Kerning vs Tracking – terminology question

In font design it is pretty much clear what is kerning and what is letter-spacing. But which word is more correct to use when you’re talking about an abstract pair of letters (in custom lettering, logo design etc.)? Let’s say, we only have the word “hi” as a vector shape in Illustrator. Would you call the space between those letters kerning or letter-spacing? I would prefer the term letter-spacing, since if it was a font, it wouldn’t be a kerning pair. But some people say it’s kerning, because it’s only a pair of letters.
It is probably a stupid question, I know. :)

Comments

  • default distance between two ch.s (result of sidebearings): spacing.
    adjusted distance (defined for a particular pairing): kerning.


  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,080
    It depends upon if there has been an adjustment beyond the prescribed side bearing programmed into the font.  Tracking is when a string of characters are altered as a group to reduce or enlarge the spacing beyond what was programed into the font when it was designed.  The original metrics defined by the font's designer defines the sidebearings modified by pair kerning added in. When a user buys the font and adjusts the overall spacing in programs like InDesign, which support tracking, this is user augmented overall spacing.  The user may also override the programed in pair kerning to their own preferences.  Kerning is when you adjust the spacing between to adjoining glyphs only. This can be done as a one time instance say for a heading.  Some programs, like Quark, would allow universal adjustments to kerning pairs throughout the document. When individual spacing is done for a logo or lettering, there is no frozen programming like type. Each character is spaced by the logo designer or lettering artist to suit just that bit of text.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 928
    edited January 7
    The term letter-spacing is a bit problematic. CSS has a property with that name, probably because spacing can mean different things in CSS. In typography, qualifying the term spacing with letter- is unnecessary. Not to mention, in traditional typography, letterspace means to add extra space between the letters in a line of type.
  • In typography, qualifying the term spacing with letter- is unnecessary.
    Though it can be useful as a way of distinguishing commentary about letterspacing (space between adjacent letters) from that about wordspaces. 
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,559
    I would generally avoid the term “letter spacing” because typography encompasses many characters that are not letters. And kerning seems specific to type. Just call it spacing.
  • Frode Frode Posts: 36
    edited January 7
    Fitting is the correct term for this, no? The question is not stupid.
  • My impression is that the term fitting was mainly used in the metal type era.
  • Frode Frode Posts: 36
    Meaning what in that context? My memories may betray me, but I seem to remember hearing this term in sign painter circles. 

    Everyday usage of the term “spacing” obviously encompass defining the distance between two letterforms, but the typographic usage of the term implies something quite different (or, at the very least, more specific): an allocation of whitespace distributed equally within and around elements so that the regularity is consistent regardless of permutation.
  • Bhikkhu PesalaBhikkhu Pesala Posts: 156
    edited January 8
    I agree with the definition on Wikipedia under the article Letter-spacing.

    “In typography, letter-spacing,usually called tracking by typographers, refers to a consistent degree of increase (or sometimes decrease) of space between letters to affect density in a line or block of text.

    Letter-spacing should not be confused with kerning. Letter-spacing refers to a uniform adjustment to the spacing of a word or block of text affecting its density and texture. Kerning is a spacing adjustment of one or more specific pairs of adjacent characters that, because of the relationship of their respective shapes, would appear to be badly spaced if spaced normally. A classic example is a capital V next to a capital A, which need to be brought closer together.”
  • My impression is that the term fitting was mainly used in the metal type era.
    Fitting as in copy fitting
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,080
    Copy fitting is a complete other beast.  It is the process used to determining how much space a given text will occupy in a given set of type specifications.  In this digital time, copy fitting is rarely practiced. "Fitting" [matching shapes and spacing of adjacent glyphs while designing a font--or determining how glyphs will be spaced when next to eachother] may be a word used more in the UK or Australia than it is in the USA.
  • Kent LewKent Lew Posts: 763
    In this digital time, copy fitting is rarely practiced.
    True, but by way of tangential anecdote:

    When I was consulting on the TIME magazine redesign a few years back, we were initially trying to maintain a similar copyfit with the replacement text font.

    I wrote a simple script to calculate the average character-per-em of a given font (which I refined using a weighting scheme based on a set of English letter frequencies), which could then be used to calculate average character-per-pica for a given size.

    This “copyfitting” data allowed me to readily evaluate various comparisons: At what size would Font X match the existing average copyfit? What is the relative copyfit between Font X and Font Y when the x-heights are made equivalent. Etc.

    Seemed to me a better exercise than running out a bunch of pages by trial-and-error. At least, it provided good starting points for trial pages.

    Even though copy fitting isn’t practiced the way it used to be, I still find those old calculating skills useful occasionally. I am, on the other hand, a relative dinosaur. ;-)

    (In the end, the constraint around maintaining similar copyfit was lifted, thankfully — especially once the decision was made to change the leading grid.)

  • Copy fitting is a complete other beast.  
    Yes. I've done that. Much fun... :) I hadn't heard it used in connection with making type.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,080
    It has nothing to do with making type, just laying out pages of type in a document.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,080
    Even though copy fitting isn’t practiced the way it used to be, I still find those old calculating skills useful occasionally. I am, on the other hand, a relative dinosaur. ;-)

    I still have my Haberule, Kent ;-)
  • Me too, Chris, and my Staedtler ruling compass. But I got rid of my rubber cement jar awhile back.
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