How much built-in “tracking”?

How do you space your sans serifs?

If the same font will be used at 7 pt and 72 pt, presumably progressively tighter the larger the size, what is the optimum size you space it for?


  • Most often the lowest sizes. My impression is that people are more used to tighten the tracking manually, rather than the opposite.
  • Concur. And on web, fractional positive tracking (for text) is still unreliable.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,430
    Too bad it’s not possible to build in a size-specific tracking table, like in Quark XPress.
  • I prefer for the lowest sizes, like Göran. But I noticed it might also depends who you are designing it for. IMHO Americans like it more tight.
  • Americans like it more tight.

    This is true, though many of us fight the trend for tight text at every turn.

  • Towards the low end surely, but not for the very smallest end of the range, I would say.
  • I simply don't let designers choose 7 to 72 point mastering. Nearly any sans can be critiqued to its senses. The lowercase i, for starters — even if you can add tracking tables for lovely horizontal spacing from 7 to 72 point, the vertical space between the dot and the stoke is only the right space for one, or a narrow range of horizontal spaces around the. Bolder a family gets, the narrower the good size range...

    That little space is, I think, just the tip of the fin of the shark. Tracking mechanically started in proprietary systems working with fonts made for narrow size ranges. Adding tracking to apps was hell on type from the minute Adobe/Aldus started publishing the pair, (tracking apps and 7 to 72 point masters). And though adding a tracking table to the format would expose the problems with the format's ignorance to everything else size-related, (Yippie!) it'd probably be better to add the everything else first, seeing as that everything else is holding back "responsive" typography.

  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,430
    I’m flirting with the idea of producing separate text and display versions, with the only difference being that the display version is very tight and kerned differently. I don’t see how that would affect the tittle, though.
  • Berthold had a table of tracking adjustments per font size. The fonts where spaced for ~12pt. I can't find an online reference to the list. It is published in "Detailstypographie" by Forssman, De Jong.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,430
    The r_t sequence in fonts such as Helvetica has always bothered me. 
  • Nick, in what way?
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,430
    The glyphs are practically touching, and in fact overlap in Helvetica Neue 25 and 35. If negative tracking is applied for heads, they overlap in all weights. Mind you, I haven’t studied this in Neue Haas Grotesk.
  • I prefer to do spacing and kerning for 9 points. Scangraphic also had automatic tracking (minus spacing for larger sizes, positive spacing for smaller sizes). In the early years of PostScript Fonts, Agfa Compugraphic defined tracking ranges in the AFM-Files. I do not recall wether that was for Type3 only or also for Type1 Fonts, but they did it. At Scangraphic we included tracking in the AFM Files, with which one would be able to emulate the automatic tracking as provided by the Scangraphic typesetting software. Never heard of any software that looked into the AFM-files to figure out on tracking though …
  • Nick, though one tittle shall not pass of the law, an example of good and bad tittlization is visualized in the top two logos at

    Looks like both logos track Segoe about... -20, and the "Microsoft" is fine, but "Windows'" little tittle is high, due to uncorrected post-tracking tittle management.

    if you are making multiple masters,  that alone severely eases the need for tracking anyway. So, a large sans master could have among other things, tighter spacing, and shorter ascenders, meaning tighter tittles anyway.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,430
    Thanks, David.

    In the sans I’m working on at the moment, I’m putting masters at 25, 45, 85 and 105, in the Helvetica Neue nomenclature.
    From 45 to 85, quite open spacing, for text at 8 or 9 pt. But the Thin (25) and Fat (105) are not viable small, so are much tighter.

    Of course, that won’t stop people using Thin at agate size…
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