Friday, July 30, 2010

More on Typography: Spacing

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I love good typography and was thrilled when fellow design chef Melissa posted a couple weeks ago about fonts and it received such a great response. Among the chatter was a request for more information on typography. So I thought I would take a few minutes to talk a little more about typography today. This inspiration piece was taken from Typography Mania, which I love to peruse for great inspiration.

I’m going to focus my thoughts today on spacing, both vertical and horizontal. Spacing is very important in typography and all too often, people will just leave it up to the computer to figure all that out. But it is a sign of good typography to pay attention to the details of spacing and make adjustments where necessary. I’ll review 3 different types of spacing; leading, letterspacing (also known as tracking), and kerning.

Back in the olden days, type was set with pieces of metal. Individual letters were set together and then words and then entire lines were set. Strips of lead were then inserted between these lines of type to make it easier to read. These strips of lead were called leading (pronounced ledding and not leeding). Some software programs still use the term leading, which originates from so long ago. The default in most programs is 2 points (pts.) larger than the type point size you are using. For example, a 12 pt. font would call for a 14 pt. leading, and a 10 pt. font would call for 12 pt. leading.

For large bodies of type, this generally turns out to be the most efficient use of vertical space on a page. It allows the designer to fill the page with type, while still maintaining enough space in between the lines for maximum legibility. But there are times when you may want to play around with the leading, either by increasing it or decreasing it.

Here is an example of closing up the leading, typically used for a title or logotype.


And here is a comparison of a paragraph of type that has been set with the default leading (2 pts. larger) and a paragraph that has been opened up, due to the bolder typeface. In this case, if I had made the typeface bold and left the leading at the default, it would have decreased legibility.


Tracking or Letterspacing
These 2 terms are often used interchangeably and they refer to the amount of general horizontal space between the letters in your type. In most applications, you will likely leave the letterspacing the default that your computer uses. But in some cases, you might want to open up the letterspacing. One particular case that I use this technique is for a subheading where I have used a bold typeface in all caps.


The last spacing item that I will cover today is kerning. While tracking or letterspacing refers to the overall space between all the letters horizontally, kerning refers to the individual space between 2 specific letters. Some typefaces have been designed to auto kern certain letter pairings, but most of the time, larger text can stand to be given a looksie to see if you can finesse some of the space between certain letters. Some letter pairings that typically need attention would be capital V and A, especially when used together. I have also found that capital F, T, Y, and O can also benefit from a 2nd glance.


Have fun creating your own typography and learning to finesse it!


  1. good helpful typographic help :-) (and I just subscribed to the blog Typography Mania--love it! thanks for mentioning it :-)

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  3. Thanks Cherise! Great reminders. Cool tip on the Typography blog too. Fun stuff!


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