DeCotes points to Nike as another example of intentional kerning. “If you look at the classic ‘Just Do It’ ads, you’ll notice the letters are kerned so tightly it’s obviously not the default font. But if they weren’t so tightly kerned together, it wouldn’t be as bold or impactful.”
The takeaway? Use the flexibility kerning offers to your advantage. Get creative and you could find new ways to control the look, feel or even the meaning of your type.
“Whether things are tightly kerned or they’re spaced out, airy and comfortable, you get different feelings, just like if you’re listening to a punk rock song, a jazz song or a piece of classical,” Presler explains.
A few more kerning tips.
While kerning is subjective, keep these tips from the pros in mind as you set out to improve your skills.
1. Break it down into pieces: Working with just two letters at a time is a great way to hone your eye. By isolating kerning pairs, you can more easily spot where adjustments need to be made.
2. Get outside input: It’s hard to spot your own mistakes, especially if you’re just starting out. “When you’re new to it, get eyes on it,” advises Escobar.
3. Distance yourself from the work: No matter how experienced you are, getting space from your work is crucial. “It’s a rabbit hole you can fall into, because you can get really into the minutiae of making sure everything is perfect,” says Presler. “Work on it, then step away for a little while.”
4. Print it out: Another way to get a fresh perspective is to print out your work. “Printing something out at varying sizes can really help you to understand where you might need to adjust kerning,” explains Presler.
5. Memorise common troublemakers: Certain letter combinations — like letter pairs with diagonal arms or legs such as the An or V — typically need adjusting. Capital letters followed by lowercase letters are also potentially problematic kerning pairs. “The first letter after a capital tends to need more adjustment, especially with a serif font,” designer Robin Casey says.
6. Practice: Kern Type, a kerning game for practising letterspacing, is great for getting instant feedback, while tutorials can dive into more advanced techniques in Illustrator or InDesign.
Practice and exposure are the key ingredients to fine-tuning your kerning expertise. Now that you have these tips and tricks in your back pocket, it’s time for you to put your kerning know-how into practice.