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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 mandatory.

However, the one thing that plagues 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 in 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.

Comments (71) Posted in File Prep by at 3:17 pm
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71 Comments Leave a Comment »

  1. I think the reasoning is simple and anatomical: our eyes are oriented horizontally on our faces. So I think we are more quickly and likely to think in terms of a more horizontal world around us as the priority.

    Comment by Gretchen — August 19, 2015 @ 5:58 pm
  2. Layout orientation-wise using a letter-sized paper,
    8.5×11 = portrait
    11×8.5 = landscape

    Width x Height
    Width = top margin
    Height = left margin

    Comment by Rust — August 26, 2015 @ 2:20 pm
  3. It’s not idiotic to ask a question. I could say that it’s idiotic to think only of paper as only being 8 1/2″ x 11″ because actually it could be either way…..if I wanted a landscape type. Duh!

    Comment by Crystal — September 5, 2015 @ 2:07 pm
  4. a 4×8 sheet of drywall is actually 4 high x 8 wide. Since drywall is installed running wider rather than taller…… HxW makes more sense, no ?

    Comment by Miguel — September 8, 2015 @ 11:58 am
  5. I always list my measurements as like this: 10 1/4″W x 13″H and so on.

    Comment by Jay Tucker — September 18, 2015 @ 9:10 am
  6. In normal practice, the smaller value is assumed to be the width and the bigger value as the height or length. So 8 X 3 would be H X W and 3 X 8 would be W X H.

    Comment by tinashe — November 5, 2015 @ 12:04 am
  7. Don’t ever assume The smaller number is the width that’s ignorant and it will bite you in the butt. The first number has always been the width, Doors, windows. Height is another story. The portrait however seems to change the dynamics , HxW . The door industry also confuses this issue when you call a door a right hand swing or left hand swing. Commercial door ordering is opposite of residential door orders. The lesson here is to ask what all the values are when ordering. This info. was learned the hard way. Don’t be afraid to ask, it will save you money.

    Comment by Mike O'Leary — January 19, 2016 @ 10:45 pm
  8. Tinashe, so in your world everything is taller than wider??? that doesn’t make sense – see the point.

    Comment by Albert Anthony — February 14, 2016 @ 3:00 pm
  9. This is something there will never really be a standard it all depends on the industry. Yes the graphics standard is generally width by height as mentioned due to design software being x y w h. Though the standard for all newspapers in Australia is height by width and photos have long been presented as height by width (as in 4×6).

    Comment by Sean — February 25, 2016 @ 5:36 pm
  10. This is such a great article! I have a background in video production, but because I live in a small town I had to diversify my skills to survive financially so now I do graphics for web and print. It drives me crazy when I receive dimensions for a graphic and there is no designation for width and height. Since I do quite a bit of graphics, I’ve grown accustomed to width being first. In fact, it’s what prompted me to seek out the truth because of an email that I just received this evening. It came from a non-profit that my client will be sponsoring. I was given the dimensions 3’ X 4’ for a banner that will hang somewhere around a baseball field. I guess if I was gambling in Vegas the odds would be pretty good to win! Maybe I design it both ways to cover my a$$? Ya know… it would be so easy to add at least a W or an H on one side of the measurement. Is that really too much to ask?

    Comment by Dave Veatch — March 11, 2016 @ 12:54 am
  11. I would love to see some of the peoples ideas above be used in construction, god knows how the Eiffel Tower, or the Golden Gate Bridge turn out under some users thoughts process lol, I can’t believe in a few of the above idea’s, and worse the arrogance in thinking there can be only 1 standard used over the ages, and more so the world, it’s varied cultures and specific industry’s.

    The ideal world would have 1 single standard, I’ve only ever used LxWxD, Length x Width (sometimes noted as Breadth) x Depth (or Height), that’s 3D for you, so it would not be unfitting to drop the L for 2D use, which fits with the start of this discussion, what is obvious to one in one area, may not be the same in another, I do believe that the order I gave is the more universally accepted guide, BUT, it doesn’t mean it is always so, a door for example is H (Height) x W (Width), as is the topic starters point.

