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What is kerning?

Maryam Taheri March 31, 2021 · 3 min read

Anybody interested in design– whether it be web, graphic, or multimedia– should know the ins and outs of kerning. It’s an element of typography that is extremely difficult to notice when you don’t know what you’re looking for, but obvious if you do. Learning how to use kerning effectively trains your eye for detail.
So What is it?


Kerning deals with setting the space between letters and fitting them together to form a word. Because of the all the different ways letters can take up space (case, stems, tails, serifs, etc,) spacing each one properly becomes an intricate puzzle. Here are some easy ways to start noticing kerning in fonts along with some websites to help you learn to kern.


When there is no kerning in a font, a new character is placed next to the preceding letter precisely where it ends. This can be seen in the top “AWE.” It creates a great amount of negative space between the A and the W, but leaves the W and the E with hardly any. The end result looks sloppy and is often confusing– is it A WE or is it AWE?


Most computer word processors have an automatic kerning algorithm that calculates a basic kerning for fonts. There are two different programs for kerning: metric or optical. The latter uses values taken from a kerning table that was programed in with the font. This is standard for most programs and gives the font a very even look. Optical kerning is only used on advanced word processors and text manipulation programs. It uses information from the outline of the individual letters to calculate the optimal spacing between them.

Obviously, if you are designing a typeface, you want to have full control of how the letters fit together on the page. This is where manual kerning comes into play. Notice how the A and the W have been pushed closer together then in the automatic kerning to balance the negative space that the two diagonal lines create. Manually adjusting your kerning will give you complete control of your design down to the very last detail, and good designers go the extra mile to finish their product in every way possible.
Learn to Kern!
Before you start designing your own typeface, acquaint yourself with the skills you’ll need at these websites:

Practice spacing classic fonts and then see how well you did.

Get helpful hints on kerning in JavaScript
What I covered in this blog and more, plus some handy tips and tricks all in a short video.

Lettering Worksheets
Getting started with hand lettering?
Free lettering worksheets

Download these worksheets and start practicing with simple instructions and tracing exercises.

Download now!
About the Author
Maryam Taheri

I'm a recent graduate of the University of San Francisco with a degree in Biology and a passion for the creative arts. I love building websites, trying new things, and I have a passion for social media.

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