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Kerning Tips to Improve Your Typography

Mrignayni Pandey

Kerning Tips to Improve Your Typography

January 26, 2023
February 2, 2024
Mrignayni Pandey


Designers usually overlook kerning when a demanding deadline draws to a close, as it may seem unneeded or trivial. 

However, it may significantly improve the way projects that emphasize typography appear professional. And it’ll be especially crucial for large prominent text such as typographic logos or headlines.

This article dives deep into the purpose of kerning and outlines six tips to kern fonts properly. 

What is kerning in typography?

Adjusting the distance between two individual letters is known as kerning in typography. To understand why kerning is important, imagine that each letter is surrounded by a box. You’ve probably seen images of vintage metal or wooden type like this:

Image source: Adobe Stock

Even though most of us no longer utilize actual blocks of type, the digital typefaces we employ function similarly and have invisible boxes surrounding them. 

These boxes can occasionally place too much space between letter pairs and to give the impression of even spacing, the margins of the boxes must overlap. 

Typographers used to solve this issue by making notches in wooden blocks to enable the letters to fit closer together during the early days of printing presses. Now, the process is much simpler and requires a few clicks.

6 tips to kern fonts

Once you understand how it functions, kerning isn't that difficult. Although a large portion of kerning involves eyeballing the spacing and using your own judgment to determine what looks best, there are a few techniques you may employ to speed up the procedure:

Beware of specific letter pairings 

Some letters can be challenging to kern because of their shapes, especially if they have strong slants or prolonged components. The same goes for words typeset in full capital letters.

If we go back to the idea of each letter being included in an invisible box, the problematic letters won't fill the edges of the boxes, leaving those annoying gaps. Some of the troublemakers to watch out for include the following:

• Letters with a slant: A, K, V, W, and Y

• Letters with cross strokes or arms: F, L, and T

• W or V + A (in any order); T or F Plus a lowercase vowel are two letter combinations.

Image source: Canva Learning 

Recognize the connection between letter shape and spacing

Although we mostly concentrated on how pairing uppercase letters can be problematic in the preceding point, lowercase characters also have kerning issues. This is because letters with straight edges and rounded edges look different when paired with each other than when they’re paired with their kind. 

Ilene Strizver, a type designer, suggests using the following kerning typography guidelines: two straight letters require the greatest space, a straight and a round letter require slightly less space to seem similar, and two round letters require somewhat less space still. 

Visualizing this is helpful (check out the example below). Hopefully, you can see how the distance between characters gets less from left to right, as represented by the colored bars. However, when taken individually, the characters appear to be evenly spaced.

Image source: Canva Learning 

Take into account the point size of your text 

Your kerning will depend on the size of your typeface. For example, if you set a headline at 48 pt., kern it, and then later need to modify it to 24 pt., you’ll also have to change your kerning as letters often interact differently at varying point sizes.

So, it’s a good idea to kern once you’ve decided on the size of your type. Or, if you’re working on something like a logo that will be printed on different sizes on different mediums like a business card or a t-shirt, kern them individually. 

But keep in mind that while working with huge, noticeable letters, any kerning errors (or failing to kern at all) will be the most obvious.

Image source: Canva Learning 

Overkern your text instead of underkerning it 

Tightly packed text can be challenging to read, especially at small sizes. Another drawback of under-kerning is the possibility of letters getting too close together and touching, which occasionally results in the creation of an additional letter (or word!).

This clever poster exemplifies that potential: What occurs when the "r" and "n" in "kerning" are positioned too closely together? They change into a "m" and add a new phrase to your typographic dictionary:

Image source: iconspng

Therefore, as readability and legibility should be a top priority for typography in any design, it is advisable to kern letters slightly looser when in doubt to prevent viewers from becoming fatigued or creating any room for misunderstanding.

Know when you need to pay attention to kerning 

As we’ve already discussed a few times, huge, noticeable typography like headlines, titles, banners or hero images with text, logos, and the like benefit the most from kerning. On the other hand, large blocks of copy do not require kerning, especially not manually, because:

  • Kerning issues won't be noticeable at standard body copy sizes like 10, 11, or 12.
  • Many fonts, particularly premium fonts, include hundreds or even thousands of "kern pairs" by default. The majority of the time, these carefully kerned pairings will take into account a typeface's distinctive letter shapes and construction, and they will do away with the necessity for manual kerning, particularly when typesetting paragraphs of text.

Besides, it would take hours to go through a page of text and kern each pair of letters individually, and you don't have that much time. 

Do take the time to kern, but think carefully about which typographic elements will profit most from the extra care.

Kern text towards the end

You shouldn’t work on font kerning unless you’ve worked on typography and space, as kerning will look different for every font space. 

Before beginning to kern, make sure your font selections are complete because kerning will appear differently depending on the typeface you use

However, you should first ensure that your font selections are complete because kerning will appear differently depending on your typeface. 

You should also understand kerning vs tracking vs leading and the difference between these terms before you kern your text. 

  • Tracking: Tracking typography, also referred to as the spacing between letters, is a sort of spacing that affects how visually “loose” or “tight” your text appears.

    Tracking in typography applies uniform spacing to all the letters in a text selection rather than just one pair of letters like kerning; you can change a single word, a sentence, or entire paragraphs or pages at once. You should track any necessary elements of your design before kerning.
  • Leading: Kerning and leading are different in that leading is the space that exists vertically between text lines. Since it’s a widespread feature in word processing systems, you’ve undoubtedly used this setting before.

    While it’s unlikely that you’ll need to kern numerous lines of text, it’s still a good idea to be familiar with the different spacing options available to you to enhance your designs. Think of it as a design companion – incorporating online proofing tools ensures that you can fine-tune spacing with ease, resulting in polished and visually appealing designs that capture attention effectively.
Image source: Company Folders 

Wrapping up 

When a demanding deadline is approaching, designers frequently disregard kerning. However, even if the bulk of your customers are unaware of kerning, they will still detect that something is off in your design. 

These six kerning tips will help you create a professional and aesthetic design. 

Tip: You can use Artwork Flow’s free font finder and online spell checker to ensure that there are no spelling mistakes and the fonts are consistent throughout your creative.

About Artwork Flow:

Artwork Flow is a workflow automation software specifically designed for design and marketing teams. 

It helps simplify your creative process by enabling you to collaborate with your team from anywhere, secure your assets, and manage your project end-to-end 

To learn more about how it can help you, check out our case studies or contact us for a free demo. 

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