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What Comes First? Width or Height?

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I had a conversation with a fellow sign-maker recently that turned into a battle of wits. It was fun. No harm, no foul. We were both trying to convince the other of whether width or height comes first in the world of 2D measurements.

Thus, the inspiration for this article.

Whether you’re into a building project and ordering windows, or designing the perfect tradeshow exhibit, providing accurate measurements is manditory.

However, the one thing that plauges the world of measurements is orientation.

Let’s take an 8 foot by 4 foot banner. Which way is it oriented? Landscape or Portrait? Tall or wide? Is that measured east to west, or north to south? There are many approaches to resolving references to orientation. But what indicators are there that will set your perspective in stone? What is the standard?

What comes first?

The Graphics’ industry standard is width by height (width x height). Meaning that when you write your measurements, you write them from your point of view, beginning with the width.

That’s important. When you give us instructions to create an 8×4 foot banner, we’ll design a banner for you that is wide, not tall.

So, who says width by height is “The Standard”? I can break it out by layout programs such as Quark, Photoshop, Illustrator, or Indesign. They all use the width by height order to determine orientation. But, let’s take it down to a more natural level. Which way do you read (assuming you read English literature)? Left to right, first, then down the length of the page.

Not proof enough? Leave a comment. Let’s hear your opinion.

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Comments (38) Posted in File Prep by at 3:17 pm
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38 Comments Leave a Comment »

  1. I don’t care what the real answer USED to be…
    now that I read this on the i-n-t-e-r-n-e-t, it just HAS to be true.

    From now on, it is WIDTH x HEIGHT for me…
    until I read on Snopes.com that this was just plain malarkey!

    Comment by dave — March 29, 2010 @ 4:46 pm
  2. I have always found it helpful to just say what I mean and mean what I say. If I want an 8 foot wide banner; “8 foot wide x 4 foot tall” is hard to miss. Then there is always the benefit of a good crude illustration; you know what they say about a picture being worth a thousand…

    Comment by that guy — April 2, 2010 @ 11:21 am
  3. Most of the sign companies I deal with always measure in “height x width” I don’t understand the logic but it almost seams like it is an industry standard thats only practiced in the sign manufacturing industry. It drives me crazy and gets really confusing.

    Comment by Robert — May 31, 2011 @ 7:32 pm
  4. We refer to a vertically oriented letter-size page as an “eight-and-a-half by eleven page”, so there’s further proof.

    In my experience, anyone who refers to height first only does so because the height happens to be the longest measurement for that particular instance. Their standard is “say the longest side first”, which is, of course, idiotic.

    Comment by Kris Hunt — July 11, 2011 @ 4:48 pm
  5. One does not purchase a 10×8 photo frame, nor write on a 14×11 legal pad, and yet, when it comes to art projects, I have to repeat WXH almost daily… frustrating!

    Comment by Rushe — July 11, 2011 @ 5:55 pm
  6. Always WIDTH x HEIGHT

    What’s really frustrating, is that I end up beating my bosses and co-workers in the head because they all are too stupid to figure out this simple standard.

    Like Rushe stated above. I have always used eight and a half by eleven paper.
    I’ve never in my life used eleven by eight and a half paper.

    Comment by Spanky — September 20, 2011 @ 3:42 pm
  7. I’m working with an Artist in making up a catalog, and I have learned that in the Book world, and Fine Art in particular, the dimensions are always listed as H x W.
    Reference the Chicago Style Manual.

    I know in the Graphics world we sometimes do not have the image to immediately see, yet we must allow the correct space in the Layout or Design – so that convention (W x H) is important.

    Comment by Ron — November 18, 2011 @ 9:54 am
  8. My first reaction was, like several above to point out 8 1/2 x 11 paper. Plus, as a designer, it’s a no-brainer to say that everything is WxH. So I started to write all of the examples I could down on a 3 x 5 card… Oh wait!!! Drat!

    I would also point out that TVs are 4×3 or 16×9 ratio, not 9×16.

    From now on, I’ll just design everything square, so I no longer have to worry about it.

    Comment by Jon — November 28, 2011 @ 5:37 pm
  9. It’s Simple ! Its all about X and Y !!!

    X comes before Y doesn’t it ?

    Comment by Sebastien — February 15, 2012 @ 9:29 am
  10. I’m not in any profession or trade; what ever your “industry standard” is, apparently, isn’t standard! Please, just make the designations “h”, “w” and “d” universal!

    Comment by Sandy — March 26, 2012 @ 2:13 pm
  11. I’m an abstract artist and I give the dimensions relative to the orientation of the painting.

    which turns out to be width x height

    so a 72″x30″ painting would be a painting that is design to be in a horizontal format.. but that same size canvas if I would have painted something that should be vertical, I would list it as 30″x72″

    actually if you really want to clear things up.. just put the letter besides it 36″w x 72″H or whatever.. bottom line it does not matter as long as you are EFFECTIVELY COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR AUDIENCE!

