Here is another typesetting capability that cannot even be considered by word processors. We mentioned letterspacing earlier. Letterspacing is the built-in spacing between characters in a font. The basic idea is that the white space between letters should be identical for all letter pairs. Obviously, this is not simple or easy. AT, OOPS, and silly have very different spacing problems—especially the ill. The better the font, the better the letterspacing. In very cheap fonts, individual letters may be far to the left or right. I bought a font once where the lowercase r was always at least 9 points to the left.
Tracking is the official term used to replace letterspacing in digital typesetting now that we can move letters either closer together or farther apart. In reality, either term can be used and understood. The actual procedure for tracking simply inserts or removes an equal amount of space around every letter selected or affected.
Although tracking is used all the time by typographic novices, it is despicable to traditional professionals. Quality typefaces have the letterspacing carefully designed into the font. Changing the tracking for stylistic reasons or fashion changes the color of the type at the very least. A paragraph tracked tighter looks darker. At worst, it can make the type color of the page look splotchy. As you can see it ruined the word.
Tracking suffers from the vagaries of fashion. In the 1980s, it was very common to see extremely tight tracking in everything. I was guilty of it myself. May it never be among you. Tight tracking severely compromises readability by obscuring lettershapes.
Global tracking changes: If you are using a display font for your body copy, it will commonly be set too tight. In this case you may want to increase the tracking, globally, for the entire document. The same is true when using a text font for heads. Here you want to move the letters closer. These global changes work fine. The purists will squeal, but the readers will probably not notice.
Kerning is a different thing altogether. Here the problem is with letter pairs. There are thousands of different letter pairs. I guess the total would be around 100,000 pairs for a complex OpenType font with hundreds of characters. There is no way to set up the spacing around letters to cover all situations: AR is a very different situation than AV; To than Th; AT than AW.
Literally thousands of different kerned pairs are needed to make a well kerned font. Some kern together and some kern apart. Most of them can only be seen at the larger point sizes. Here again we see the difference between excellent and cheap fonts. Professional fonts have around 1,000 kerning pairs built into the font metrics—or more. Cheap fonts commonly have a couple dozen or none at all.
As mentioned, quality fonts have kerning designed into about a thousand letter pairs. In addition, all professional publishing programs allow you to adjust kerning for individual pairs. InDesign give you keyboard shortcuts (most often Option+Left Arrow and Option+Right Arrow). Adding the Command key multiples the amount moved.
InDesign offers Optical kerning which automatically checks the letterspacing and adjusts it for you. It does a remarkable job. Some years ago, I put a font up on MyFonts.com to sell that was unusable outside of InDesign. I had forgotten that I had purposely made uneven and bad letterspacing in the font used for headers in my first book on InDesign to show how well optical kerning worked. Then I used it in another application. Needless to say, I had to take it off the market until I fixed it.
We are always expected to check the kerning on all type larger than about 18-point: Yes, you really are required to hand kern all headlines if necessary. It’s the only way, in most cases. Unkerned type looks cheap and unprofessional. In body copy sizes, a quality font will cover the kerning necessities.
- Control your word spacing with tabs and fixed spaces (hackberry-fonts.com)
- Anathema! Double spaces and double returns (hackberry-fonts.com)