. Mix, put in a smaller pan, and bake. Still a pound cake, but half the size.

How about a bigger pound cake? You want to double the size? That’s right – double the ingredients. Two pounds of flour, two pounds of butter, two pounds of sugar, and two pounds of eggs. We use the same ratio. We get bigger cake. It’s still a pound cake.

Back to our standard, normal sized pound cake. What happens if you put 1 pound of each flour, butter, and sugar – but then 2 pounds of eggs? That would mean you changed the ratio. It’s no longer a 1:1:1:1 ratio. No longer a pound cake… not a traditional one anyway.

In summary, you can get whatever size of pound cake by sticking to the ratio. The ratio numbers represent part(s) of something. In pound cake’s case, the weight of the ingredients, in this case measured in unit of pound. (Which incidentally, is equal to 16 ounces, or 453.592 grams).

And now, to make our ‘Copperplate’ cake.

Traditional Copperplate ratio is 3:2:3. Not equal parts of everything, like the pound cake. Copperplate ratio is 3 parts of ascender space, 2 parts of x-height, and 3 parts of descender space. The ratio numbers in this case represent the height of the letters. Measured in what unit? It’s really up to you. Inches, milimetres, number of lines in your legal pad…

To measure your guideline, we can start with the x-height. First, choose how big your x-height is going to be. So if your x-height is 2 parts of something, the ascender space will be 3 parts of something, as will the descender space. The parts are however tall or short and in whatever units you choose – as long as they are the same height.

For example, if a part is 1” tall, the x-height would be 2” tall, and the ascender and descender space 3” tall each. 3:2:3.

Question. Imagine writing Copperplate calligraphy with x-height 2 mugs tall. How tall will the ascenders space be?……… 3 mugs tall. Very good.

More difficult question. If 1/4” is our x-height, how tall will the Copperplate writing be from ascender to descender line?

I know I promised you won’t need to get your calculator out, so if you want to find out the answer to that question, get my free printable Copperplate calligraphy guide lines through the link in the description.

Thank you for submitting your questions, and please, please keep doing that, so we can keep learning together.

To summarise:

– The ratio is used to calculate each space so that we can maintain Copperplate proportions no matter how big or small we write

– The quarter inch is like the “standard” or shall we say the “learning” x-height.