Kerning numerals

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Andreas Stiftung's picture
Joined: 6 Apr 2017 - 12:10pm
Kerning numerals
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I was curious about kerning numerals. I discovered that Palatino, Times, and various Garamonds do not kern numerals. This seems odd. The combination 74 seems particularly in need of kerning. I did find that URW Palladio has kerned numerals. Why does Palladio have them, but neither Palatino nor Aldus have them?

Eric Doctor's picture
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Joined: 16 Jan 2008 - 3:27pm
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Some fonts have proportionally spaced numerals, while others have what are called tabular numerals, which are monospaced so that they'll always line up in a column. Many OpenType fonts have both types.

Andreas Stiftung's picture
Joined: 6 Apr 2017 - 12:10pm
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That doesn't make sense. You can turn off the kerning.

George Thomas's picture
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Joined: 24 Apr 2000 - 7:46pm
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No one who has ever had to do a substantial amount of typesetting would want to have to stop to turn on or turn off kerning just for numbers.
For display faces or non-tabular numbers it might be appropriate in some cases.
If you really want kern pairs for numbers, don't ever try and use the font to typeset an annual report or other document that uses columnar (tabular) numbers. It would look like shit to anyone who appreciates typography.

Theunis de Jong's picture
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Joined: 22 Apr 2008 - 5:06pm
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"The combination 74 seems particularly in need of kerning." What, and anything else containing a '1' does not?

George nails it. Per (sensible) default, digits are usually designed as "tabular lining", so there are no jarring differences in width between "11" and "22". A very simple example is that of two phone numbers above each other.

I had a nasty experience once with a Univers, as the version I had did have a lot of kerning in the digits, and suddenly all of my tables were off.
The reverse is also true: even with added kerning, these digits are no match for properly designed real "proportional" digits. A "1", for example, is typically designed to fit in the center of the width of digits, which means that it ought to be kerned both left and right against all other characters.

Proportional digits are explicitly designed to be used in contexts where horizontal spacing trumps vertical alignment, such as in running text. That also includes kerning: Robert Slimbach's Minion Pro contains "tabular" digits without any kerning, as well as "proportional" digits, which do contain proper kerning for your "74" example.

Eric Doctor's picture
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Joined: 16 Jan 2008 - 3:27pm
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Andreas, what you're misunderstanding is that the numerals aren't just not kerned, they're not even proportionally spaced. This means that the sidebearings are especially wide on 1, for example. Simply turning off kerning on numbers that are still proportionally spaced still won't make them line up in a table. The fonts that you're using are probably TrueType or PostScript, which only has one type of numerals built into each font. Often these font families would have multiple versions, one for each type of numeral, but when Microsoft or whoever licensed them for bundling, they only licensed the font with tabular figures because their business customers use their computers for spreadsheets and such. The newer Opentype format allows several kinds of numbers to be bundled into the same font file.

Andreas Stiftung's picture
Joined: 6 Apr 2017 - 12:10pm
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If I want to have numerals line up in Microsoft Word, I use a table.

Eric Doctor's picture
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Joined: 16 Jan 2008 - 3:27pm
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You're going to have a cell for each digit?

Look at the attached image. All of these examples are from the same typeface, Minion Pro, which has multiple types of numerals built into its OpenType features. If you want the digits to always line up, you use tabular numerals ("unkerned", in your parlance), but if you're setting them in text, you use proportional numerals ("kerned"). I also included proportional numerals with the kerning turned off, to demonstrate that simply turning off the kerning isn't enough to get them to line up.

Andreas Stiftung's picture
Joined: 6 Apr 2017 - 12:10pm
-1

What has this to do with kerning? The year 1874 looks horrible unkerned.