Lettering a word or phrase that is legible is a tricky balance.
If you’re designing a logotype, then legibility should be considered as well as scalability since it will likely be used across many different applications. Display type or lettering, on the other hand, can focus just on legibility because it’s usually intended for a specific purpose. What you want to look at is the space between the individual letters, which is also known as kerning.
Kerning & Tracking
Kerning is different than tracking. It refers to the space between two characters, like ‘st.’ Tracking is the letter-spacing between a group of letters as a whole. This determines how loosely or tightly your word appears. It’s easy to get these two mixed up, but it’s important to know the difference.
In this post, I’ll be discussing some simple kerning tips you can use to make your lettering stand out.
1. Flip Horizontally
There are two different ways you can do this:
- Scan your sketch and open in Photoshop. Use Edit>Transform>Flip Horizontally.
- In Illustrator, use Object>Transform>Reflect>Vertical if you have a vector.
The negative space is what you want to be looking at. By flipping your composition, your eyes focus less on the word as a whole and more on the individual letters. It’s like you’re tricking your eyes to not read the word(s).
It’s a simple and effective way to optimize the letter-spacing if you’re having trouble seeing the negative space. Now, this won’t always work but that’s okay because there are other things you can do to help you tighten up the gaps.
2. Turn Upside Down
If you can’t utilize either of the above methods for whatever reason, just turn your sketch upside down.
I’ve done this plenty of times and it helps just as good. Again, by disrupting our natural tendency to read from left to right, we can see where letters need to be adjusted. Try it and you’ll see what I mean.
Sounds weird, right? Well, it works. Blurring the lines helps you see the negative space between the shapes of the letters. Don’t ask me why or how exactly. This method doesn’t require much effort on your part but it’s effective.
You can also flip horizontally or turn upside down while you’re doing it. Combining as many methods as you can will increase your chances of spotting any kerning issues.
4. Reduce Size
Having a scalable logotype that retains its legibility at difference sizes is ideal if it’s going to be applied to different applications (web, print, mobile, etc.).
During your revising stage, it’s important to see what it looks like at large and small sizes. You can really start to see where there needs more or less letter-spacing when you get down to small sizes. Check your work, print it out and make the adjustments necessary to have your logotype easy to read.
5. Trust Your Eyes
A lot of what I’ve already described are tips to help you optically adjust. That’s because our eyes can tell when something’s off or not right.
Even if we do everything mathematically correct, it doesn’t always guarantee that things will look “perfect.” We have to trust our eyes and go with our gut. If you notice a “dark spot” because letters appear too close, then you’re probably right. Have someone else confirm your inclination by getting feedback. A fresh pair of eyes will give you unbiased reassurance.
I know there are several other methods out there to help you with kerning. These are just the ones I use throughout my process.
If you’re unsure about any adjustments you’ve made, walk away and come back the next day. Be sure to make a copy before making new changes so you can compare.