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Kerning Tip Head

Professional Typography Kerning Tips

What follows are a few tips for professional typographic kerning. These pointers represent just a few of the kerning-related typesetting tips that we have learned and applied over the years. As is the case with many other sections of KernProse, this list is not meant to be considered comprehensive or complete. In fact, in months to come I fully expect to add to it. And if you have any opinions, suggestions or additions, please feel free to e-mail me at . Better yet, comment on our new blog on typography:

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Screen Resolution

Don’t rely on screen appearance for making kerning adjustments.
Screen resolution is just not close enough to print resolution. If you must do kerning, work from printouts, both for original entry and as you polish. (Of course you know that polishing some kerns makes other off-spaced combos more obvious, so multiple run-throughs are virtually inevitable.)


Be aware of your tracking setting while you’re kerning.
Though it’s easier to adjust character relationships with tighter tracking set, once you open it back up, certain values may need to be readjusted. This is especially true for serif fonts, in which small features can more easily be seen in tight setting, but in looser tracking may almost disappear — thereby losing their effect on character relationships. Beware of altering a large number of combinations in any job. If that happens, chances are you should have adjusted tracking first. (Again, if you’re having to put minus 10 kerning between almost every character combo, you really should be using tracking at minus 10 before you do your individual character spacing.)

Word Spaces

Don’t forget that very important character: space.
It’s probably the most often forgotten kerning situation. For instance, check this address: I-80 & Young St., New York.
Such things aren't often fixed, but the period-space-cap Y combo cries for a hefty kern. Even the “w-space-cap Y-space-c” combo stands out unless kerning is done on both sides of the Y. This is a case where you wouldn’t want to do the kerning in Quark’s Kerning Tables (except for the Yo combo), because such spaces vary so much according to circumstance; they should be entered manually.

Font Differences

Kerning varies from font to font...
...but certain things apply to most of the standard faces: Lower-case alpha characters rarely need +/- values outside of the range of 2 to 7 (possible exceptions include ovo, eve, ava, awa, aya, eye, oyo, ewe, owo). So, if you have an “ne” kern of -12, chances are something’s wrong. All-caps will probably have more combinations requiring larger kerns, and cap/lc combos will vary even more (i.e., Ta, To, Te, Tw, Ty, Tu, Ya, Ye, Yo, Yu, Wa, We, Wo, Wy, Va, Ve, Vo, Vy, Vu, etc.). And of course, punctuation for the v, w, r, y and many cap characters, as well as numbers, may need extra amounts.

The Most Needed, Yet Most Ignored Kern

The kern that’s needed almost always, but very often missed:
The numeral 1 (one) with anything before or after it (eg, 312, or even a space). Obviously, more than one 1 needs even greater kerning (i.e., 11). Generally, however, it shouldn’t be kerned as tight as a lower-case “el-el” combo (ll). A few numbers frequently need plus-spacing: usually “00,” often “66” and “99” and combinations of 0, 6 and 9.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Kern by look, not by rote.
This may earn a “duh” response, but it needs to be said anyway: AT (-24) in Gill Sans Book doesn’t require the same kern as AT (-13) in Futura Book.

Type Ratio Considerations

Think about ratios.
When you perform any operation which requires you to reduce the size of your typeface, such as constructing fractions or creating TMs or SMs, consider bringing the reduced type up in weight. Reducing size reduces stroke width, and going a step bolder very often compensates so that weights equalize. It doesn't always work perfectly, but it's usually an improvement.

Tracking Considerations

Uneven tracking can throw a job…
…even after all your careful kerning. It’s okay to vary the tracking from line to line in order to balance line endings, though this should be done with as little variation as possible. But it really messes up aesthetics when tracking is varied in the same font and within the same line. This can happen without your noticing it if a line rewraps due to copy alts or altered layout specs. Unless you’re sure you’ve caught all such instances, the best procedure for handling this is to determine the optimum tracking and apply it to your text block overall, then go back and vary from it line by line, as necessary. Sounds like a lot of trouble but it’s professional, and it really doesn’t take that much time. The more you do it, the faster you get at it. Thankfully, we don’t saw metal apart anymore.

Details, Details

God is in the details…
…even bullets and legal marks (®, ©, etc.). Rules of typography forbid condensing or italicizing such characters, so do this only as a last resort, or if requested by a client or art director as a design feature.

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