Skip to main content

Custom Kerning

Lesson 9 from: Advanced Typography: Fine Tuning and Finessing

Ilene Strizver

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

9. Custom Kerning

Lesson Info

Custom Kerning

Now for a fund interactive aspect of what we've been doing all day and this is the section where we talk about custom current ing and custom current in headlines I've talked earlier about what current ing is I've talked about current ing and current pears and text faces and I've talked a little bit about cow tow a deal with this occurring settings in design one of the biggest challenges that designers faces very often headlines and larger type needs their curry its current ing to be tweaked a little bit and it requires a visual sensibility which is probably one of the most difficult things to acquire but even more difficulty to teach because again it's as I've made reference to learning instruments or learning a sport it's like I don't play golf it's like if I had to learn to play golf, you know and it might take me ten years to get decent and somebody's trying to teach me something in an hour how how much how can I get it? I mean it's not exactly that because that's about muscle memor...

y well, this is about visual visual memory okay visual understanding of what to look for. So the way that I've set up this section is a little bit different from the rest first I'm going to give you some basic principles of custom turning on and then I'm going to show you some examples artificial examples that I have said and then I've got numerous slides of rhea world examples some of them you'll see a full piece some of them are sort of cropped in of different things that that are happening mostly with the kern ing, but you might also see other things we've talked about if you see too much words spacing more happened to see something else you'd like to bring up that's fine, because basically you're going to be doing that part with my help I'm going to give you the information you need then I have these images arranged pretty much from not too good to pretty good and I'm going to teach you I'm not going to just let you flail I'm going to teach you what to look for I'm going to give you hints in some cases I'm going to tell you what I see um, I will tell you and then the idea is at the end you'll get a sense of what custom current it should be all about and and one of the reasons this is important aside from the obvious that it's that it's another big aspect of good of good typography is that in the world of professional designers, many people don't understand the principles of what you should be trying to achieve with current ing and with custom current ng so you see actually see ah lot of uses of display type that probably look better if they didn't do anything to them and then because of human intervention ah lot of display time is type is actually made to look worse than it would if they did nothing at all because they don't know what to do ok, they think they know what to do and they do something that's counter to what type professionals no one understand good spacing is so my objective is if I can give you a little bit of a taste and a sense of what good current ing is and and tweak your eyes just one more level before the day is over, then I'll feel that I've accomplished something so that if you leave here and once again, if you go to a restaurant, look at a menu look att sign ege look at a poster and go, oh my god, look at the spacing between those characters that, you know and and your life is slightly more miserable because you're seeing bad current ing all over join the club, okay? I'm not the best dinner partner because I'm always looking type around, I have to learn to keep my mouth shut so you know, I'm joking around, but the reality is if you can start to see these things I'm telling you it's going to make a huge difference in your work, so we'll get started and again you're going to see some repeated images I'm just sort of reviewing for a moment or two and then we're going to get right into something new just as a reminder because a number of people still get confused between current ing and tracking kern ing is the addition or reduction of space between two characters that is the definition of current ing in the digital world okay we're not going to get into metal it's a different story and metal type okay if you're interested you could look that up I've written hundreds of articles on every topic and I'm sure I've written one about that too but for today we're talking about custom current ing in in the digital world although fonts come with current in pairs many display settings need customizing to find tune their spacing and balance once again we're seeing this image of of the spacing of a character in font lab but good spacing doesn't do it all especially for display type okay this is this is kind of the holy grail of what you need to know about custom current ng okay and you will I will explain it to you as we go further in this section you'll understand more and more okay the first one I call and I didn't quote it I call sand in an hourglass principle because this is how I learned about spacing from ed ben get who was my mentor many years ago and I'm forever grateful to him for many, many things okay, so this is how it goes what you're basically looking to achieve between characters in a word of display is equal negative space equal volume negative space so if you imagined that you poured sand in between each pair of characters there should theoretically be the same volume of sand between all the character pairs in a display headline okay, I say theoretically because based on the differences and the quirkiness of all the characters of our alphabet you can't always achieve that. You can only use that as sort of a guide again to try to achieve equal negative space between characters. Okay, the second is like or similar letter forms have like or similar spacing so earlier somebody asked about how of how does one design a typeface or what do you start with? And I said usually I said usually they start with h is a nose okay, well h izzo's l zeros that the reason these air important characters to consider is because we have a perfectly straight character and a perfectly round character what I mean by perfectly is it's straight on both sides the l and the round is round on both sides ok, so the first relationship you need to understand which is the first one that a type designer understands is the relationship between straight to straight character straight to round or round two straight okay and round two round okay, so the distance between two straight characters is one value or one visual distance that we're seeing here okay in the same typeface the distance between and