How do I space letters correctly?

SebastianK's picture

Good evening,

I'm finally working on my first typeface! Yay. It's a conservative, old-style text serif and it will look like this. It'll be an open source project that I work on in my free time.

Since I have no typographic education whatsoever (I'm an engineering freshman straight out of highschool with a type addiction), I need some help: how do I space letters horizontally? I just finished the lowercase letters and I already spend most of my time changing side bearings and kernings instead of drawing letters. That is annoying and frustrating. It's a constant shifting of letters back and forth, and I never seem to get the spacing quite even.

So how do you do it right—and I mean right from the start? Is there a special order in which you start spacing? Are there percentage guidelines for average space between stems/bowls? Can you point me to software to help me do it (I'm running FontForge on Ubuntu)?

I appreciate your support!

Sebastian

blank's picture

1. Study.
2. Practice.
3. Start over at step 1.

It also helps—immensely—to space as you draw letters instead of after.

SebastianK's picture

Thanks! Any hints on where to start with point 1?

SebastianK's picture

That's extremely helpful; I'll look into these. Thank you so much!

eliason's picture

There's also this thread
http://www.typophile.com/node/15794
which I found linked from the helpful Typowiki.

Nick Shinn's picture

Open up some fonts and study the sidebearings.

.00's picture

You can start with:

HHOOHOH
nnoonon

Get that looking good and the rest is gravy.

nina's picture

I second James Puckett's Walter Tracy recommendation. I've found the system he outlines *very* helpful as a starting point.

raph's picture

Also check out the iKern service. In my experience, it's very good.

SebastianK's picture

Thanks so much, you're an extremely helpful bunch … I'll hopefully move to the Critique forums soon!

Thomas Phinney's picture

All the above. But I'll especially reiterate the advice to finish the spacing before you start kerning. And after you *think* you've finished, work with it for at least several weeks before you let yourself kern. Seriously, this is probably the advice that will save you the second greatest amount of grief ever in type design.

(The greatest amount of grief to be saved is by never even attempting type design in the first place. It is simply a craft that is full of frustrations. But of much job as well.)

Cheers,

T

SebastianK's picture

Thank you. What you're saying is very true.

... before you start kerning.

Oh. You mean you've found kerning pairs in the samples online? Well, they count for nothing.

In my case (I think I can give this away safely), Google/Raph plan to send it to iKern soon, specifically so I can spend more time on letter drawing. That may or may not sound like a sacrilege to you, but frankly, I'm grateful for not having to do the spacing/kerning.

(I'll update this thread as soon as that is done, with better sample files, too. It's easier to critique letters in an even-looking context, I'd assume ...)

blank's picture

That may or may not sound like a sacrilege to you, but frankly, I'm grateful for not having to do the spacing/kerning.

Having someone else work on the kerning is one thing, but if you don’t get the basic spacing down first the kerning isn’t going to make the font any better. If your basic spacing doesn’t work, how are you even supposed to know that your letters have been drawn well and work together? Or is this one of those open-source things where if the users want it finished they have to do it themselves?

JanekZ's picture

Chapter 3 Spacing letters & lines; Fontographer by Stephen Moye

SebastianK's picture

I accidentally bumped this old thread. Sorry. I do know how to space and kern, and at least the Roman Regular looks acceptable today (unkerned). The other five weights I'll take care of this week.

And for the record, iKern doesn't do kerning without spacing (how would an algorithm do that, anyway?). AFAIK it finds good letter-to-letter distances, sets the side bearings and then fills in kerning values for the combinations that don't fit.

Of course, it's hard to judge the quality of the letters in an unspaced font. Point taken.

Or is this one of those open-source things where if the users want it finished they have to do it themselves?

That hurt. I hope not.

Jan, thanks for that! I'll put in on my to-read list!

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