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What is kerning, and how can I use it in my designs?

Design is full of detailed concepts that are more important than their apparent simplicity would suggest. Kerning is an example of such concepts.

Kerning can be a powerful tool for influencing communication and aesthetics through type. It is a tool which if used well won’t be noticed by an average reader.

What is kerning?

The spacing between individual alphabets or characters is known as kerning. Kerning focuses on how type looks and creates readable text which is visually pleasing. 

Font designers usually build spaces around each alphabet and sometimes even between commonly used pairs of letters. 

But these spaces aren’t suitable for all situations, especially if you are using the font in a way which the designer never imagined.

That is when kerning comes in. Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, no two kerning jobs will ever be the same.

Logos are a classic example where the automatic kerning of font might not be enough. Designing a sophisticated logo demands that you use kerning in multiple ways.

Kerning is an extraordinarily subjective art form. A designer has to look at the space between each letter in a word and decide if space is appropriate or not. 

This makes kerning standards to be highly personalized. 

You must make sure that you aren’t confusing kerning with tracking or leading as these are different concepts

Ways to play around with kerning

The lack of set rules for kerning can be used by a designer to his advantage, especially when working on more creative applications such as editorial work or logo designing. 

Kerning becomes a way to influence the tone and look of your design in such mediums. 

By altering the kerning, you can see how the letterforms interact. This can help you in creating fun shapes and inserting energy into your design.

Some kerning tips

Kerning might be highly subjective, but the following tips can help in improving your skill. 

  1. Break it down into pieces

A great way to hone your eye is to work with just two letters at a time. You can easily spot where adjustments are needed by isolating kerning pairs. 

  1. Get some feedback

Spotting your own mistakes can be hard, especially if you are just a beginner. Getting feedback from someone more experienced can be a great help. 

  1. Print it out

Getting a print out of your work is another way to get a fresh perspective. Try to get print out in varying sizes which can help you identify where kerning adjustments might be needed. 

  1. Identify common troublemakers

Certain letter combinations typically need adjustments. Uppercase letters followed by lowercase letters are also potentially problematic kerning pairs. 

  1. Keep Practicing

You should keep practicing with kerning and improve yourself by getting constant feedback from a mentor. Start off by learning basics and work your way up to more advanced kerning techniques.

Exposure and practice are essential for fine-tuning your kerning expertise. Now that you have these tips and tricks in your arsenal, you are now ready to go out and explore the elegant art of kerning. 

Austin Terrill

Austin is the founder and CEO of Print Peppermint. He loves art, graphic design, printing, music, recording gear, synthesizers, and ice cream. He lives in Berlin with his wife and two children.