this is the closest point a straight to around at the closest point is slightly closer slightly being the operative world word it is not jammed in so straight to straight is one distance straight to round or round two straight which is the same thing in this world should be slightly closer together at the closest point okay, now we go to two rounds when you have two rounds round two round should be slightly closer then the straight to the round or the round to the straight one of the biggest mistakes designers make is they jammed together round characters okay, you're going to see this all the time and I will tell you once we start to look a real world examples my experience is many people don't see what I see and many people don't agree with me and that's okay that's because you're I'm asking you and everyone watching this to change the way they think about spacing and change what you're used to thinking and seeing and perhaps doing okay so I don't ask that you agree with me all the time I asked that you understand the principle that I'm teaching you and that you go with it after here and eventually you'll get to this place because this place took thirty plus years to get to in terms of a visual sensibility so I don't expect you to see with my eyes after forty five minutes or so okay? All right, very important number two three is consistency is critical and what do I mean by consistency? It means anywhere you see a straight to around character within a headline if you see different round two straight character somewhere else that should have the same relationship if it's basically the same shape so if you have a dian and east somewhere and they're somewhere else you have, you know the going to be they should have the same space between them okay? They should have the same treatment the same space, the same visual appearance some characters look slightly different and they might be slightly different spacing but if they appear that way to you there's plenty of characters that are rounds on one side and straight on another and there's many combinations that need to be consistent. You would think that that's an obvious thing, but you're going to see a lot of people don't do it what they do appear they don't think about what they do here and their current ing fixing a headline that might have five lines and all of a sudden they're not paying attention to what they did prior okay. Uh, the three letter rule is easier to demonstrate. Then it is to explain. But basically, when you're looking at a headline with with more than a few characters and more than a few words, it can become overwhelming when you're first learning to determine what's correct spacing when you see a whole lot of letters together. Okay, so one way to help you is to look at three letters at a time and look at the negative spaces between them, which would be two spaces. Okay, and then say, do they look relatively even? Or is one really bigger than the other? And then you go. Oh, well, I once really bigger than the other, but what's happening with the rest of the word. So then you sort of shift your your view down the words. So you're looking at three at a time. This used to be a lot easier when I started in this business because we were using paper we were using to get paper mechanicals and paste ups so you could live literally. We would literally take a headline, you know? And we would we would look att three like, okay, p r I all right and we look at three characters at a time now it's a little more difficult to do because you you have to I mean you could do it on your computer and cover it up but you're sort of asking your brain to just isolate three characters at a time and that will become helpful as we move forward. Okay, so these air some are examples that I created I mean I think that you know this this is very obvious um um I think it's pretty obvious so let me go back and see one thing um about spacing sort of relationships um what we're looking at here is sand saref sw okay ina sarah typeface uh straight characters never touch they never touch in any they should not touch in any typeface so even if they have sarah ifs straight a's character with sarah if should never touch the sarah should never touch the sarah's can touch with diagonals okay, there are exceptions to these rules which I'm going to show you so straight sarah if straight characters to straight characters never touch diagonals can overlap um depends on the instant so I'm good at that. You know these air just this just a starting point I'm going to give you more sort of rules and guidelines as we go okay neither should rounds touch so here what's wrong or the things on pointing out the rounds shouldn't touch uh the straits shouldn't touch um technically okay so this is a straight to around these air two rounds so the two rounds air ok because they're slightly tighter than that okay this this should not be touching so basically if you're talking about a serif typeface what determines the overall a spacing of a serif typeface is the distance between the characters when you have to stare of characters so if you have a deer and l a where you have to else together having and this should be corrected in the typeface in the font those to sarah's shouldn't touch and that's a determining factor on how other characters should be spaced so this is better okay this is correct and I will have called sounds we're going to enter up myself the thing about turning is there isn't one right absolute right solution okay the way I look at it because I know a lot of a lot of my colleagues have their own opinions and would space something slightly different than me but the thing is within the range of good curren ing there was a range of what is considered acceptable even though I might do it different from this person who I respect I might even do it different from had ben get now because I'm doing it on my own okay but there is a range of what's acceptable and considered good taste and typography and then there's everything else okay, so which we don't think you people are doing doing the right way, okay? Based on the principles of what I'm what I'm telling you, okay? Sow this word. You know, it doesn't look in a san serif typeface like this. Well, it does look bad, but this word I was looking at a lot of magazines trying to get samples. You know, you see this word in every magazine because it's all whether it's a fashion magazine or an ad and it's the most difficult to space. So what I wanted to show you here is what I meant by the three letter rule. Because this clearly does not have even spacing a few first of all, and this is difficult to have even spacing because teas and wise things like that it's hard to imagine that sand in an hourglass thing. Okay, but just looking