Kerning is a process where we adjust the spacing between characters. It differs from tracking. While they both relate to the spacing of letters, they are still not the same and should not be considered the same.
There are essentially three types of kerning, and you need to have a keen eye if you want to kern your work.
Kerning is important because it helps make your work more polished and enhances the readability of the text.
While it may not seem like something you need to take care of, it dramatically impacts how the text appears on screen and to readers.
With it, you can consistently maintain visual spacing throughout your content, making it easier to read or skim.
First, however, to effectively use it, you need to understand what kerning is.
While different typefaces have a specific spacing between characters, this default spacing may not work in all cases.
For example, for a default tight kern – spacing is less between characters – you may need to increase the spacing of the body text.
Similarly, the spacing between some letters may be too broad in default mode or too tight.
For example, when placed side by side, A and V or W produce a very loose kerning, AV, while rn may turn into an m if the spacing is too tight.
Again, you can manually change the spacing to suit the letters, words, or the situation they are used in (is it a heading or the content body).
Why is Kerning Important?
Everything needs to be perfect in graphic design, so the graphs and the typeface appeal to the audience and are legible.
Kerning plays an integral part in making the text look legible.
If the content isn’t easy to read – the audience should be able to skim the text – then fewer people will visit your site, and your website will receive less traffic.
When the text has correctly spaced characters, you can quickly transfer the exact message without edits onto different mediums, like t-shirts, public signs, etc.
Usually, it takes only a tiny change in the kerning to make or destroy your design. It’s why kerning is necessary for any piece of text.
Furthermore, kerning helps to clarify the message since with good character spacing, all the letters will be visible, and no overlapping will be seen – words can get changed that way.
Communication is critical, and you need to deliver the correct message with your content or design.
With the correct letter spacing in the headings, you can use them to hook readers and compel them to visit your site. You can also influence their feeling regarding your brand.
For example, use a lovey-dovey handwriting or calligraphy font on your site during Valentine’s Time or a spooky font on Halloween month.
Correct spacing is essential to make your design, such as logos, using short text with a big message.
To further explore the importance of kerning, we recommend this video by Satori Graphics:
How to Kern?
You need to know how to kern if you want to adjust the spacing in your work.
Kerning may not seem like a worthwhile skill, but it will make your work/content/design look polished – it’s especially true for logos, advertisements, and headings.
As the kerning definition states, you need to look through the text and find spots between letters that need to be adjusted.
To do this, keep some specific notes in your mind as you view your text to spot places to use kerning.
For example, each letter takes up a different amount of space, and in typeface, some spacings can be too loose and make the whole word seem disjointed.
1. Look for Certain Letters
Letters to look out for are:
Slanted ones like V, Y, W, A, K, and characters like T, L, and F that have arms
It would be helpful to keep your eyes on letter pairs such as AW, AV, VA, AD, AT, FA, Fa, AF, LW, FE, LV, Fo, Wa, Ye, and Va, etc.
You need to understand the spacing between both upper-case letters and lower-case letters to polish your project.
For lowercase letters, keep these tips in mind:
A linear letter paired with a round letter like o or c needs less space between them.
Two linear letters like l and i (li) need plenty of space between them to not look like one letter.
Two circular letters need the least amount of space.
Other Tips to Remember:
Never make the spacing the same between all letters; each letter occupies its respective space, some take more space, and some take little.
However, when letters are collectively viewed as a word, this individual spacing may make the whole word look weird, so you need to kern the letter pairs.
You need to consider the font size when you kern a piece of text, and always kern at the end when you settled on a font, and your project requires no other edits.
If you change the font later from, say, 48pt to 24pt, all your kerning effort will go to waste, and you may need to do it again.
While you need to take care to kern your work, never go overboard with it; otherwise, you may destroy your content’s legibility and readability.
3. Know When It’s Needed
Moreover, you don’t need to kern every content piece you create. Kerning isn’t visible at 10-12pt of body text, so skip the effort there.
Kern for titles, feature images that include text, and banners, etc.
Usually, metrics and optical kern will be enough for your work since they have many built-in kern pairs. Don’t waste time with unnecessary work. But, do take the time to look at what the software did and correct any errors.
A Pro Tip: flip your text upside down. When you can’t read it, your brain will focus on the structure, orientation, and spacing between letter pairs.
To further explore kerning tips, we recommend this video by Will Paterson:
What is the Difference Between Tracking and Kerning?
As mentioned, kerning is the spacing between individual characters or, more precisely, a pair of letters.
When you kern, we’re adjusting or changing the space between a couple of characters.
On the other hand, when we adjust the spacing of all the letters in a word – all the characters have the same space. It’s the horizontal spacing or the width of a word.
You need to understand the difference between kerning and tracking.
Kerning is the selective spacing of letters – we don’t change the spacing of all the characters in the word, just the ones that need to be adjusted.
However, with tracking, we change the spacing of all the characters in a word and make the spacing the same between every letter.
