In highly regulated industries, such as the food and cosmetics businesses, strict adherence to labeling rules is expected.

For example, the beer bottle dictator, Kent “Battle” Martin, can reject beer labels over the slightest mistake in dimensions, label font sizes or points, colors and messaging.

Font Size Conversion Guide for Labels

Compliance protects one’s business and the consumers who base their buying decisions on label information. However, government agencies like the FDA and TTB specify sizes in units of measure that are not unique to printing, such as inches and millimeters. Consequently, the conversion process can become pretty confusing to first-time label designers.

In this blog, we explain how to convert standard measurement units to conventional typographical sizes and vice versa to help startups comply with labeling requirements.

Zebra Compatible Labels 2″ x 2″
Zebra Compatible Labels 3″ x 3″

How Do Printers Define a Point?

The smallest unit of measure in the field of typography is the point. Its size has changed throughout history. However, with the advent of desktop publishing (DTP), the DTP point has become the standard in character sizing.

One point, or one DTP point, is equivalent to 1/72 of an inch in English units. It is also 0.353 millimeters in SI units. For establishments using American point sizes, a DTP point is 1/12 of a pica.

Conversion Table
Unit of Measure
Equivalent of One Point

Inch

MIllimeter

Pica

1/72

0.353

1/12

What Is Font Size?

To have a better idea of what font size is, we need to explain a few terms:

  • The x-height is the vertical measurement of the lowercase letter “x.” This value differs from one font to another. For example, the x-height in Times New Roman 72-point font is 3-3.5/8 of an inch, while its Arial counterpart is 3.5-4/8 of an inch. The x-height represents the height of a font’s lowercase letters that lack ascenders and descenders. Examples of such lowercase letters are “a,” “c” and “e.”
X-Height in Font Size
  • An ascender is a part of a character that extends upwards, exceeding the x-height. Capital letters and lowercase letters like “b,” “d” and “h” are examples of characters that have ascenders.
  • A descender is a part of a character that extends below its mid-portion. Lowercase letters like “q,” “g” and “y” are examples of characters that have descenders.
  • The font size is the sum of the x-height and the longest lengths of the ascender and descender. Since no character has both an ascender and descender, none of them reaches the full font size. For example, 72-point Times New Roman numbers and capital letters have heights less than one inch. Hypothetically, they need descenders to use up the entire inch or 72 points.

For label printing, the character dimension that is more often specified is the height. System fonts like Arial, Sans Serif, Times New Roman and Verdana more or less adhere to the size conventions, but others may use different standards.

Laser Printer Labels

: 110 / pack
: 1″ x 4″ &  1-1/3″ x 4″ & 1″ x 2-5/8″

How Should You Determine Your Label’s Character Width?

The character width is less often standardized compared to the height, but it is usually font-specific. To further define the appropriate character widths, designers may use the em box concept.

An em box is square in shape, and the length of one side depends on the font you use. One em is equal to the specified font size in points.

For example, if you’re using the Arial 12-point font, one em is equal to 12 points, ½ em is equal to 6 points and 2 ems are 24 points. Put in another way, an em is a multiple of the font size.

If you’re using the Times New Roman 14-point font, one em is also equal to 14 points, and so on.

You will notice that the standard measurement units of the em box vary with each font. The em box takes its name from the hypothetical box where a font’s capital letter “M” is written. It determines the maximum space that can be occupied by each character of a specific font. Using this model helps you find the appropriate width for your label’s characters.

How Should You Use This Conversion Guide to Meet Labeling Requirements?

To meet labeling requirements, a simple unit conversion may not be enough in some cases. As you can see, different fonts tend to have different x-heights and character widths. As mentioned earlier, system fonts are more likely to follow the conventional measures but non-system fonts are not. 

If you’re using system fonts, convert the specified size in inches, millimeters or picas to DTP points. If you end up with a decimal value and the specified size is a minimum, round off to the next whole number to get your font size. If the specified size is a maximum, round off to the lower whole number.

For example, the TTB regulations for the beer alcohol content statement require a minimum of 2 mm for containers larger than ½ pint and a maximum of 4 mm for those bigger than 40 fl. oz.

If you have the first container and use a system font like Sans Serif, conversion to DTP points should yield 5.67. You should then set your font size to 6.

On the other hand, if you have the second container and are still using a system font, conversion to DTP points yields 11.33. Therefore, you should set your font size to 11.

Bud Light Platinum Label

If you opt for a non-system font to make your label and packaging stand out, you may have to use a font size conversion calculator. Some of them are available online. Otherwise, you may do manual measurements of the characters. Your font options are unlimited, but using the right size helps ensure information visibility and compliance with the law.

Conclusion

Business owners are required to comply with labeling regulations. The label font size is one aspect that may appear puzzling to new product label designers. This blog can help them deal with this little snag, as it has information about converting typographical points to standard units of measurement and vice versa.

System font sizes are easier to convert because they follow the measurement conventions. However, many non-system fonts rely on different sizing standards. Therefore, those who choose the latter type may need to do more than just convert numbers before getting the right character sizes for their labels.

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