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Posted on May 2, 2014. Filed under Tutorials, Type Design, Typography.
10 Tips On Kerning And Metrics
Author: Fábio Duarte Martins

This is a brief collection of quick tips on kerning and metrics, as the title may have suggested, that I find valuable.

Although this is intended for Type Design, this article should be valuable for DTP software kerning or Logo Design. Or anything that has to do with letters.

And if you’re wondering what’s the font in the image above, here it is.

All set? Let’s go!

1. Proper Spacing Means Less Kerning

This should be a no-brainer. If your font looks good overall, you’ll have to kern less.

So, try to keep your metrics as consistent as you can, well overshot and only go for kerning when you feel that there’s no other way to space it better. I usually space the letters as I am drawing them, to see if I have a good flow and I might solve some spacing problems in the letter form itself.

2. Classes

Use kerning classes. There.

In case you are wondering why, it’s just way easier to grab a bunch of glyphs of the same group (for example a and all it’s diacritic marks), assigning them to the same kerning class and then kerning them than doing it pair-by-pair. Even if you have to deal with some collisions, it’s a lot less work.

3. Kern First, Ligatures Afterwards

As much as kerning is tedious and I love to push it to the end of the production, it’s not a bad idea to do the ligatures after you’ve already kerned at least the alphabet: in that way, you avoid having to correct bad spacing to your ligatures, saving you some time and some eyeballing doubts.

4. Mirroring

Mirror, mirror, mirror. Horizontal and vertically. At the same time and with just one axis mirrored.

The goal here is to step yourself away from text as more as you can, and trying to see “pure” forms. It lets you approach the design as an abstract composition, making it easier to balance your spacing.

And this is not just for kerning and spacing: it helps you to get a good flow in your design and it’s easier to perceive not-so-obvious design flaws.

Also, I’ve recently found that I can read fluently upside down or when the text is mirrored: it’s like having a super-power!

5. Straight Neighbours, Round Neighbours

Before going for text-string kerning (I use Just Another Foundy‘s Test Text Generator, by the way), I start doing kerning with straight and round neighbours (and/or a mix of both) in both sides of the pair I’m working on.

For example, if I’m kerning A/V, I’ll have something like HHAVHH OOAVOO HOHAVHOH. And I just noticed that the font I’m using here is not properly kerned. See? It works.

6. Pay Attention To The Space Width

This one is often neglected.

Most of the times, if you space your sidebearings right while your drawing, usually you don’t have to kern the space glyph at all. So, you have three options:

  1. Set your space width and do your metrics accordingly;
  2. Do your metrics and set the space width accordingly;
  3. Ping-pong between the two.

In my opinion, go for option number 3.

Metrics and kerning deal with the space between letters – and that includes the space between words.

7. Blur your eyes

This one is related to §4, the goal is the same than in mirroring.

8. Keep Rhythm Consistent

While kerning, try to keep equal perceived space between the letters. Not mathematical.

All letterforms are different (I like to state the obvious), no there’s no equal solution to every single pair. Even if we think that we shouldn’t kern n/h, I believe that we should check it out anyways. In this example, the top right curve of the n can be creating too much white space, for instance. And it only takes a second.

9. Don’t Forget The Left Side, Jedi

One common thing to forget is to pair lowercase on the left with the uppercase on the right.

While this should be going without saying, when you’re kerning hundreds or thousands of pairs, you can easily forget this. Your end user might want to use your font to write something like YoU’rE sO fLuFfY and you’ve might have just lost a client for not having those pairs kerned. Or saved the world. Who knows!

Anyway, lowercase/uppercase pairs are not uncommon at all, specially in logo design. So keep this one in your to-do list.

10. Trust The Eye

Well, this is the most valuable advice on type and graphic design. It’s very usual to be insecure and trying to find some über-rational process, way or calculus to make you feel that your choices are the best, but hey: type is for the eye, not for the computer.

If what you see feels good, then it’s good. If it doesn’t, then it’s not. It’s that simple. You’ve looked at type your whole life, even before you could read, so just assume that your subconscious is a very well trained machine for eyeballing these things. And the more you try, the better you become at it.

And trust me about this: I’m a optimization geek. I spend a lot of time trying to perfect the way I do things (as you might have noticed while reading my article on Bézier curves) and the better it looks, the less I’m concerned with geometry or space rationalization.

11. Final Thoughts

I wrote this because kerning is one of the things type savvy people complain the most about, but I think it’s not that hard. And yes, after some hours doing it, I also complain about it.

But it doesn’t take as much as you’d might believe it does, time-wise or knowledge-wise.

I hope this has been valuable for you, somehow!

And feel free to drop me a word! Cheers!

Illiad Sans