Chapter: Micro-Typography


name of your book, your name University of Kansas, 2023

Add to the beginning or end of the book.
Designed by Your Name. Class project for Typographic Systems at the University of Kansas, 2023. The text was compiled from the following sources: Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst, Getting it Right with Type: the Do's and Don'ts of Typography by Victoria Square, Mac is Not A Typewriter by Robin Williams. This book is not to be sold to the public and to only be used by the designer for their reference and student design portfolio.

All the content below must be in your workbook. However you can organize it in any way you want. Each section can be a chapter or you can organize the content into groups and those become chapters.


01 rules check sheet
02 glossary of typographic rules

03 special characters
04 column width and hyphenation
05 hyphens and dashes  
06 quotes and apostrophes
07 kerning

08 figures and tabular tables
09 justification, letterspacing, word spacing
10 paragraph breaks

11 anatomy of type
12 typographic color
13 font classifications

14 glossary of terms (optional)

07. Kerning

=︎︎︎what can you call out...

Kerning is an adjustment of the space between two letters. Novice typographers mistakenly talk about kerning when they actually mean tracking (or “letter-spacing”). Spending just a couple more minutes kerning your type should be second nature for any professional designer.

The characters of the Latin alphabet emerged over time; they were never designed with mechanical or automated spacing in mind. Thus some letter combinations look awkward without special spacing considerations. Gaps occur, for example, around letters whose forms angle outward or frame an open space (A, T, V, W, Y). In metal type, a kerned letter extends past the lead slug that supports it, allowing two letters to fit more closely together. In digital fonts, the space between letter pairs is controlled by a kerning table created by the type designer, which specifies spaces between problematic letter combinations. Working in a page layout program, a designer can choose to use metric kerning or optical kerning as well as adjusting the space between letters manually where desired. A well-designed typeface requires little or no additional kerning, especially at text sizes.

Keyboard Shortcut: Click between the two letters, hold down the option or alt key and use the right and left arrow keys to adjust the kerning.

︎︎︎Show off these common kerning pairs Ay, Aw, Av, AT, LY, Po, Tr, To, Tw, Ty, Va, Vo, Wa, Wo, Wy.

︎︎︎Example (pick one or 2 words and show them kerned and unkerned)
Type Away Wander Vote Aventure

1. Take care of leading and tracking before kerning
Tracking is the overall spacing between groups of letters. Leading is the vertical spacing between lines of type. It’s important to make the desired adjustments to your leading and tracking first, because doing that after kerning can undo the balance in the kerning adjustments you’ve already made.

2. Don’t let your font software kern for you
When it comes to headlines and logotypes, you need to kern the letters yourself rather than relying on the default spacing provided for you in the font software. Each typeface will have different spatial relationships for its letters, so you’ll have to adjust the kerning differently for each one. Graphics programs come with auto-kerning tools like the default Metric kerning and Optical kerning, which adjust the spacing between letters based on their shapes. However, kerning manually will give you more control.

Metric Kerning
Metric Kerning uses the kerning tables that are built into the typeface. When you select metric kerning in your page layout program, you are using the spacing that was intended by the type designer. Metric kerning usually looks good, especially at small sizes. Cheap novelty fonts often have little or no built-in kerning and will need to be optically kerned.

Optical Kerning
Optical Kerning is executed automatically by the page layout program. Rather than using the pairs addressed in the font's kerning table, optical kerning assesses the shapes of all characters and adjusts the spacing wherever needed. Some graphic designers apply optical kerning to headlines and metric kerning to text. You can make this process efficient and consistent by setting kerning as part of your character styles.

3. Create equal perceived space between letters
Kerning isn’t a mathematically equal amount of space, it’s a perceived equal amount of space between letters according to the human eye. Once common kerning technique is to visualize and sand filling the spaces between the letters, and trying to make the volumes of sand equal. When you’re kerning, make sure not to zoom in too much on your type, or the spacing will appear deceptively larger than the true final result.

4. Understand spatial relationships between different letters

All letters are a combination of straight, round and diagonal edges, so understanding their basic relationships is a helpful starting off point. One way to gauge the proper kerning for letters is to see the distance between 2 straight letters as 1 unit, the distance between straight and round letters as slightly less than 1 unit, and the distance between two round letters as even more slightly less than 1 unit.

Diagonal-sided letters like A, V and Y, are the most challenging letters to kern because of the larger negative space they create. These require special attention, but should not be used as a guide for the spacing of the entire word.

5. Kern your type upside down
Doing this helps you see your type as a group of equally spaced shapes without being distracted by the meaning of the words.

6. Kern in groups of three

Try doing this by starting with the first three letters of a word, and block the rest of the letters with your hand or a piece of paper. Once you’ve adjusted the spacing between the first three letters, shift your gaze over by one letter until you’ve reached the end of the word.

7. Don’t forget that less is more
It’s better to kern too little than over-kern your type. Type that is too tightly spaced is unattractive and difficult to read.

8. Watch out for challenging letter combinations

Letters like the uppercase W, Y, V, T, L, and P, the lower case y and k are some of trickier letters to kern. So are upper and lower case letters that sit next to each other. To fix these spacing problems, try kerning those difficult letters first and then kern the rest of the letters.