The Beginner’s Guide to Kerning
Find out more about kerning, including what exactly kerning is and how you can apply kerning in your own design work.
What is Kerning?
Kerning is the process of increasing or decreasing the space between individual characters, adjusting the position of letters in relation to others. It’s commonly used on prominent pieces of text, such as headlines and logos. Note that tracking, on the other hand, is used to adjust the letter-spacing uniformly over a range of characters (read more about tracking).
Why Do Designers Use Kerning?
Although the process of tweaking kerning may be very subtle, it can have significant effects on the legibility and overall presentation of text.
Designers kern letters to improve the overall symmetry of a word or phrase, which the default tracking settings provided in the font file may not be able to achieve alone.
As well as having an instant beautifying effect on text, kerning can also have an effect on the readability of the text. When done well, words just read better.
However, a note of caution! There are many infamous examples on the web of kerning gone wrong, when poorly kerned letters have formed unintended or, in some cases, downright rude, words.
How Do I Apply Kerning?
In InDesign, you can adjust kerning from either the Controls panel running along the top of the workspace or the Character panel (Window > Type & Tables > Character).
Select the Type Tool (T), click your cursor to the left or right side of a letter, and increase or decrease the kerning (which is measured in thousandths of an em) by choosing from the default options (which jumps in sequences of 5’s, 10’s, 25’s and 100’s) or typing in a number.
Observe these top tips whenever you kern to keep your text looking as professional as possible.
- Certain letters require more kerning attention than others. Slanted letters like W, V, K and A tend to sit too far away from other letters when kept to their default spacing. Letters with arms or large serifs, such as T, L and K may suffer from the opposite problem, tending to sit too close to other letters, creating an overcrowded effect. So make sure to comb your designs for these problem letters.
- Flipping your text upside down (or click on a page in the Pages panel, and Right-Click > Page Attributes > Rotate Spread View > 180°) before you kern is an age-old tip beloved of typographers. This allows you to asses the spacing between letters on a purely visual level, without being distracted by the meaning of the word. It’s an eccentric tip that works surprisingly well.