    Specification means just that, it Specifies the order in which it is done, in construction there is an old adage, measure twice, cut once, my biggest annoyance is where trying to figure out the person offering sizes up for something without specifying their order, more so when offered with a picture that is only slightly different in size on each axis, 1″ (or 25mm) may not seem like much, but it can make or break a project your approaching, so rule of thumb, if in doubt ask.

    Comment by Alan — March 27, 2016 @ 6:20 pm
  12. I think width and height is rational and to be constructed in a way that when the observer attends to the rather rational dimensions, they would see the first value in their head that is relative to where they are standing. So, if you get a lanscape notebook paper and put it on a table, and then walk away from it, it loses it’s girth because rationally tables are not convex, they are flat and then you will not need dimensions in order to communicate it’s existence, you would just say “letterhead, portrait”

    Comment by Steven Collerol — May 23, 2016 @ 3:03 pm
  13. I received a request from my boss to re-size images to 646 x 1000, and there are a lot of storage images. I have applied width x height. Funny, the image looks weird because the storage is built horizontally. Now, I am confused. Need to wait for a clarification for 24 hours because we are from different regions.

    Comment by Lina — May 23, 2016 @ 10:19 pm
  14. Regardless of what YOU think is the standard, it is still the case that OTHERS either won’t know or won’t agree with you. So, short of convincing everyone in the world to always use whatever method you prefer, it makes sense, as Dave Veatch points out, to just add a W and an H (and L and D if applicable) after the number, e.g., 8.5″W x 11″H.

    Comment by aslowhite — June 6, 2016 @ 11:11 am
  15. I ent on this web to ask a simple question, and everyone came up with different answers. My thought is, hen pulling out a tape measure, ruler, etc, I have ALWYS measured widthxheight now that I think about it. So I guess putting 18w x 13h would not confuse anyone.

    Thanks for your help everyone.

    Comment by Caryn — June 30, 2016 @ 6:40 am
  16. When I see a drawn rectangle on a piece of paper and I am asked to give the measurements, this is how I always see and measure it.

    My eyes goto the vertical length first and then to the horizontal length next. (from top to bottom on the vertical side — then from left to right on the horizontal side)

    This is how I measure it and how I writ it down. (Vertical measurement first x horizontal measurement last)
    I’m always told this is wrong.

    When I see measurements written out (8″ x10″), I always think 8″ tall and 10″ wide. I’m always told that is not right. (that it is 8″ wide x 10″ tall)

    Comment by Don — August 11, 2016 @ 12:07 pm
  17. Thanks for the feedback! Sounds like we all just need to stop assuming and define our widths and heights by clearly labeling them!

    Comment by Steve Vaught — August 11, 2016 @ 12:17 pm
  18. Depends on the industry. In the art world it is correct to list HxW if you are referencing a painting or whatever, but if you’re talking about doors/windows in a lumber store it’s WxH.

    Comment by Chelsea — August 25, 2016 @ 1:44 pm
  19. 3D = length * width * height
    thus 2D = width * height

    2D is “flat”, using the horizontal and vertical (X and Y) dimensions
    3D adds the depth (Z) dimension

    Based on the well known “length by width by height” and the fact that 2D itself is based on standard X and Y dimensions (always read X axis by Y axis), WIDTH will always come first.

    Using Alegebra:
    2D = X * Y
    3D = (2D) * Z = Z(X * Y) = Z * X * Y

    Comment by Pete Fisher — September 30, 2016 @ 9:26 pm
  20. “In normal practice, the smaller value is assumed to be the width and the bigger value as the height or length. So 8 X 3 would be H X W and 3 X 8 would be W X H.”

    This answer has made more since than anything.

    Comment by Oscar Apronti — October 7, 2016 @ 11:54 am
  21. The Smithsonian America Art Museum says Hight first – see the link below and scroll down to DIMENSION section –


    Comment by B.A. Stanley — October 8, 2016 @ 6:16 pm

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