We explain both the fundamentals and the finer points of kerning. Follow our pro advice and you'll soon be on your way to achieving typographic perfection.
Kerning is the process of adjusting the spacing between letters to achieve a visually pleasing result. Some designers find it easy, others find it a tricky process where success is achieved more by luck than real judgement. But follow these tips and you should find yourself on the right track...
01. Choose your typeface early on
Each typeface requires its own kerning and specific adjustments and attention to detail. So it's important that you make a decisive decision on the typeface you're going to be working with within your design early on within the process. Making last-minute changes can significantly change the direction of your design as well as the kerning that specific typeface needs. Rushed, last-minute kerning is rarely successful kerning, so don't put yourself in that position.
02. Remember spacing between words
The main focus of kerning is usually the spacing between characters, but don't forget the spacing between words as well. This can be extra relevant when working with free fonts downloaded online, which are sometimes poorly constructed in terms of spacing. (But don't discount free fonts altogether - you'll find some high-quality ones here.)
03. Specific lettering
Remember that some letters that don’t kern as well as others within a word. Letter combinations such as ‘LA’, for example, are not as complementary as ‘AV’. In such cases, attention to kerning needs to be considered and focused in regards to the negative space.
04. Kerning is not tracking
You may hear other designers talk about 'tracking' and assume it's the same thing as kerning. It's not. Tracking is about controlling the uniform spacing between all the letters in a piece of text, while kerning refers to the spacing between two specific letters.
05. Practice makes perfect
Like mastering any technique, the best and most effective way to improve your kerning skills is through practice. The Kerning Game is a great way to brush up on your technique as well as learning by trial and error the most common mistakes made whilst kerning.
That's the basics covered - now here are five tips from web, brand and interaction designer Brian Hoff, who runs Brooklyn-based studio Brian Hoff Design, to bring your kerning skills to the next level...
06. Blur your eyes
While kerning display typefaces (you should only be kerning display typefaces by the way), I like to blur my eyesight a bit by squinting or crossing my eyes. This enables me to focus on the contrast and white space of the letterforms without becoming distracted by the characters themselves.
07. Flip the typeface upside down
Another useful exercise for kerning is to turn the typeface upside-down. This allows you to focus on the form of the characters rather than getting distracted by the actual word being viewed. Upside-down text becomes more abstract and enables you to focus on lights (white space) and dark (the characters) areas.
08. Supply two versions of a logo
Kerning typefaces for logos can be quite tricky, since logo typefaces can be viewed at very large or very small sizes. I recommend supplying clients, when needed, with two sets: more tightly kerned pairs for large sizes and looser for the smaller uses of the logo.
09. Create rhythm and consistency
The best font kerning (and the best typography) has good rhythm and consistency. One character sitting next to another should appear rhythmic and balanced. One way of achieving this is to step back from the monitor and observe the text. Does the text 'box' appear as one equal shade? Or does it appear darker between some characters and lighter between others?
10. Two useful websites
For us really picky, detailed web folk, try looking at www.kernjs.com and www.letteringjs.com. The second one is a jQuery plug-in that enables selectable HTML text on the web to be kerned and controlled in other profound ways.
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Do you have a kerning tip to add to our list? Share it with the design community in the comments below!