Typography 101: Kerning (Some Tips and Tricks)

Kerning is a critical aspect of typography, especially when it comes to logo design. Here are some tips and tricks to help you achieve perfect kerning in typography.

Kerning refers to the adjustment of spaces between two individual characters in typography. With kerning you could either set the letters far apart or closer together. Just the right amount of space should give your design a visually aesthetic and professional look.

The tricky part is, however, choosing the right distance!

If you’ve been ignoring this bit in your typography and designs, then you are missing out on a major portion of the principles of typographic art. Or, you might be leaving this task to the last minute. But with a grueling deadlines and demanding clients, leaving kerning to the last minute will only yield unwieldy results.

Here are some tips that will help you kern and tweak your text to perfection.

Pay Attention to Leading and Tracking First

With kerning always comes leading and tracking. Tracking is refers to the adjustment of space that is taken up by a complete word or group of words. Leading refers to the adjustment of vertical spaces between two lines, also known as the “line spacing”. It is important to make adjustments to your tracking and leading first before you get into the nitty gritties of kerning so as to create a complete and balanced result.

Don’t Ignore Spacing Between Words

While kerning you might be too focused on adjusting the distance between two characters within a word. But remember kerning is all about adjusting spaces between two consecutive letters even if they do not belong to the same word. For instance, if you kern your letters in a manner that give the words a “tightly packed” or “closely knit together” appearance, you want to make sure you do the same between two consecutive words.

Kern the Word Upside Down

This is a fabulous trick many designers use. The idea is to take the word(s) you want to kern and turn it upside down. Carefully observe the spacing and the blend of the individual characters. If you think it’s just perfect then it must be! Since we tend to see the words we are kerning (facing the right direction) as words and not a collection of individual shapes, we tend to lose sight of the aesthetics of the characters in front of us. Our brain naturally directs our attention towards the act of reading and understanding the meaning of the word instead of allowing us to view the distinct forms the shapes are taking.

Try to Keep it Consistent

Kerning also ensures that the perceived space between all the characters is consistent. Notice how we used the word “perceived” here, because mathematical spacing may vary. Since different letters take up different shapes—some are pointing towards the right and other and leaning towards the left—it is important to give individual attention to each letter.

Focus on the Negative

While most people probably advise you to stay away from the “negatives” (you know negative thoughts and negative people), we are going to advise you to focus on the negative when it comes to typography of course. Remember, the idea here is to determine the right amount of “space” between two characters, meaning the negative space. Squint your eyes, blur you visions, and peer into the negative space to studying the kerning. This helps focus on the space other than the letters without being distracted by the other shapes.

Don’t Trust the Software

auto manual kerning

Several software such as Photoshop and Illustrator come with an “auto-kern” option. Although the software will do its best to kern the right spaces, you can never be 100% sure that it has done the job right. The software simple can’t have a human’s eye for art and design, which is why some manual adjustments would be necessary.

Don’t forget to kern the Lower-cases with the Upper-cases

lowercase uppercase

This should be no-brainer, but can be easy to overlook if you have tons of characters to deal with. There are plenty of designs that are comprised of words using both lower cases and upper cases. Not giving the spacing between those a second thought is a surefire way to lose a client!

Practice, Practice, Practice

kern me

If your first few kerns weren’t the best, don’t worry about it. This is another skill that improves with practice. Download a handful of fonts, create unique sentences and start practicing! It won’t cost you a client, much less anything at all to practice! Mark MacKay, a creative designer crafted a cool game for his website Method of Action. Kerntype, his kerning game, asks players to kern a given word or group of words to achieve a pleasant, readable text. After comparison to just the perfect solution, you will be given a score. This is a great way to brush up your kerning skills!

Learn More: Websites With Beautiful Typography For Inspiration

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