    Comment by Brian Sommers — July 14, 2012 @ 2:50 pm
  12. These comments are all fun and I’m surprised no printer has weighed in. Paper sizes are referenced by grain not by dimension. 8½ x 11 is totally different than 11 x 8½. The grain is the second dimension. Learn more at: http://printwiki.org/Grain

    Comment by Art — September 19, 2012 @ 10:28 am
  13. I was always led to believe the width x height thing originates from newspaper printing (or rather typesetting). Columns x height.

    Comment by Luke — October 29, 2012 @ 8:50 am
  14. in math, the “universal language” where there’s not much room for interpretations, if I remember correctly…

    - all points are (x,y)
    - all grid axis are (x,y)
    - all dimensions are (w,h), corresponding to the axis they’re measured on (x,y)
    - all rectangles dimensions are (w,h)
    - with all points in 3d space, you add z but still x and y come first in that order, as (x,y,z)
    - 3d cubes are LxWxH, where the front facing rectangles dimensions are the L and H

    programming languages follow the same order.

    seems in math, and programming, it will always be Width x Height.

    Where do people have it backwards? Art. Why? “Why ask why.” But, if I had to guess i’d think maybe in the time that fine art became a commodity and the nomenclature became established, maybe portraits were just the most common, most popular, and always assumed the vertical orientation, and people just tended to use the longer dimension first? Who knows. It should be the other way. But, when someone says “print me an 8×10 picture”, they almost always mean a portrait.

    Comment by ready123go — October 29, 2012 @ 6:00 pm
  15. Apple lists the specs for its iPhone screen resolutions as H x W. Rookies.

    Comment by Rob — January 26, 2013 @ 5:49 am
  16. Rob, I guess that might depend on which way you hold the phone. In the case of a device like a phone, it can go either way. A print is generally going to be constrained to only one orientation.

    Comment by pauls — March 1, 2013 @ 3:48 pm
  17. Height is first.
    According to FACTS, the organization of Fine Art Care and Treatment Standards International Standards Guide for Taking, Recording, and Communicating Dimensions (of art) the vertical measurement (height) is recorded first, followed by the horizontal measurement (width), and in the case of three dimensional works, the depth measurement is recorded last.
    I work at a large commercial printers and we always put height first concerning printed matter. Width by height is reserved for other industries however.
    But remember the old saying, if your Aunt had b*llocks, she’s be your uncle.

    Comment by HonkyRock — March 16, 2013 @ 12:18 pm
  18. @HonkyRock
    Just for the sake of argument…
    Tossing out any kind of guides, people can define anything anyway they like. Correct?
    Adobe, as well as others, has done just that, set a standard by which the vast majority of graphic professionals adhere to.
    I would be curious to know how the software programs any of you work with, display dimensions. WxH? HxW? XxY? YxX
    I relate everything to what is natural for me. Go back to the way we read: Across, then down. Width by height just seems natural.

    Comment by Steve Vaught — March 28, 2013 @ 9:54 am
  19. I will refer to one of the only things I can remember from my Maths school days… “you have to go into the house (horizontal/w) before you can go up the stairs (vertical/h)”

    Makes sense to me!

    Comment by Pink Polar — April 12, 2013 @ 1:58 pm
  20. Firstly I agree that dimensions of documents should be “Width x Height” – as per major graphics programs/applications.

    When I became a newspaper apprentice in 1970 in Western Australia all advertisments were sold and prepared as and they still are “Depth x Width” ie 10cm x 2 columns or 30cm x 40 columns (cm = centimetres = Metric system). So the newspaper system may have muddied the waters.

    Currently, at work (a private web press – not newspaper enterprise) we have a system where the office/booking enters the details of a job “Height x Width” – sometimes creating great confusion between the client and prepress with files being formatted landscape when we are expecting portrait files.

    I don’t think this is going to change any time soon.

    When giving or asking information I use the following format.
    275mm w x 289mm d

    Good luck to all from Worthit in faraway Oz.

    Comment by Worthit — April 26, 2013 @ 12:11 pm
  21. I have been in the printing industry for over twenty years and I recently took it upon myself to educate the sales team on the correct way of creating a work order. Width always comes before height. I created a PDF with various samples of the orientation and naming conventions to help them. I also pointed out that if they hover their cursor in the bottom left hand area in a PDF the size appears correctly (width by height). In printing we use text as the determining factor in orientation. If you hold the sheet of paper as you would read it that is your width by height. Left to right (width) by top to bottom (height). Others before me (and still here) didn’t take the initiative to set things straight. Since I’ve been here our accuracy has greatly improved.

    Comment by Jeff — May 20, 2013 @ 5:43 pm
  22. The FINAL proof that YOU ARE RIGHT…. is that if you go outside and look at a landscape, your HORIZONTAL field of view (or the WIDTH) is 208 degrees (including peripheral vision), while the VERTICAL field of view (or the HEIGHT) is 120 degrees (including peripheral vision)… so we have evolved to SEE LANDSCAPE first rather than PORTRAIT…
    Another point to take into consideration… We only of know of ONE predator that we -as ancient human, would have to look out for in PORTRAIT mode… that is a FLYING pterodactyl… while the threats to our survival in LANDSCAPE mode were plenty to say the least.
    SO to confirm your argument… we write and refer to paper measurements by WIDTH first, THEN HEIGHT

    Comment by Montague — June 5, 2013 @ 7:21 pm
  23. Keep it personal.

