THE WRITINGS of TOM DAVIE

01

AN EXPLANATION of KERNING

KERNING DEFINED

The Designer’s Lexicon defines kerning as the adjustment of the space between adjacent type characters to optimize their appearance. Kerning should not be confused with tracking, which is the adjustment of space over a number of adjacent characters.

KERNING LOCATION IN ADOBE CREATIVE SUITE

To utilize kerning in Creative Suite software, you must first know where to look. The kerning control is located in the Character panel of InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop. The Character panel can be found in the following locations:

ADOBE ILLUSTRATOR

In Illustrator, kerning can be found by clicking the Window menu, then locating Type from the dropdown options, and selecting Character from the Type sub-menu. In short: Window » Type » Character. You can also use the keyboard shortcut for the Character panel, which is ⌘ + T for Mac, and Crtl + T for PC.

Adobe Illustrator Character panel. The kerning function is highlighted in pink.

ADOBE PHOTOSHOP

In Photoshop, kerning can be found by clicking the Window menu and selecting Character from the dropdown options. In short: Window » Character. There is no default keyboard shortcut for the Character panel in Photoshop.

Adobe Photoshop Character panel. The kerning function is highlighted in pink.

ADOBE INDESIGN

In InDesign, kerning can be found by clicking the Window menu, then locating Type & Tables from the dropdown options, and selecting Character from the Type & Tables sub-menu. In short: Window » Type & Tables » Character. You can also use the keyboard shortcut for the Character panel, which is ⌘ + T for Mac, and Crtl + T for PC.

Adobe InDesign. Kerning control location within the Character palette.

KERNING SETTINGS IN ADOBE CREATIVE SUITE

There are four primary options when it comes to kerning text. Three are software-based settings found in the kerning dropdown menu: 0, Metrics (Auto) and Optical. The fourth is Manual kerning, which is implemented by the designer and used in addition to, or to supersede the software settings. Metrics (Auto) is the default kerning setting for Creative Suite software, keep in mind however, it is not always the correct kerning choice. Each typographic decision is unique, so each of the following kerning options should be explored to determine the best solution. Almost any kerning setting will require additional manual kerning by the designer.

0:

Choosing “0” will override any kerning settings or pairs that were built-in to the font by the typographer or type foundry. This option allows a designer to reset kerning to none. In the historical sense, the 0 setting is similar to using metal type, in that there is no overlapping of character information—each character occupies its own space. This option is used primarily by designers who intend to kern manually, and is not recommended as a stand alone kerning solution.

0 kerning setting

METRICS (AUTO)

The default Creative Suite kerning setting. Metrics (sometimes known as Auto) will incorporate built-in kern-pairs as determined by the typographer or type foundry. Certain letter pairs cause spacing problems that, if left unkerned, can appear as if there are additional or awkward spaces, or may create an uneven visual flow. Example kern-pairs include: Ty, Wa, VA, Yo, LA.

Metrics (Auto) kerning setting

OPTICAL

The Optical setting adjusts kerning based on the shapes of adjacent letters. This is an excellent option if using multiple type sizes or typefaces.

Optical kerning setting

COMPARING THE THREE

This graphic shows an overlay of the three software-based kerning settings. o is in gray, Metrics (Auto) in pink and Optical in green. The brown color is the result of overlapping similarities in the settings.

Kerning settings overlaid

MANUAL KERNING

Manual kerning is where the designer adjusts independently, or in addition to the 0, Metrics or Optical settings. Manual kerning is achieved by placing the text tool cursor between two adjacent characters, and either using the Character panel controls or the kerning keyboard command.

MANUAL KERNING BY CHARACTER PANEL

To manually kern using the Character panel, there are two options. Highlight the kerning control window and type in a kerning unit or use the arrows directly to the left of the control window (not an option in Photoshop). The Up arrow will increase kerning (space will be added to adjacent characters) the Down arrow will decrease kerning (space will be removed from adjacent characters). Kerning units are measured in /1000 of an em. Again, for this to work, the text tool cursor must be active and between two adjacent characters.

