Understanding Kerning: A Comprehensive Guide to Letter Spacing
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


What is Kerning?

Why Kerning Matters

Kerning Principles

Kerning Techniques

Kerning Resources

Have you ever looked at a beautifully designed poster or website and wondered what makes the text so visually appealing? The answer might surprise you—it's all in the details, specifically in the spacing between letters. This blog will provide you with a clear kerning definition and guide you through everything you need to know about kerning, its history, principles, techniques, and more. So lace up your typographer's boots, and let's explore the fascinating world of kerning!

What is Kerning?

Kerning is the process of adjusting the space between individual letters in a piece of text to achieve a visually pleasing and readable result. It plays a significant role in typography and graphic design, as it can greatly affect the overall appearance and readability of the text. Now that you have a basic kerning definition, let's dive into its history, and how it differs from tracking.

History of Kerning

Long before the digital age, kerning was already a vital part of design. Printers in the early days of the printing press manually adjusted the spacing between letters by adding or reducing space, ensuring the text was easy to read and visually appealing. With the advent of digital typography, kerning has become even more precise, allowing designers to fine-tune letter spacing to the smallest detail.

Kerning vs. Tracking

While kerning focuses on the spacing between individual pairs of letters, tracking refers to the overall spacing between all letters in a word or block of text. Both play a role in creating well-designed typography, but it's important to note the difference. With kerning, you're making adjustments to specific pairs of letters that may not look right together, while tracking is more about setting a general, consistent spacing for the entire text. Remember, kerning is about the individual pairs, and tracking is about the whole picture.

Why Kerning Matters

Now that you've got a better idea of what kerning is and its place in history, you might be wondering why it's so important. Kerning plays a crucial role in several aspects of design and communication, including readability, aesthetic appeal, and brand consistency. Let's take a closer look at each of these factors.


First and foremost, kerning is essential for readability. Imagine trying to read a book or website with poorly spaced letters—it would be a struggle, right? Proper kerning ensures that text is easy to read and comprehend, making it more accessible for everyone. Without proper kerning, even the most beautifully designed fonts can be difficult or even impossible to read, defeating their purpose entirely.

Aesthetic Appeal

Aside from readability, kerning also contributes to the overall visual appeal of a design. Well-kerned text looks polished and professional, while poorly kerned text can appear amateurish and sloppy. In the world of design, every detail matters, and kerning is one of those subtle touches that can make a world of difference in the final product.

Brand Consistency

Lastly, kerning plays a role in maintaining brand consistency. Consistent kerning across all marketing materials, packaging, and products helps create a cohesive and recognizable brand identity. Inconsistent kerning can lead to a disjointed and unprofessional appearance, which could negatively impact a brand's image in the long run.

So, as you can see, kerning is more than just a minor detail—it's an essential aspect of design and communication that greatly influences readability, aesthetics, and brand identity. Now that you understand the importance of kerning, let's move on to some key principles to keep in mind when working with letter spacing.

Kerning Principles

Now that we've covered the importance of kerning, it's time to dive into some essential principles that will help you make informed decisions when adjusting letter spacing. By keeping these principles in mind, you'll be well-equipped to create visually appealing and easy-to-read text in any design project.

Optical Spacing

Optical spacing refers to adjusting the space between letters so that it appears visually consistent to the human eye. This is important because, sometimes, mathematically equal spacing can appear uneven due to the shapes and sizes of different letters. To achieve proper kerning, always focus on achieving optical spacing rather than relying solely on mathematical measurements.

Pairing Letters

When it comes to kerning, not all letter pairs are created equal. Some letter combinations require more attention and adjustment than others due to their shapes and negative space. For example, pairs like "AV" or "To" often need more fine-tuning compared to pairs like "NN" or "oo." By focusing on problematic letter pairs, you'll be able to create more balanced and visually appealing text.

Kerning Numbers

Don't forget about numbers when working on kerning! Just like with letters, certain number combinations can create awkward spacing and should be adjusted accordingly. This is especially important in designs where numbers play a prominent role, such as infographics, reports, or price tags. Properly kerned numbers can make a huge difference in the overall look and readability of a design.

