Spacing and Kerning, Part 2
by Ilene Strizver
If the letter spacing and kerning of a font you love is less than perfect, there’s hope: today’s design programs have advanced type manipulation features that allow you to improve the way any font looks “out of the box.”
Spacing (and tracking)
Fonts are spaced and kerned to look their best at certain sizes, but you might choose to set type that’s much smaller or larger. If the built-in spacing is not ideal for the way you use the font, try opening or closing the tracking. This will add or reduce the overall letter spacing in a selected block of text.
Tracking can be modified in design programs such as QuarkXPress™ by changing the “tracking value,” and in Adobe® Illustrator® by changing “desired letter spacing” in the Paragraph palette.
The goal of kerning is to adjust the spacing between two characters that appear too open or too tight. Before you make any kerning adjustments in your document, make sure that kerning is turned on in the type preferences menu of your page-layout program. Note: Most word processing programs, as opposed to page-layout or design programs, don’t read kern pairs. If your goal is professional-looking type, invest in one of the more sophisticated page-layout applications.
Any serious design program has the capability of adjusting kerning manually (one pair at a time) in each document. There are often keyboard shortcuts for these functions, which are helpful when you’re making many adjustments.
In most cases, the kern changes you make apply only to the pair of letters you have highlighted, not the entire font. To keep your document consistent, don’t forget to search for all instances of that letter combination and kern them also. This is most important in headlines, where variances are obvious. Due to the difficulty of maintaining consistency, kerning large blocks of text should be kept to a minimum.
Learning to properly space and kern a font takes time, patience, and an experienced eye. A good rule of thumb is the old adage: “less is more.” Be conservative until you get the hang of it.
- 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.