What is kerning?
In web typography, kerning is the process of adjusting the space between individual characters of a font. The term kerning is also used to describe the spacing itself. A “well kerned” font is one whose characters, when paired together, appear to display a harmonious blank space between them.
The purpose of kerning—on both print and digital format—is to ensure that typography is aesthetically pleasing and easy to read. This is important when it comes to improving the UI (user interface) of a website and the overall UX (user experience). A classic example of a poorly kerned typeface is if the “r” and “n” characters are too close together and mistakenly appear to read as “m.”
Kerning is an aspect graphic designers pay careful attention to when dealing with typography in their web design, especially when making a website, making a logo and creating printed or digital branding materials, such as business cards.
What is the difference between tracking and kerning?
Kerning and tracking are both processes that deal with spacing in typography. While kerning applies to the space between two individual letters, tracking (also known as letter-spacing) refers to the general space between letters in a selection of text.
Tracking values can be applied to entire words, sentences, paragraphs, web pages or documents, and it allows the creator to uniformly alter the space between letters. Designers will generally complete the tracking of text before adjusting the kerning, since any tracking values will override the kerning adjustments previously applied to the text.
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Types of kerning
There are three common types of kerning used when adjusting digital fonts on the web:
Metrics kerning is a way of adjusting the spacing between letters by using what are known as kern pairs. Kern pairs are specific pairs of letters that include bespoke spacing that are already built into the font. Kerning pairs include a default measurement, making metrics kerning best for when working on large bodies of text, since it is a more automatic and fluid way of applying kerning.
Optical kerning involves adjusting the space between two adjacent characters based on their shape. Since it’s a way of tightening a typeface design that’s more hands-on than the automatic process provided with metrics, it is generally used when there is a need for refined versions of a text. An example of this is a website heading that is larger and prominent to the visitor.
Manual kerning is when a typeface is kerned according to the specific needs of a project, giving the creator more control. It’s generally used when the right kerning settings are not already applied to a software. When applying manual kerning techniques, a designer will enter the dimensions of spacing between letters according to their own preference.
When should you use kerning?
Kerning is most commonly used in graphic design, web design and typesetting to refine the appearance of headlines, logos, and other display text. It's particularly important when working with custom fonts or dealing with typography challenges.
What is a kerning pair and how to spot it?
A kerning pair is a specific pair of characters that may require adjustment. Designers determine kerning pairs by visually assessing the text and identifying character combinations that appear too tight or too loose.
What are some common kerning issues to look out for?
Common kerning issues include awkward gaps in character pairs (e.g., "VA," "To," "AV"), uneven spacing in text and letter combinations that appear too tight or too loose.
Are there specific guidelines to follow when it comes to kerning?
Kerning is subjective and depends on the designer's eye and the specific font being used. However, it's generally about achieving visual balance and avoiding collisions or gaps between characters.