I know what you are thinking, what is kerning and why would you want your students to play a kerning game? CPBN Art Director Todd Gray says he kerns so much, he considers kerning part of designing. An interview and examples from Todd later, but first, what is kerning?
Here is a definition. Kerning is the adjusting of the space between the letters of a word, to make the letters more readable. Kerning is necessary because the letters in many fonts don’t natively appear on the screen perfectly aligned with each other.
In advertising bad kerning can often be humorous. In the following example, what is the name of the breakfast cereal?
How this could have been corrected to be more clearly BREAKFAST BLITZ? Todd Gray suggests changing the value of the colors of the “L” and the “I”, making them ten percent lighter, which often is all you need to do.
This is a sentence with acceptable kerning.
This is a sentence with questionable k e r n i n g
The standard and deliberately incorrect kerning adjustments were done in Microsoft Word.
To learn how to kern characters in Microsoft Word for the Macintosh, go here.
The controls in Microsoft Word force you to affect the relationship of one letter to another. More effective and precise kerning controls are offered in Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, as both offer precise inter-character spacing.
Todd Gray started with the font Joseph Pro from dafont.com to build new cptv and wnpr logos. He said the wnpr logo mark is a good example of kerning because, “The relationship of the letters needed adjusting along with a resizing of the “w.”
Here is the final wnpr logo mark and wnpr as it was spelled out in the ”Joseph” font:
Q: What were your challenges?
“The problem was I didn’t like the way the “w” was and I liked the width of everything else. The designer just butted two v’s together to make the “w” and it was so wide that it didn’t fit the proportion to the letter. So what I ended up doing is going into Illustrator and literally condensed the letters, then I had to put the stroke back in to make the thickness right.”
Here is the final cptv logo mark and cptv as it was spelled out in the ”Joseph” font:
“The only time you will ever see these logo marks are in our ID’s, wnpr, cptv, or cptv sports. It is never in copy, it’s never a headline, it’s just our logo
Q: Do some fonts kern better than others?
“Some fonts kern automatically better than others, it depends on your font, Arial kerns pretty decently on its own, you can adjust it to be a style, Bank Gothic is another example, it kerns really well and it loves to be really wide, like California kerning, really spaced out letters and it reads and works well because it is almost a horizontal character.
Helvetica also automatically kerns because it was professionally designed.”
“All the fonts that were designed before computers kern naturally better because they had to be hand done and this was considered as the font was being developed.”
Q: Which letters usually need kerning?
“It’s usually around the O’s, U’s sometimes S’s and sometimes double letters, double T’s, have to be tightened up or you can replace the letters with a ligature.”
Q: What is a ligature?
“Ligatures are an extended piece, already pre-produced “ff” and “tt” so you can go in and replace it, without you having to go in there and kern. For example, you might have four or five versions of “y’s”. Read more about typographic ligatures here.
Todd Grays’s kerning trick? Squint!
“It is an old designer’s thing, when you squint at it [the word], you start to see the spaces instead of the letters.”
Q: Where is kerning critical?
“Where kerning really is going to matter is when you set text on a path. You always have to adjust it, because the letters start to pull apart oddly anyway, because they are following a path, so if you do not kern it, the letters will look even more egregiously out of whack. Understanding the relationship is really art.”
To see what Todd Gray sees will take skill, training and time. Start your and your students training now with Kern Type.
What you can instantly accomplish is to try your best and see how the crowd has already kerned the letters. As stated by Kern Type, your mission is simple: achieve pleasant and readable text by distributing the space between letters.
Warning, the game is curiously addictive!
Read more about kerning, including the derivation of the term “kerning” here.
This post appears in a media resource blog written by Paul Pfeffer, Director of Education. Visit Get Smarter Quicker for more media tips.