Manual kerning controls

MANUAL KERNING BY KEYBOARD (MAC)

Option + Right Arrow (space will be added to adjacent characters)
Option + Left Arrow (space will be removed from adjacent characters)

MANUAL KERNING BY KEYBOARD (PC)

Alt + Right Arrow (space will be added to adjacent characters)
Alt + Left Arrow (space will be removed from adjacent characters)

ADVANCED KEYBOARD KERNING TIP

To have the ultimate control over keyboard kerning in Illustrator and InDesign, users can modify the amount of space the keyboard applies. First, click the Creative Suite software name (ie Illustrator) in the menu bar, and select Preferences. Within Preferences, locate Type (Illustrator) and Units & Increments (InDesign) to modify the keyboard control. By changing the Tracking (Illustrator) and Kerning/Tracking (InDesign) increments, the user can control the amount of space the keyboard will add or subtract each time the kerning keyboard command is used. I prefer tight control, and keep my settings in the 2/1000 to 4/1000 range, however in the case of large display text, I may increase the setting to 10/1000 or 20/1000.

Illustrator Preferences panel with kerning keyboard increments highlighted. InDesign Preferences panel with kerning keyboard increments highlighted.

COMMON KERNING SITUATIONS

If using the Metrics (Auto) kerning setting, there a few common instances where additional manual kerning is almost always required. I have included a few visual examples.

NUMERALS

In addition to adjacent letters, you may also find it necessary to kern between numerals as well. When it comes to even spacing, the numeral 1 is often times the worst offender and will often need to be kerned. Depending on the typeface, 4 and 7 can cause spacing issues as well.

Example of default numeral spacing (auto kern setting)

QUOTATION MARKS

The opening quote may be set too far to the left of the first adjacent letter, or the closing quote may be too far to the right of the last adjacent letter. The closing quote may need to be brought in significantly, especially if it occurs after a period at the end of a sentence.

Example of default period and closing quotation spacing (auto kern setting)

OTHER PUNCTUATION

When using punctuation, it is typical to need to kern the spaces before and after to ensure the left and right spacing is even. This is important to consider when dealing with website addresses like studiotwentysix2.com, and dates such as 1917 – 1934.

Example of default period spacing (auto kern setting) Example of default forward slash spacing (auto kern setting)

WHEN TO MANUALLY KERN

01. Any title, headline, pull-quote or sub-head
02. Any type larger than body text (14pt. and up)
03. Any non-traditional typefaces, regardless of point size
04. Any problem punctuation or numerals as listed above, regardless of point size
05. Any situation where a word, or small group of words are isolated or a focal point, regardless of point size
06. When common sense dictates, disregard any (or all) of the above suggestions

DON’T GO OVERBOARD

Kerning is an art that requires practice, it is not an absolute science. Kerning requires careful consideration and resraint. Final judgements for print design should not be made on the computer screen, decisions to kern should be based off of laserjet prints at 100% actual size. In the case of web design, kerning can be assisted with the use of kern.js.

KERNING: DESIGN BOOK REFERENCES

THE ELEMENTS OF TYPOGRAPHIC STYLE

Kern consistently and modestly or not at all. Author: Robert Bringhurst

A TYPE PRIMER

Originally, the term ‘kern’ described the portion of a letterform that extended beyond the body of the type slug…Today, the term ‘kerning’ describes the automatic adjustment of space between letters as prescribed by a table embedded within the digital font. Author: John Kane

STOP STEALING SHEEP AND FIND OUT HOW TYPE WORKS

Once you look into the relationship of two or more characters in a word, you realize what a mess it can be – not unlike other relationships. One of the most often-spoken words in desktop typography makes its appearance at this point: kerning. To get rid of these gaps, one simply removes space (or maybe adds it) between the offending pair of letters. Authors: Erik Spiekermann & E.M Ginger

AND FINALLY, MOVIE POSTER TITLES I WANT TO KERN :)

Direct Impact Singles Silent Hill

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