When designing a project for digital or print, there are a couple of important aspects in design which must be taken into consideration. These important aspects to remember in design are namely kerning and tracking, known to most people simply as letter spacing. So what do these terms mean? Do they really make such a big difference in design? And how do we tell them apart?
We will start by defining these two design terms. Kerning by definition simply means to adjust the spacing between a letter pairing. Throughout history, characters of the alphabet were never designed with any type of letter spacing in mind; therefore, some letter combinations would appear awkward without applying any type of spacing to them. Presently, a designer can accomplish this process through the use of various page layout programs such as, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Quark Express . In most page layout programs, a designer can choose to apply two types of kerning options, namely auto kerning or manual kerning.
Automatic kerning refers to the kerning applied automatically by a program, as opposed to no kerning at all or the kerning applied manually by the user. There are two types of automatic kerning, namely metric and optical.
The final kerning option is manual kerning. This is considered by many to be the preferred option for most designers and typographers. When kerning type manually, the designer’s eye is what determines the letter spacing between letter parings. This process can be very time-consuming and should only be used to kern large, display-style type.
While kerning refers to adjusting the spacing between letter pairs, tracking refers to the overall letter spacing in a selection of letters. This can be a word, a sentence, a paragraph, or an entire document. When applying tracking values, the spacing throughout the text will be equal.
As a rule, designers should adjust the tracking to a body of text before applying any kerning value. If you kern your text first and then apply your tracking values, you will negate the kerning values that were previously applied.
Now that we have discussed and defined the differences between kerning and tracking in design, the following are some things to remember when manipulating text’s kerning and tracking: