This week we are talking a bit about letter spacing! When I first started lettering, the biggest struggle was to space my letters nicely. Even today, I continue to learn the nuances of achieving balanced spacing with my lettered pieces. Although there is no magic formula for perfect spacing (believe me, I've asked around), there are some guidelines that can help. This topic could easily expand to other typography terms like kerning and tracking, but I'll save that for another time. We'll just hit the basics for now.
In the example above, I want to point out that if you are dealing with *proportional type, characters will be a variety of different sizes. This can pose a challenge as the "set width" of a character may be different for every letter in your piece. Notice the S is much skinnier than the width of the A? Because of these varying widths, we can't simply set a strict space between each letter.
*Proportional vs Monospaced: Proportional type has different character widths. Monospaced type, such as Courier, is set with every character aligning vertically and with the same "set width." Typically, proportional type is more aesthetically pleasing when used well in lettering pieces.
Above you can see that I have set one strict space to be used between each letter. It looks awful and visually imbalanced, doesn't it? This is why placing set width guide marks for letters on a project rarely works. It all comes down to visually equal spacing. Here's where relying on your eyes takes practice.
For this example I have used a well designed typeface and shaded in the approximate visual space between characters. Although the S is still thinner than the A, some compensation has been made. As a whole, doesn't the shading appear nicely balanced from one shape to the next? The next example will share why this works.
Here are two examples: one with straight strokes back to back and one with rounded characters. Even though this tip is also relying on visual balance, here is a more detailed rule of thumb to follow. Straight edged character pairs will need greater distance than rounded characters. The O and C are pulled tighter than the H and I. However, the shading seems to balance out from pair to pair. Remember the issue with overshoot and rounded letters? The same applies to the left and right side of the rounded characters. We compensate for the illusion that rounded forms are smaller or don't extend as far.
Above is the example with no diagram distractions. We can see that the word has an acceptable balance due to the care taken with the letter spacing. Again, no magic formula, but observation and practice is the best way to hone your skill! At first it may take a lot of erasing, but keep observing and be sure to look at appropriately designed typefaces for balance. On that note, keep in mind that not every font has been made with appropriate care to letter spacing. For practice, it will serve you best to look primarily at those from established foundries. A font designed by a student will have far less precision than one created by someone who has worked with type for years.
And that is as close to a magic formula as we can get! When working with letter spacing it takes time and patience to get characters to their "sweet spots." Letter spacing is a difficult skill to master -- and I certainly haven't, but I do know what to look for so I wanted to share it with you!
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Have a happy Tuesday, all.