When Good Fonts Go Bad

Posted by Scott on 27 September 2011 | Comments

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I don't know if it's due to the 'I want it now' world we live in or if it's just been forgotten, but letter spacing is not getting the user intervention it needs every now and then. As a signwriter by trade I notice when kerning has turned a bit to custard. Auto font kerning works really well most of the time, but looking at some of the print and signage about, some letter pairs have slipped through the goal posts. I've thrown together some shots of scenarios that cover kerning and tracking at a basic level.

First of all it's handy to know that kerning is adjusting the space between two letters and should be set visually so the white space between them looks even. Tracking is controlling how close or spaced apart all letters are collectively, and it is performed in an even fashion.


This sample below is a double no. First error is the kerning on the Wordsworth and the second is the font for plumbers. The space between the w and o is so large that it should be W Ordsworth. When this happens the operator should fix the spacing manually so it reads as one word. The second fortunately doesn't happen with trained graphic designers often, but it's a fact that some fonts are not designed for all capitals use. The corrected version has the W o kerning fixed, a bit negative tracking and the script font below is changed to caps and lower case. It's heaps easier to read.


This next example is not the most attractive font, but the tracking is exactly as it came out once typed. Visually, a few combinations of letters here don't look even, the worst being the W and o. The corrected version below only has kerning adjusted.


Last example is a look at tracking. When a sentence is typed in a design application it is set with a default tracking of 0. Personally I like to see a bit of negative tracking, depending on the font. The lines below are all at different levels of negative tracking from the top at 0 folowed by -15, through to -75 at the bottom. There is no manual kerning in this example.