Word "space" unit value in fonts—a formula of sorts?

Just curious... I usually determine the proper 'unit' for a 'word space' in my fonts visually, depending on the font design characteristics. But, I was wondering if anyone uses some sort of formula to determine this instead. I've heard some say that they use the narrowest letter, usually the "i" to determine the "space" unit value. Others may use the "period" unit value for the "space". Half the "figure" width. That sort of thing. And, I would be curious to hear if anyone decreases the "space" width value as the weight of the font(s) progresses.


  • James MontalbanoJames Montalbano Posts: 601
    edited February 2013
    It's all visual to me. But I do tend to make fairly narrow space characters. After consulting at U&lc in the early days of Mac typesetting I became aware that the type experts there were constantly asking for 65-80% for the default space in their H&J settings. That and seeing Charles Nix spec 45-60% default spacing made me a narrow space devotee.

    It may have changed but all of that early digital type had word space set up using the old metal formula of a 3em space for the word space. 300 of 1000 units is just too wide to me.
  • I think I started a similar thread on Typophile a while back, but I can't find it now. In addition to the "i" trick, I recall somebody suggesting the interior span of "n" could also provide a guide. That seems like a potentially more relevant guide than the "i," but neither is better than the "eye."
  • Yes, James I agree. I've been averaging between 225 and 300 myself. But, then I tend to fit my glyphs more open, so 300 is usually where I'm at. My fonts are spaced a little more open to accommodate text at normal point sizes. You can (-) track for display as needed. I am going tighter, though, as time go on. Tight letter spacing seems to be the trend.

    Craig brought up a good point using the 'n' as visual reference. I agree. That's pretty much what you do when you typeset a line of text and determine the word spacing visually based on all the visual cues. It all has to do with the rhythm of the stems, counters and inner-letter spacing throughout. Thanks guys.
  • About 10% less than the width of the narrowest letter (i or l) usually works for me. This is usually between 200 and 250 units (given that I'm using a 1000 UPM size).
  • Late to the party here but half the width of the Cap O has never failed me as a starting point although I tend to adjust +/- 10% or so . . .
  • 15(±2) units for sans, 13(±2) units for serif
    (each unit is you /n advance width divided by 32)
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 381
    edited November 4
    I start at 1/4 em (250) if I have no other glyphs in the font. If I already have a lowercase i, then I use its advance width. After that I adjust as needed.

    The current default in FontLab VI is 240 units. That seems like a reasonable enough arbitrary starting point.
  • I draw my word “space” equal to the width of its five letters, plus/minus kerns and sidebearings.
  • Alex KaczunAlex Kaczun Posts: 112
    And, does anyone tighten and adjust the word space as the progression of weights gets heavier? My thinking is that as the stems get heavier and counters get smaller, then it would make sense to reduce the word space proportionately or visually as well.
  • That's what I do. And it gets a little larger as the weight goes lighter.
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