Letter-spacing

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Docent sights juggernaut
Headline set tight with minus letter-spacing
Docent sights juggernaut
Headline set with no additional letter-spacing
Docent sights juggernaut
Headline with more open letter-spacing
Docent sights juggernaut
Headline with open letter-spacing similar to metal type
Docent sights juggernaut
Headline with still more letter-spacing
Docent sights juggernaut
Headline with wide letter-spacing
Docent sights juggernaut
Headline with wider letter-spacing, sometimes used for broadcast
Examples of headline letter-spacing

In typography, letter-spacing, usually called tracking by typographers, refers to a consistent degree of increase (or sometimes decrease) of space between letters to affect density in a line or block of text.

Letter-spacing should not be confused with kerning. Letter-spacing refers to the overall spacing of a word or block of text affecting its overall density and texture. Kerning is a spacing adjustment of specific pairs of adjacent characters that, because of the relationship of their respective shapes, would appear to be too far apart if spaced normally. A classic example is a capital V next to a capital A in a seriffed typeface.

In its original meaning with metal type, a kern meant having a letter stick out beyond the metal slug it was attached to, or cutting off part of the body of the slug to allow (other similarly-trimmed) letters to overlap. So a kern in that sense could only bring letters closer together (negative spacing), though of course it was possible to add space between letters. Digital kerning can go in either direction. Tracking can similarly go in either direction, though with metal type one could only adjust groups of letters further apart (positive spacing).

Letter-spacing adjustments are frequently used in news design. The speed with which pages must be built on deadline does not usually leave time to rewrite paragraphs that end in split words or that create orphans or widows. Letter-spacing is increased or decreased by modest (usually unnoticeable) amounts to fix these unattractive situations.

Digital systems[edit]

Word processing and desktop publishing programs for personal computers such as—Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, QuarkXPress, Adobe InDesign, Adobe FrameMaker, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe Photoshop—use differing, non-standardized methods of adjusting subtracting letter-spacing.[citation needed] What is common to most systems is that the default letter-spacing is zero, using the character widths and kerning information built into the font itself.[citation needed] Although digital type sets tighter on average than metal type,[citation needed] this results from design decisions in the fonts and the more ready availability of kerning, rather than any design choice inherent in the technology.[citation needed]

In the days of machine-implemented lead typesetting, such as Linotype machines and the Monotype System, letter-spacing had to be uniform.[citation needed] In modern digital page-layout software, high-end applications all use relative measurements proportional to the size of the type.[citation needed] QuarkXPress uses units of 1/200 of an em,[citation needed] and the competing Adobe InDesign uses 1/1000 of an em.[citation needed] Thus, in QuarkXPress a tracking setting of 3 opens text noticeably, while in InDesign a tracking setting of 3 is barely noticeable.[citation needed]

Legibility[edit]

The amount of letter-spacing in text affects legibility.[citation needed] Tight letter-spacing, especially in small text sizes, can diminish legibility. The addition of minimal letter-spacing can often increase the legibility and readability.[citation needed] Adding whitespace around the characters allows the individual characters to emerge and be recognized more quickly.[citation needed] Adding too much space, however, may isolate individual letters and make it harder for the reader to perceive whole words and phrases, which reduces readability.[citation needed]

Wide letter-spacing, beyond relaxed book composition, can look affected and earned the opprobrium of Frederic Goudy: "Men who would letterspace blackletter would shag sheep."[1] When quoted, "shag" is often bowdlerised as "steal". Goudy's pronouncement inspired the title of Stop Stealing Sheep,[2] an introduction to typography that Spiekermann co-authored.

In the days of hot metal typesetting, letter-spacing required adding horizontal space between letters of words set in metal type, in increments of a minimum of ½ point.[citation needed] Some publishers and typesetters avoided letter-spacing because it was costly in materials and labor.[citation needed] Letter-spacing required by-hand insertion of copper (½ pt.), brass (1 pt.), and printer's "lead" (2 pt.) spaces between individual pieces of type or between matrices.[citation needed] Despite the cost, letter-spacing was used in print advertising and book publishing.[citation needed] It was also used for very short phrases set in capital letters or small caps, to avoid the phrases appearing too black compared to the rest of the page.[citation needed]

Letter-spacing with fixed spaces[edit]

Letter-spacing may also refer to the insertion of fixed spaces, as was commonly done in hand-set metal type to achieve letter-spacing. This is a more mechanical method which relies less upon spacing and kerning tables resident in each typeface and accessed and used when letterspacing is applied universally. Fixed spaces include a hair space, thin space, wordspace, en-space, and em-space. An en-space is equal to half the current point size, and an em-space is the same width as the current point size.

Changing the kerning perception[edit]

Kerning contrasted with tracking (letter-spacing): with spacing the "kerning perception" is lost.
While tracking adjusts the space between characters evenly, regardless of the characters, kerning adjusts the space based on character pairs. There is strong kerning between the "V" and the "A", and no kerning between the "S" and the "T".

A visually pleasing result,[3][4] even with no "kerning control", can be achieved with some control of the space between letters.

Example on webpages: with CSS1, a standard of 1996, the letter-spacing property (illustrated) offer some control for lost or enhance "kerning perception" — kerning can be simulated with non-uniform spacing between letters. Only with the standard CSS3, scheduled for 2014, font-kerning property arrives with a complete control of kerning.[5] In the meantime the web-designers used the workaround of letter-spacing, mainly to enhance spaced-texts of titles and banners.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Comment by Erik Spiekermann (15 October 2005) in Wardle de Sousa, Tiffany (2 July 2005). "Famous Quotes from Type Designers". Typophile.com. 
  2. ^ Spiekermann, Erik; Ginger, E. M. (2002). Stop Stealing Sheep & find out how type works. Adobe Press. ISBN 0-201-70339-4. 
  3. ^ "Effects of intraword and interword spacing on eye movements during reading: Exploring the optimal use of space in a line of text", Timothy J. Slattery, Keith Rayner. August 2013, Volume 75, Issue 6, pp 1275-1292. DOI:10.3758/s13414-013-0463-8.
  4. ^ "The Rhetoric of Typography: Effects on Reading Time, Reading Comprehension, and Perceptions of Ethos", Eva Brumberger. Technical Communication, Volume 51, Number 1, February 2004 , pp. 13-24.
  5. ^ http://www.w3.org/TR/css3-fonts/#font-kerning-prop

References[edit]

External links[edit]