Vectornator Learning Help Center
Design Basics

A collection of insightful tips and guides to help you become a great designer.

Design Tips
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What is Kerning

What is Kerning

There are several techniques that designers can use to make typography stand out in their graphic design projects. Kerning is one of them. So let’s take a dive deep into the kerning rabbit hole to understand how to improve our designs by making use of this simple tool.

Spatial Awareness

Being a good designer requires a keen eye. You might also say that perfectionism is part of the job. While this attention to detail might not be understood in other trades, it’s this exact quality that sets designers apart.

Following this logic, each of your designs requires an intense level of attention to detail, even down to the spacing in between individual letters. This spacing is called kerning.

While your clients and other non-designers might not understand the nuances of kerning, they will definitely be able to identify a bad kerning job when they see one. But through practice, you will be able to improve your kerning game and develop an eye for letter spacing awareness. Let's begin.

What is Kerning

Kerning defines both a process and a term. It’s the name given to spacing in between letters. But it is also the act of adjusting the space in between text characters to make the text look better, increase its legibility, or both.

While you can rely on the predetermined kerning of most of the font files you are using, adjusting kerning gives us designers much more control when creating.

Bear in mind that you do not have to adjust the kerning of all the elements in your design. It should be your secret weapon in typographic compositions that have large headlines and blocks of copy. In most other instances, when you are working with large amounts of body copy, the default kerning settings will suffice.

Types of Kerning

There are four main kern types:

Metric kerning - relies on the character-spacing information inside the font. When you use this kerning, you see the font the way the designer originally intended. In Vectornator, you can set the metric kerning to a numerical value by tapping on the kerning slider.

Optical kerning - relies on adjusting the spacing between adjacent letters in accordance with their particular shapes. Basically, this means changing the kerning based on what looks good. Some designers do this by applying a spacing algorithm that 'guesses' what the kerning characters should be, but most just use rely on their own eyes. To do this in Vectornator, zoom out of your canvas, select your text, and use your cursor or finger to adjust the kerning slider. Your eyes will set the right value!

Automatic kerning - refers to the default spacing of a typeface.

Example of "Automatic Kerning" using the typeface Gill Sans.

Manual kerning - is when a designer overrides the automatic kerning.

So how do you adjust the kerning of your font? In Vectornator, you simply go to the Typography Panel.

For a more detailed explanation, please check out our Learning Hub ➞

Positive and Negative Values

To change kerning all you need to do is add or subtract kerning values.

Positive kerning adjustments will increase the space between letters, while negative values bring letters closer together. Negative adjustments are the most common. But you’ll find that you might want to make positive adjustments to special characters, glyphs, accented letters, or punctuation, depending on your typesetting.

Here’s a pro kerning tip:
try viewing your text upside down. Now that the word has lost its meaning, you can focus more on the negative space in between characters, rather than the word itself.

Letters That Need Kerning

‘V’ and ‘A’ is the most common letter combination that requires kerning. You’ll be amazed at how significant of an impact this small amount of space can have on your overall aesthetic.

Example in Vectornator with Kerning value -10, using Gill Sans.

Other diagonal-sided uppercase letters like W and Y are also problematic; but so are the letters K, W, Y, F, L, and T, words spelled in capitals, and capital letters combined with lowercase letters. The most common problematic kerning pairs are AW, VA, Fa, LV, Wa, AD, and AT.

But that does not mean that lowercase letters by themselves don’t need your attention. As you practice, you’ll understand how important kerning is for specific pairs of letters. Such as adjacent straight-sided letters like ‘nm,’ or a round pair of characters like ‘oo,’ or a combination of both, like ‘no’.

Why Kern?

Kerning is a tool that designers use to increase the readability of their typography.

As a rule of thumb, your objective as a designer is to relay your message with clarity. It’s not just about creating something that is visually appealing. The challenge of good design is to convey your message as clearly and as quickly as possible.

If kerning is not done correctly, it will interrupt the reader and disrupt your message.

Science or sensibility?

Sadly, kerning is not an exact science.

Experiment with what feels right in your design. But also keep in mind that whatever text you kern might not be limited to a computer monitor like the one sitting in front of you. It’s important to understand the content of your typography and where your design will live. Will it be printed, is it meant for a mobile ad? Knowing this will also affect your kerning decisions.

The type of font you work with, as well as the type size (also known as point size), will also have the same impact - if you've chosen serifs, they will naturally need more kerning. If you're running out of space, luckily there are many other fonts that typographers put to our disposal. So maybe change the font instead.

And that’s all the basic kerning information you need to get started. There are a few other tools you have to master to bring more polish and even character to your typography. Use kerning alongside leading and tracking to achieve the best possible results. And check out our next tutorial to keep learning.

Download the PDF version here.
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