The Beginner’s Guide to Kerning like a Pro!7 min read

By 25 September 2020 October 8th, 2020 Business, Design
kerning tips for improving your typography

What is Kerning?

You might have often looked at some texts and felt something was just so wrong about how it looked – that was, perhaps, a lack of kerning. To elaborate on, Kerning is essentially the process of increasing or decreasing the space between individual characters, adjusting the position of letters in relation to others in the text.

Kerning Typography

Kerning is also often misunderstood for tracking, a process that essentially adjusts the letter-spacing of characters. However, here we are to avoid all such confusions to provide information that can help you kern like a pro!

What Is The Purpose Of Kerning In Design?

Kerning might not look like a big deal to an ordinary eye but anybody with a close eye for detailing and a designer’s view will understand what kerning can do to a text. Kerning brings is some sense of balance and legibility to the overall appeal of the text. Kerning is learned by designers to enhance the overall symmetry of a text which the default settings of a font file may not otherwise offer.

Kerning In Design

It is not just the aesthetics either. Kerning also tends to increase and improve the readability of the text. However, it also needs to be remembered, if the text is not kerned properly, it is always at high risk of looking rather unintended and off-putting.

Kerning Types


To save you the horror, here are some tips on how to kern font

1. Keep an eye for some letter combinations

Some letters, by default, due to their very design of particularly strong slants and extended pieces might not be a great choice to kern. Likewise, letters in capital typecase are also hard to kern in a neat, accurate and desired manner. Ideally, kerning is done by surrounding each letter in an invisible box, however, these letters will not even fill the boxes edge to edge. Hence, the best way out is to watch out for such letters. For example, slanted letters like A, K, V, W, Y, letters with arms or cross strokes like F, L, T, etc.

Kerning: eye for some letter combinations

2. Be aware of the relationship between letter shape and letter space

It is not only the uppercase letters and combination of slanted letters that make kerning tricky, you need to watch out for some lowercase letters too. Some lowercase letters are straight-edged and some are rounded, hence, these letters look a little off when paired with each other instead of being paired with similar letters.

Ideally, as per experts: two letters of the same straight edge will need the maximum space, while straight and round letters need lesser space and round letters need the least space between them. By placing letters at the right amount of space from each other, the overall appearance of the text can be made more neat, readable, arranged, uniform, and even. 

Kerning: beware of relationship between letter and shape

3. Understand point size

Whatever font size you set for your letters will greatly influence your kerning of the letters. Letters interact differently with each other at various point sizes, hence, if you set a headline at, let’s say, 36pt., and if, for some reason, you need to change it to 18pt., your kerning will likely not appear. Hence, go ahead with kerning of the font only once you are really sure of the size of your type. Also, if you are working on a logo or a symbol that appears in different sizes in different forms of prints, kern the logo or the symbol separately.

Kerning: understand point size

4. Do not be afraid to freely kern tightly spaced texts

Oftentimes, designers tend to overlook the fact that tightly spaced text can be hard to read at a small size. The very motive of kerning in the first place is to enhance the readability and presentation of the text. Hence, whenever you are unsure if you have under-kerned, feel free to kern the letter loosely to avoid the possibility of misinterpretation of the text.

Kern tightly spaced texts

5. Flip your text upside down

One of the most fool-proof ways of shifting focus when trying to spot more kerning requirements is to flip the text upside down.By doing so, your brain will no longer interpret the letters from its pre-fed memory and you will be able to see the shapes of the letters and the spaced in between without any distraction.

Kerning: Flip your text upside down

6. Kern only in the end

Kerning should be the last step in your typography and space-related design. This is also because, as mentioned, kerning should be undertaken only when you have finally zeroed down on your font and font size alike. Consider kerning to be the final dash of seasoning that goes into a dish and makes the dish look more presentable and polished as a whole.

Kern only in the end

7. Do not kern only because you know how to kern

In other words, kern only when absolutely necessary. This is because kerning is not required for all copy types. If your file has large blocks of letters, the letters will already have a lot of space in between them and sp, you will not need any kerning. Save kerning for visible typography like titles, banners, hero images with text, logos, etc.

It should also be known a lot of fonts will be pre-equipped with multiple built-in kern pairs. Such pre-kerned pairs take into account each typeface’s shape of letters and the overall construction, thereby eliminating the very need for manual kerning.

Kerning: multiple built-in kern pairs

8. Practice for perfection

Like any other design techniques, kerning needs to be practiced for perfection. Though kerning can be explained in blogs like this and you could also perhaps see some videos on how to kern, it still is a design concept that can be mastered only with practice. It is only when a designer actually starts kerning is when they understand how to get better at it. There also is a web game called KernType which can be used to assess your skills and receive feedback on your kerning skills. 

Kerning: practice for perfection

How to kern like a pro FAQ’s

1) What is the difference between tracking and kerning?

Tracking, also known as letter spacing, is a concept that works to the overall tightness or looseness of a text. Unlike kerning that focuses on pairs of letters; tracking consistently spaces out all the letters selected in your text. You might select a word, a sentence, or even a full paragraph.

2) What is the difference between leading and kerning?

Leading is the vertical space between the lines of text. Leading is a commonly used setting in word processing programs. However, you might not need to really kern multiple lines of the text in your design.

3) Can web designers kern?

Web designers can learn too! In the general opinion of the masses and as a general school of thought, kerning is supposed to be only for graphic and print designers. However, we are now in the 21st-century peeps! With the advent of the internet, it is also now possible for web designers and programmers to kern, too. Multiple tools like Kerning.js, allow you to manipulate your web typography’s kerning via CSS!

Finishing thoughts-

Though these tips will help you with your kerning endeavors, you need to know that a lot of programs might have different kerning settings to pick from. You might also come across various kerning settings like “metrics” or “optical” as against the manual kerning settings. Metrics settings use the in-built kerning setting that the typeface designer would have specified in the font file. Optical settings, on the other hand, discard the pre-fed settings and you can re-space, re-kern according to an algorithm.

Kerning like a pro- are you ready or are you READY?

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