    In all things we relate as a person to the reality we are in.

    I am 5′ 10″ tall; I never emphasize my width first. Who does?

    Comment by Grae — July 8, 2013 @ 5:30 am
  24. The sign industry uses 2 versions of the measurement, but in my experience it is used only for products which have fluting or marking that run a particular length.

    For example for a product called Coroplast or Corex, it has fluting (channels like a cardboard box) so if you identify width x height you are asking for the fluting to run the width length, if you do height x width you are wanting the fluting to run on the height.

    Why is this important? If you are using an “H-stake” or similar frame it connects inside the fluting so you need the fluting on the height side (so height x width). The important part is identifying the measurement with name so 24″H x 18″W.

    Comment by tyler — August 9, 2013 @ 11:12 am
  25. I,ve worked in publishing, exhibition graphics, sign making and fine art – and it has always been width first and height second. ‘Along the corridor and up the stairs’.

    However it would make sense to specify which measurement is which with a W or H suffix and that’s normally what I do. I find myself having to ask customers, almost on a daily basis, “is it Landscape or Portrait?

    Comment by Jim Dean — August 19, 2013 @ 6:48 am
  26. The industry standard for ll industries should be squares. Squares everywheres.

    Comment by Loretta — August 19, 2013 @ 4:26 pm
  27. That’s an award winning suggestion, Loretta! (Not sure what the award should be though.)

    Comment by Steve Vaught — August 19, 2013 @ 4:31 pm
  28. In the US I believe it’s WxH in the UK it’s HxW

    Comment by John — August 22, 2013 @ 7:13 am
  29. In labelli g rooms architecturally, is is horizontal dimension x vertical dimension.
    A room in a 20ft row house is 19′-2″ x 13′ deep

    Comment by John — April 9, 2014 @ 6:50 pm
  30. I have worked in the sign world for a number of years with several different companies across the united states. Every company I have worked for including the largest sign company in the world, ALL use Height x Width. Friends in the print industry always use Width x Height. For some reason the sign business is just different. So a 4′x8′ banner would be 4′ High and 8′ wide.

    Comment by SignGuy — June 18, 2014 @ 3:37 pm
  31. For me, I made the mistake of assuming height by width because of the reading left to right. I can understand the confusion, and I have seen it both ways. I also thought of a 3×5 index card. 3 being height, and 5 being width. I think if there weren’t so many different examples of each way, it would be less confusing for the lay person like me. :) Patience from the experts, please. I’m that annoying person who always gets it wrong. And I’ve worked in the print industry (years ago) and have a graphic artist husband. You’d think I’d have it down by now. Maybe now that I’ve done a little research, I’ll remember.

    Comment by Jenny — July 1, 2014 @ 8:56 am
  32. think of it like a sheet of paper…We call it an 8.5″x11 (8.5 wide and 11 long)

    Comment by no — July 31, 2014 @ 11:56 am
  33. my view on this is this :p .. since i’m an artist myself.. it is the way our mind works.. for an artist it’s always height first.. because height is what makes the artwork stand.. we want it to stand out.. for consumers and other than artist it’s width first because they want it to fit.. just my point of view.. unfortunately all the software that were used to produce an artwork is programmed by non artistic by means a programmer.. so the preference goes to them not us..

    Comment by Ayfi Hessian — August 3, 2014 @ 10:45 pm
  34. so please feel free to call us idiots.. we are all nothing but one.. :p

    Comment by Ayfi Hessian — August 3, 2014 @ 10:48 pm
  35. Great argument… but the answer is clear. I have been a professional designer for 20 years, and all artwork request technical specification sheets from magazines, newspapers, flyers, posters even video work is Width x Height.

    A photo is 6×4, or 7×5. My TV is 16:9…. at least in the UK. However most tech sheets do usually dictate landscape or portrait to be on the safe side

    Comment by Jonny S — August 7, 2014 @ 7:08 pm
  36. sorry forgot to add… ‘however’ a photo is 6×4, or 7×5 ‘but’ my TV is 16:9…. look – it’s late here in the UK and Sharknado is on in the background…

    Comment by Jonny S — August 7, 2014 @ 7:20 pm
  37. It always has been width x height and always will be. Anyone that does it differently really has no clue what “standard” is. There’s a reason it’s a standard. If one chooses to do it differently it’s in theirs and everyone else’s best interest to identify the difference (10′H x 8′W).

    Inside the same argument, anyone that says they’ve never used 11×8.5 paper has never used a page landscape? 8.5×11 is portrait, 11×8.5 is landscape.

    Comment by Randy — August 19, 2014 @ 3:15 pm
  38. I’ve been in signage, printing, ad copy, ad design and fine art for over 30 years, and have even created many ad guides for magazines, newspapers, etc…. every single time I’ve had anything requested or given, it’s always, always, always:

    width x height.

    Every. Single. Time.

    Comment by johnny — September 30, 2014 @ 9:12 am

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