Monday, September 19, 2011

I yearn to kern

“Kern” is the way Archie Bunker pronounced “coin.”

In typography, “to kern” means to adjust the spacing between two adjacent letters. It can also mean to squish two letters together so they overlap to avoid ugly white spaces. Almost everyone is exposed to kerning, but probably few pay attention. It's an important design tool used by professional graphic artists (including book designers) and amateurs should learn to kern, too.

The AVAYA name is a "word picture," chosen because
it looks pretty. The letters fit together unusually well
 when kerned in the logo.

The logo for the "Law & Order" TV shows has one of the
most widely seen examples of kerning.
Did you ever notice it? 

AW (and WA) are common kerning combos, and the two letters -- like the AV and AY in Avaya -- fit together unusually well.

The type in the United Way logo uses both uppercase
and lowercase letters, unlike "LAW" and "AVAYA."
However, the designer still used kerning, tucking
the lowercase n under the "flag" of the uppercase U,
and the lowercase a under the flags of the
uppercase W and the lowercase y.

Kerning is not usually important in the type sizes used in book text, but can make a big improvement in chapter titles and in the large type on book covers and title pages.

Compare the normal and kerned versions of a book title of mine:

(The "T" and "e" in "Tell" probably need a bit more kerning.
The "e" and "l" in the same word may be too close.)

I used Microsoft Word to make the "Stories" book, and other books. They don’t look too much worse than books composed with Adobe InDesign or Quark Express, which are used by professional designers and a few do-it-yourselfers.

InDesign can provide automatic kerning to adjust space within specific letter pairs. With Word, you manually condense the space between letters. It’s a lot of work that few folks bother with. I do it for book titles and some chapter names and subheads—but not for body text.

The “adult” software packages can cost as much as $800 and can take a long time to learn how to use properly.

On the other hand, most self-publishing writers already own Word and know how to use it. They can quickly learn how to use some of its often-untapped power to produce a nicer book.

If you are using Word, you can kern by selecting "character spacing" within the "font" section. Experiment with different settings for different parts of the word. Look at "professional" books and magazines and even product packages for inspiration.


1 comment:

  1. Good explanation and advice. I wish I had known about this earlier. Thanks.