By keeping these kerning principles in mind, you'll be well on your way to creating beautifully spaced text that improves readability, aesthetics, and brand consistency. But how do you actually go about adjusting kerning? Let's explore some techniques you can use to fine-tune your letter spacing.

Kerning Techniques

With a solid understanding of kerning principles, it's time to put them into practice. Here are some common techniques for adjusting kerning in your designs, ranging from manual adjustments to using design software to help achieve the perfect spacing.

Manual Kerning

Manual kerning involves carefully adjusting the space between individual letter pairs by eye, using your judgment to achieve optical spacing. This method can be time-consuming, but it allows for the most precise control over your typography. To manually kern your text, simply move letters closer or further apart as needed, keeping in mind the principles we discussed earlier.

Auto Kerning

Many design programs and software come with built-in auto kerning features, which automatically adjust letter spacing based on predefined kerning tables. While this can be a quick and convenient option, it's important to remember that auto kerning might not be perfect for every situation. Always double-check the results and make any necessary manual adjustments to ensure optimal spacing.

Using Design Software

Design software like Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop offer tools specifically designed for working with typography, including kerning adjustments. These tools can help streamline the process and make it easier to achieve precise letter spacing. Familiarize yourself with the kerning tools available in your preferred software and use them to fine-tune your designs.

By mastering these kerning techniques, you'll be able to create visually stunning and easy-to-read text in any design project. Now, let's take a look at some popular fonts and their kerning characteristics to further illustrate the importance of kerning in real-world applications.

Every font has its own unique kerning characteristics, which can impact the overall appearance and readability of text. Let's examine some popular fonts and how their kerning attributes can influence your design choices.


Helvetica is a widely-used sans-serif font known for its clean and modern look. It has relatively balanced kerning by default, which contributes to its legibility and popularity. However, some letter pairs, like "AV" and "LA," may still require manual adjustments to achieve optimal spacing. Keep an eye out for these combinations when using Helvetica in your designs.

Times New Roman

Times New Roman is a classic serif font often seen in print and formal documents. Its kerning is generally well-proportioned, but some letter pairs can appear too close together, especially when used at smaller font sizes. This can occasionally create readability issues, so it's important to check your text and adjust kerning as needed when working with Times New Roman.


Garamond is an elegant serif font with a rich history dating back to the 16th century. While it has a timeless appeal, Garamond's kerning can be somewhat inconsistent, particularly with uppercase letters. For example, the "T" and "A" combination may require additional spacing for a more even appearance. Be mindful of these irregularities and adjust kerning accordingly when using Garamond in your designs.

Understanding the kerning characteristics of different fonts will help you make informed decisions about which typefaces work best for your projects. With this knowledge and the techniques we've covered, you're well-equipped to create visually appealing and highly readable text in any design.

Kerning Resources

To further deepen your understanding of kerning and typography, it's helpful to explore various resources available to you. Here are some recommendations to help you continue learning and refining your kerning skills.

Typography Courses

Online typography courses can provide structured learning experiences to help you master kerning and other essential design elements. Many courses cover topics like font selection, layout techniques, and typographic hierarchy, giving you a well-rounded understanding of typography and its practical applications.

Online Forums

Joining online forums dedicated to typography and graphic design can be a valuable way to connect with fellow enthusiasts, share knowledge, and discuss kerning best practices. These communities often provide helpful feedback on your work, allowing you to grow as a designer and continuously improve your kerning skills.

Books and Guides

Books and guides on typography can offer in-depth insights into kerning, as well as other essential design principles. Some highly regarded titles on this subject include "The Elements of Typographic Style" by Robert Bringhurst and "Thinking with Type" by Ellen Lupton. These books cover a wide range of topics, from kerning definition and techniques to overall design theory, making them valuable additions to your design library.

By utilizing these resources and actively practicing your kerning skills, you'll be well on your way to becoming a more proficient and knowledgeable designer. Remember, great typography is a crucial element of effective design, and mastering kerning is a key component in creating visually appealing and easily readable text.

If you're looking to improve your drawing skills and take your animal portraits to the next level, don't miss the workshop 'Drawing Realistic Fur Using The Indentation Technique' by Arianne Jeri. This workshop will teach you the unique indentation technique to create stunning, lifelike fur textures in your drawings.