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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 (85) Posted in File Prep by at 3:17 pm
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85 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
  22. thanks guys

    Comment by clove — December 14, 2016 @ 4:22 am
  23. I’m facing that question right now with an item on eBay. It is a wooden box listed as 12X12X10. But the photo is taken as such an angle I can’t tell the height, which is critical on whether to buy it.

    Easy solution to my problem: I emailed the seller and ASKED. Problem solved.

    Comment by winkie — January 9, 2017 @ 11:14 am
  24. I know this topic is old, but I wanted to give my perspective on why it should be WxH.
    In mathematics your always taught X by Y. It’s always horizontal by vertical. Even with geographical coordinates it’s latitude by longitude.
    I also saw a comment about how photos are always height x width-
    But that’s just bad assuming.
    If I gave you a 4×6 photo, you shouldn’t automatically assume it’s a landscape. 4×6 could clearly be width by height depending on how you hold the photo!

    So, basically in every field the majority is width by height.. and someone needs to have a talk with the smithsonian!

    Comment by Tommy Minahan — January 26, 2017 @ 9:23 pm
  25. My thinking too, Tommy! Thanks for your comment! This topic may be an oldie, but it’s certainly going to be a relevant one for a while I think.

    Comment by Steve Vaught — January 27, 2017 @ 9:01 am
  26. Incredible – The page at Kindle KDP has it wrong. They say, “The ideal size of your cover art is that for every 1,000 pixels in width, the image should be 1,600 pixels in height. Ideal dimensions for cover files are 2,560 x 1,600.”
    What they should say is, “1,600 x 2,560.” https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A2J0TRG6OPX0VM#dim

    Comment by Nomad Trader — March 16, 2017 @ 12:17 pm
  27. I work in picture framing and we always do Height, Width, Depth. Then I use Photoshop and it’s all backwards which throws me off.

    Comment by M Frost — April 16, 2017 @ 3:42 pm
  28. I cannot believe you guys are having this conversation.

    This is simple pre-algebra…

    Coordinates are used as (x,y) which goes down as (width, height).

    Width comes first, height second (period)

    Comment by HC — June 26, 2017 @ 11:38 pm
  29. In terms of graphing, coordinates are alphabetized and should be (x,y) for 2D and (x,y,z) for 2.5D images. The x-axis runs left to right (width) and the y-axis runs up and down (length), the z-axis would be front to back (depth).
    There really is no argument to be made otherwise, unless lunch breaks are really just that dull.
    Width x Length x Depth is standard for my website and, as far as I know, it’s standard in the most basic mathematical concepts.

    Comment by Chrysta Feely — August 1, 2017 @ 2:10 pm
  30. I was searching to find out the order of measurements and thought it was going to be a standard that everyone uses. I’m glad I read all the comments. It could be completely different in China, right? A simple letter after the number would leave no doubt in one’s mind. That should be the required “standard” when writing down measurements, imho!
    I just wrote a retailer to ask what the specific measurements are for a pet carrier that is 16″ x 14″ x 18″. I’m not sure if other countries automatically use the “standard” WxH. It definitely doesn’t look 16 inches wide. I’m hoping it is 18 inches high but it could be 16 or 14! In fact, the width looks half of what is listed! In this case, it needs to be exact for an airline. I’ll see what it means when they respond by email.

    Comment by lisa — August 14, 2017 @ 6:48 am
  31. {Which way do you read (assuming you read English literature)? Left to right, first, then down the length of the page.} this example is awesome! thank you.

    Comment by Soumak Das — September 9, 2017 @ 1:04 am
  32. I think this is a legitimate conversation, and although I didn’t read all of the comments above. I think “everyone has a way” is an appropriate opinion. That being said…

    (x,y) is for two dimensional layouts or objects, so it is actually Length (x) and Width (y), and not W x H. Height is a three dimensional term (z).

    In math you first learn distance (x – the length along a line). That’s why we plot points along a line/ray with the x coordinate first. The second point (y) is at a distance (or width) from that first point (x). In math it is supposed to be written (or seen) as (x,y) or (L x W).

    However, that really doesn’t matter, because in 2D measurements L and W are essentially interchangeable. When a 2D rectangle is created, it will always have the same measured sides no matter how it is turned. Trust me, cut a flat 4×6 shape and it will be the same as a flat 6×4 shape. LxW could just as easily be written WxL, or HxW, or LxH, etc. It’s all relative, what matters is orientation.

    Also in math, (z) is the depth (Height) coordinate. So when written in mathematical terms, it is actually (x,y,z) or (L x W x H).

    Because we see in three dimensions, and we tend to forget that the base of our feet is the origin point (0,0,0) for our point of view. Our (z) has a depth already because our individual heights. Therefore we turn 2D measurements to our view axis, and write our measurements to match, i.e. WxH. We change the orientation.

    If your having a hard time with this concept, think in terms of point of view. Take for instance birds. They look down at (x,y,z) from above. We look at things from the side, not from the top down. However, we are trained to measure (through math) from the origin point (top down). So we think and measure by naturally changing the orientation based on our point of view.

    So, when looking at a piece of paper, picture, or banner there is actually no (z) depth per say. There is only a L (x) and a W (y). The H (z) is so small as to not matter. We think a banner has height, because after the banner is created, we turn it on the origin point axis, so it is oriented to see it better. That is why we think WxH. “It is as wide as my arms spread, and as tall as a door frame”. The reality is that it was created (printed) along a length (x) and width (y), the height (z) was negligible. When we turned it, we switched the measurements and gave it a WxH or HxW.

    So in conclusion, write it the way you want, but be prepared to explain orientation.

    Comment by BLL — September 13, 2017 @ 4:47 pm
  33. With 30x37x22 what is the length and all that stuff

    Comment by Julianne Gumataotao — October 25, 2017 @ 7:22 pm
  34. According to the International Standards Guide, it is height first followed by width, so this article has it backwards. See points 7.5, 7.6, 11.0, 11.1 in this document: http://www.fineart.co.uk/article/artfacts-standards–taking-recording-and-communicating-dimensions-556.aspx

    Comment by Fred — March 20, 2018 @ 9:16 pm
  35. By using (L) for length is relative to X, Y, or Z physical axis coordinate points. By referring to L x W x H is a misnomer due to the fact that L can actually be any one of the lengths of Width, Height or Depth of an object.

    Comment by RBJ — April 14, 2018 @ 5:07 pm

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