From metal to digital: Bridging the gap, Optimizing digital font readability (Part 2)
In Part 1 of From metal to digital: Understanding the underlying differences, we discussed why each digital font is spaced and kerned to look its best at a particular point-size range, be it for text or display. Not every typeface looks good when used beyond this range, but many can, with a bit of help to optimize their readability.
If you’ve selected a typeface that was designed and spaced for display, and you’re setting it at small point sizes, the spacing will appear tight. Your text’s overall readability will begin to be compromised. You will encounter the reverse when you use an optimal-for-text typeface at larger sizes: The spacing will look too open, likewise compromising readability and good typographic color. The good news is that today’s design software provides a feature that allows you to extend the flexibility and functionality of the “one-size-fits-all” digital font. This feature is tracking, which offers an incremental fix to a progressive problem.
As you increase the point size of a font that is intended primarily for text (such as Scala Sans® shown below), the spacing begins to look too open. The larger it is set, the more open it appears. You can remedy this by reducing the tracking, a little at a time, until the spacing looks more balanced.
Conversely, when you are setting a font intended for display (such as Helvetica Neue shown below), but at a text size, the spacing will look too tight. When this happens, increase the tracking gradually to improve the color, texture and readability of the type.
NOTE: These recommendations apply primarily to print and other static typographic usages. Type that will need to be read from a distance while the reader is in motion, such as highway and way-finding signage, may have different readability requirements.
- Editor’s Note: Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 3rd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.