Do you know the difference between kerning and tracking? They are two terms that are often confused.
Kerning is art of adjusting the space between two letters in a word. If letters are two close together, it’s hard to distinguish the two. If letters are two far away from each other, they stand on their own and are hard to read.
Below is an example I like to cite when talking about the importance of kerning. In this Romney logo, the R is too far away from the O which makes it read as “Omney.” I would also argue that the R is trying to do double duty by both being a letterform and a mark. That just doesn’t work in most instances, but it illustrates how a little bit of kerning goes a long way.
Tracking is adjusting the space equally between a group of letters in a word or a group of words in a line of text.
I adjust tracking often when I’m working on the layout of paragraphs to help tighten up a paragraph and move up a word to prevent an ugly rag, widow or orphan. A rule of thumb I follow is to go no more than plus or minus 25 in InDesign. (The same rule of thumb applies to Photoshop and Illustrator, but as I mentioned in a previous post, you should be using InDesign if you’re laying out blocks of type.)
Below is an example of how I change the tracking of lines to help bring up—or move down—lines of copy. You can see in the first example of how the last line in the paragraph is awkwardly positioned below the headshot.
So, I adjusted the tracking on the lines to bring up the last line.
When I’m laying out text, I also look for awkward line breaks or ugly rag and adjust the tracking to remedy them. For example, in the paragraph below, when I first imported the text, you can see that some of the names—“George Bush,” “Dalai Lama,” and “Mikhail Gorbachev”—get separated. Also, the word “and” sticks out all by itself.
So I adjusted the tracking to bring the names together and tighten up the rag. It just reads and flows better for the audience.
See how much better the second version is?
A lot of designers find formatting text and adjusting tracking tedious, but I find it oddly satisfying. I really don’t mind formatting huge reports, which most rational designers would think is crazy. But I’ve never been accused of being normal. =)
That’s the low down on kerning and tracking. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me! I’d love to help!
tips and tricks • kerning and tracking • pomp creative • graphic design studio • washington, dc • annapolis, maryland