at this, um, the tea, why? Looks open. You know, if I'm looking at you know what? Let me just go ahead and show you this is what I mean by the three letter rule. Imagine you were just looking at threes, these three characters which two spaces? Ok, is there which which space looks to open or do they look even s t looks more open to you than the tea and the y yeah okay see, I don't know they were going to disagree I what I'm looking at basically is the body can not looking at the tough so I'm seeing and this is normal I don't expect every less why said we're going to see differently I see this is having more negative space in this part of the character okay, this is just the three letter rule so now if you're looking at the t y l what I see is that the t y has more viable more sand than the y in the l okay if you look at the y el in the alley I see more space between the y l and the y l e okay, so you can see that right? Okay, so now we're back to this and now all of a sudden it's a little easier oh, now I see that it's unbalanced okay that's a little better that's my version um hopes I touched the tea and the y hopes it's okay, I know what I was doing there were certain instances where you can overlap characters okay? I don't expect I don't have a list for you to tell you every where it should be but after this whole session you're going to get a feel for it when in doubt you don't have to touch letters okay? But once you have an understanding that there are certain characters and it's mostly diagonals okay, that if it makes sense from a design point of view to touch letters we used to call this type tailoring because these are things we used to do my hand, you can still do it digitally, but when, um when in doubt or when you're first starting off. Less is mohr don't do any more than you think should be done until you develop your eye. Another common combination of letters that is often poorly spaced and that's all caps with diagonals. Okay, they tend people tend to jam in a cz and v's v's and a's. Okay, uh, and I said in general, don't touch uh straight two straight sarah's but you can overlap diagonals. Ok, that's an optional thing but this looks very uneven if you look at three letters at a time h a v can you see that if you poured sand clearly there's too much space or too much sand between h a compared to a v a v a looks fine, but that's not gonna work because you can't get the a end to look like that. And you can't get the nato look like that even if you overlap them slightly okay, can you see that this is more balanced or even okay, not perfect, it can't get it perfect you want to get something that looks closer to this and if you understand that sand in an hourglass concept you're not going to be guilty of doing something like this which is very commonly done by experienced designers you'll see that magazines okay ah, little more challenging here's a slab serif I'm just pointing out the bad spaces okay? T wise to open y p is to open cpi owen o g should be the same okay, because they're both round two round but the second one is tighter than the first one. So it's inconsistent okay, I hope you all can conceive this at home. Um ah the r a is a little too open because I'm looking at the g r a the three letter combination and I'm seeing a lot more volume in here. Um I'm looking at that and I'm thinking that's not consistent with that okay? This one has a little bit harder combination some of them are easy to see some of them or not but here's how um it can be improved. Okay, so everywhere you see a red on arrow something has been done to fix it so you know, you have to sort of get in between the letters and look at it that way, but then when you're looking at the bottom, you really just want to look at the whole thing and have a look overall pleasing okay, but you do have to examine the relationships between the characters that's how you do the current ing and then it becomes easier okay, so here's another one you know, I'm pointing it out to a word space here you know that the apostrophe a is to open the space from the period too you know, I don't like that spaces and close quotes with big spaces like that I sort of like them to be one of over the other kind of sort of but a lot of times in display type you're going to see words spaces that are too big because when you have a word beginning with a capital t capital t has a lot of negative space in it so let's say you like that space I think they all could be titans slightly but let's say you thought this was okay and this was ok do you see how much bigger that one is? Okay so you would use you can actually kern a character too is space so that's still current ing you just put the cursor in there when you do a reverse current it doesn't have to be character to character it can be the words space because awards spaces a character position so here's an improvement see the difference see how much nicer the close quote looks closer to that period okay what's wrong with these two letters, but they're doing, but they're different, okay, they're both different, so they're inconsistent. But you know what? Either one is acceptable because it w is is a is it is a diagonal, and even though I would probably clean up that little bump on the top, it's not unacceptable. To do that, you might prefer not to do, and you might prefer the first pair. But whatever you do to one, you have to do the other. They have to be consistent.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Creating Type Solutions.mp4
Ilene Strizver - Typographic Checklist.pdf
Ilene Strizver - Type Rules - Chapter 2 and Glossary.pdf

bonus material with Purchase

Ilene Strizver - Chester - What Makes a Good TypeFace.pdf
Ilene Strizver - Oldrichium - What Makes a Good TypeFace.pdf.pdf
Ilene Strizver - Typequiz.pdf
Ilene Strizver - Typography - Fine Tuning and Finessing Syllabus.pdf

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

Ilene's courses on Typography are jam-packed with excellent information that will elevate the quality of your work in print. She knows what';s current, but also what's important in long-time standards, and why. Just an incredible amount of information! you will enjoy watching, but you will want to purchase because of the sheer amount of useful content.

Nelson Mueller

Wonderful course! I enjoyed it from the beginning until the end, just like the fundamentals course. I wish there was even more of her. Hopefully in the future.


I bought this and the intro class and love them both! I had no idea fonts, typefaces and typesetting could be so interesting and detailed. Ilene is a clear and informative teacher. I love that she teaches why things are done, not simply "do this". I learn faster and remember better with her style of instruction.

Student Work