TypographyHow to

Font kerning: 10 expert tips

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

Settle on your type choices early on and everything will flow naturally from there

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

Kerning is about controlling the spaces between letters - that includes those 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

Some letters don't kern as well as others

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

Kerning is about spacing between two letters; tracking is about uniform spacing across a text selection

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.

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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

 blur your eyes
Blurring your eyes or squinting can help focus on letter shapes

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

 Upside Down
Turning the typeface upside down is a good way to examine the letter shapes without the distraction of meaning

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

 Supply Two Logos
Supply two logos to clients: one for large sizes and one for smaller use

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

 Rhythm And Consistency
The best font kerning has good 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

 Two Useful Websites
Check out www.letteringjs.com, a jQuery plugin that enables HTML text to be kerned easily

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.

Words: Meryem Meg and Brian Hoff

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