Correct character spacing

RachelR's picture

Following on from my last post about the space charcater which was very informative, thanks. Do you have any advise on letter spacing, I've been reading "Letters of Credit", Walter Tracy - which describes a system for correct spacing. The lowercase starts with spacing the "n" and "o" and then using the sidebearing values to space the rest of the characters. It states that the sidebearing for the "n" should be be half the distance between the uprights with slightly less on the right to account for the arched corner. This system seems to produce very loose spacing for me, does anyone else use this method, or are there others.

R ;)

crossgrove's picture


Keep in mind that any method that is suggested is only a guideline, meant to simplify and systematise the process of spacing a typeface. Since every design is different, certain methods may not be useful; in fact, with very irregular designs, no method will be useful, except the most reliable one: your eye. The eye is the final arbiter, and Tracy mentions the exception about the right side of n because often that side of n can appear loose. There are exceptions, and only your eye will tell you what they are. It's all coming from what makes the most sense visually, so if a method doesn't seem to be solving problems, the thing is not necessarily to find another method, but to abandon all methods and rely on your visual discernment.

Type design is full of these caveats. Very little about type design is truly modular or mechanical.

ebensorkin's picture

Carl is right. His post is worth reading & re-reading.

Note also that optical size is implicit in these decisions. What is a good spacing at 6 pt is not quite so good at 12 & less still at 36. It's all to do with what they eye likes as Carl said. There are many additional factors to think about. Rag set vs Justified & on & on.

In the event that your thread doesn't take off (or even if it does) you may want to look for more examples & finer points, disagreements etc. Do you know how to do a site search on Google?

Here is some java script you can use in a bookmark.


It goes in the place where the web site URL would normally go. Once it's in you can put your search terms in & see the debates that have already happened. See examples! :-)

dezcom's picture

Just to chime in and further emphasize Carl's well worded point--"Your eyes are the final arbiter."
If you try one of the methods you read about and see something seems a bit off, it is your eyes showing you the way. Learning to see is not the same as learning to look. Like any skill, the more you practice, the better you get.
I would be willing to bet that all of the methods were developed by looking at spacing of successfully designed type. How was this type designed so successfully before a method was developed? Those designers had well trained eyes.


William Berkson's picture

Rachel, for me studying the spacing in typefaces I admire is an essential learning process, beyond all the theories. With the same text in the display box, I switch back and forth between several fonts I admire as well designed and spaced and the one I am working on. That shows me pretty dramatically whether my efforts are working or falling short in meeting the dual goals of liveliness and even color.

To test whether the spacing is not just even, but appropriately loose or tight for the intended size of type, it is necessary to proof it by printing it out at the intended sizes.

ebensorkin's picture

Speaking of even color, eventually you might also want to search Typophile for the threads where we debated the notion of Notan too.

And also slightly related I saw a variation on Hoefler's spacing description in an old lettering guide I got via Inter-Library Loan. I suspect everybody else has heard of it already but if not : It described using dots placed like stones or pebbles between letters and then counting them to see if they are equal or nearly so to see if your spacing is good. I think that it was offered not as realistic way of working but as an analogy and as a lay & novice's method.

William Berkson's picture

Not to ignite that debate again, but just to be clear about my own use of the terms, when I say 'even color' I mean having not excessively dark or light areas that pop out and disturb the texture of the type. I use 'good notan' to refer to shaping the letter well so it has a certain vibrancy of both white and black.

ebensorkin's picture

I think it might be a very good idea to talk about color on the page overall & notan in the context of the letter relationships and word shapes. Obviously these things ( inescapably ) relate or bleed into each other, however I do think there might be a usefulness in your distiction. I also want to thank you for critiquing & challenging some the ideas I had in those old threads. It was quite helpful to me.

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