There was a time when every working designer had at least one pica pole sitting on their drawing board. It was an indispensable tool of the trade that was as needed as drafting tape, Rapidographs, X-actos, french curves and breathing.

Being that I was still working in picas in the late 90s and getting fussed at by my CD for it, I’m willing to bet few practicing designers today know what a pica is.

It’s pretty easy: A pica is a unit of measure equaling 1/6 of an inch. 12 points make up one pica, so 72 points equal one inch. End of the math lesson.

If you want to get serious about printed typography, you will want to work in picas. I found working in picas gives designers more precise control over layouts than inches ever can. Inches are clumsy — of course, everyone knows I’m one of the few Americans who would rather go metric, but that’s another story.

I found this pica pole while going through stuff on my wife’s drawing board. She uses it just to draw straight lines and doesn’t give a second thought to the markings on it. I used to walk around with a pica pole all the time. It was also handy to smack someone if they got too randy.

Designers today who mostly work digitally would do themselves a favor learning and working in points and picas. Believe it or not, points translate exceedingly well to pixels, the new standard for measuring just about everything. Being pixel-perfect is a sign of quality to an old dog like me.