Tracking may even be done for a content block instead of only a few words. It can help to reduce the space by shortening the lines of the content.
In contrast, kerning helps make the text more readable and prevents the letters from sticking together and creating a new letter.
Types of Kerning
There are mainly three types of kerning.
1. Optical Kerning
It’s referred to when the space between consecutive characters is adjusted about their specific shapes.
In other words, you change the kerning between characters based on what works and looks great with the overall text or design.
For example, it works well with headlines, where you may need to use tight kern to reduce space and improve the presentation.
You can use your eyes and go with that, or you can use an algorithm to determine the best spacing between characters, but most designers prefer to use their eyes.
Moreover, A few design software allow you the option of setting optical kerning as default in place of metrics kern – it’s the default option in them.
2. Metrics Kerning
When we consider a pair, that is metrics kerning. Most platforms use it by default for pairs that are likely to need kern, such as Tr, LA, Ya, etc.
Moreover, most Kern pairs are provided with a lot of fonts.
What are kern pairs?
Kern pairs have the information about the space between particular pairs – the way the designer wanted the text or letter to look like -, for example, Ty, WA, VA, Tr, etc.
This info helps the software platforms like Adobe to use Metrics kern by default when you type something.
To further explore the difference between optical and metrics kerning, we recommend this video by Typography.Guru:
3. Manual Kerning
As the name suggests, manual kerning is when you kern the text based on the requirements of your project.
For example, for a blog post with headings and body text, the kerning will be different than a logo design or a street sign.
However, it requires more time and effort than both Metrics and optical kerning since you will have to enter every detail and adjust everything to your liking.
It’s an excellent Kern to use if you can’t find the Kern settings you want for your project in the design software you’re using. But, you need to know how to kern manually.
You have to choose the correct font for your work and keep your eyes on the individual spacing between characters. It will help you spot loose or abnormal kern in the content.
Examples of Kerning
Have you ever seen a sign or a shop name letter plate where one letter seems slightly apart or far from the adjacent letter? It’s an example of a lousy kern, and it makes the sign look weird.
PANCAKE – Look at this word. Here, the A seems slightly apart from P. This part needs to be kerned, or your design will look unprofessional.
For example, consider this letter, rn. It looks like m, but it’s r and n in a condensed kern. It can happen when you use overuse tight kern.
Moreover, with close spacing, a click can become a click. You can change a default or a bad kern to a great kern by adjusting the required space for each pair.
For some, it will be more, while for others, it can be less.
- Design Software
- Text Editing Tools
- Kerning Controls
- Visual Reference
- Critical Eye
- Select the Text: Choose the specific text or letter pairs that require kerning adjustments. This could be a word, a phrase, or a block of text.
- Access Kerning Controls: Open your preferred design software or text editing tool and locate the kerning controls. These controls are often found in the character or typography panel.
- Identify Problematic Letter Pairs: Examine the text and identify any visually unbalanced or awkward letter pairs. Look for combinations where the spacing appears too tight or too loose.
- Adjust Kerning: Using the kerning controls, manually adjust the spacing between the problematic letter pairs. Increase the spacing if the letters appear too tight, or decrease the spacing if they appear too loose. Make incremental adjustments until the spacing looks visually pleasing.
- Review and Refine: Step back and review the overall text to assess the impact of your kerning adjustments. Check for consistency throughout the text, ensuring that letter spacing is visually balanced and consistent across different parts of the design. Refine the kerning as needed until you achieve visually harmonious and well-spaced typography.
Kerning is important for any piece of content or design for street signs, social media, etc. so you need to take care of the spacing between letters.
A good kern can do wonders for your design but you don’t need to do manual kern every time.
In most cases, metrics and optical kerning work great but be sure to use a keen eye to spot any discrepancies in the test after completing your project.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens to text when you apply kerning?
When you apply kerning to text, the spacing between individual letters is adjusted. Kerning can either increase or decrease the space between letters, creating a more visually pleasing and balanced arrangement of text that enhances readability and improves the overall aesthetics of the typography.
What is the kerning problem?
The kerning problem refers to issues or inconsistencies in the spacing between letters in a typography design. It occurs when the spacing between certain letter pairs is too tight or too loose, resulting in visual imbalances, awkward gaps, or crowded areas within the text, negatively affecting readability and aesthetics.
What is kerning vs tracking?
Kerning and tracking are both typographic adjustments related to spacing, but they have different purposes. Kerning refers to the adjustment of space between individual letter pairs to achieve visual balance, while tracking refers to the adjustment of overall letter spacing uniformly throughout a block of text for improved readability and text density.
Nate Torres is an entrepreneur, growth marketer, and photographer and writes mostly on those topics. Nate runs his own professional photography business and photography blog called Nate Torres Photography. Nate enjoys learning about new digital marketing strategy and new ways to think creatively. He is also a photography speaker and author on Photofocus.