5 Crucial Tips to Help You Get Started with Kerning

5 Crucial Tips to Help You Get Started with Kerning

A graphic designer understands the importance of tweaking their designs; if just one element is slightly at odds with the rest then that design is gonna sink!

And that’s why we spend hours tinkering with our designs to make sure they’re harmonious little pieces with their heads bobbing way above the water.

One area that’s particularly important to pay attention to is the world of kerning, so I’m going to dish out some amazing advice on what it is and how to get started with it.

What is Kerning?

Now, whenever you display text there needs to be gaps in between the letters otherwise you’ll be left with nothing but some indistinct black shapes on top of each other.

And the technique employed to change the width of these gaps (or white spaces as they’re known in the trade) is kerning.

Why Do We Kern?

Graphic designers use kerning in order to make texts legible and decipherable. I mean, after all, nothing’s going to kill a logo project dead if people can’t make out what the logo says.

By ensuring that you correctly go through the kerning process you’re making a crucial contribution to your design’s ability to hook viewers in immediately.

Remember, people like immediate information and anything which makes the old noggin sore is going to fail to engage!

Now that you’re a little more familiar with kerning, let’s look at my top 5 tips to perfect your kerning!

  1. 1. Always Do the Kerning Yourself

Computer software has certainly revolutionised the world of graphic design, but software still fails to have a beating heart and a brain hungry for sensory information.

And that’s why I never trust the automatic kerning functions built into font software.

Sure, they’re default options for a reason, but every design you’re going to be working on will be unique. You can’t apply these defaults to every single one. Instead, make sure you kern your type manually so that it looks right to your eyes.

  1. 2. Get to Grips with Spatial Relationships

In kerning you have to understand that the construction of certain letters means that the white spaces required either side of them are going to vary wildly depending on their neighbours.

For example, two diagonal shaped letters such as ‘y’ and ‘v’ next to each other appear to be almost touching, but a ‘y’ and an ‘o’ are more naturally spaced and legible.

This means that different widths are required between different letter combinations. As a guide I would advise the following:

Between a round and straight letter – 1 unit distance

Between two straight letters – 0.90 unit distance

Between two round letters – 0.85 unit distance

Diagonal letters, of course, are very tricky, so you’ll need to experiment to discover the distance you find most effective. And this will be different for different typefaces e.g. bold so I can’t recommend a one distance fits all!

  1. 3. Stick to Your Chosen Typeface

I’m not going to lie: kerning can be a laborious task!

Many hours can be spent kerning and re-kerning to get that text just right to catch a reader’s eye and get instantly processed in their brain cavity.

Therefore, the last thing you want is to finish your kerning and then think “This typeface ain’t exactly right, is it? I should have gone for Arial!”

Because, yeah, changing the typeface isn’t too time consuming, but having to go back through and calibrate all the kerning is VERY frustrating!

  1. 4. Get a Better Perspective Upside Down

It’s always tempting, after kerning for an age, to think that you’ve kerned your text to perfection. But it’s wrong to assume that because you can read it that it’s actually perfect.

And the only way to address this is to flip that text upside down, so that it reads as complete and utter gibberish.

However, despite it looking like a foreign language, you’ll find that this new perspective allows your cognitive resources to concentrate solely on whether the white spaces are correct.

  1. 5. Practice Makes Perfect

All the advice I’ve dished out so far is a great start for getting on board with kerning, but the only way you’ll be come a pro at it is to practice.

You may have to go through a considerable amount of blood, sweat and tears, but eventually kerning will become an instinctual tool you can call on at any time.

And when your text flies off the page you’ll realise that it’s all been worth it!



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