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Kerning and tracking

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About kerning and tracking

Kerning is the process of adding or subtracting space between specific pairs of characters. Tracking is the process of loosening or tightening a block of text.


Values for kerning and tracking affect Japanese text but normally these options are used to adjust the aki between roman characters.

Types of kerning

You can automatically kern type using metrics kerning or optical kerning. Metrics kerning uses kern pairs, which are included with most fonts. Kern pairs contain information about the spacing of specific pairs of letters. Some of these are: LA, P., To, Tr, Ta, Tu, Te, Ty, Wa, WA, We, Wo, Ya, and Yo.

InDesign uses metrics kerning by default so that specific pairs are automatically kerned when you import or type text. To disable metrics kerning, select "0".

Optical kerning adjusts the spacing between adjacent characters based on their shapes, and is optimized for use with Roman glyphs. Some fonts include robust kern-pair specifications. However, when a font includes only minimal built-in kerning or none at all, or if you use two different typefaces or sizes in one or more words on a line, you may want to use the optical kerning option for the Roman text in your document.

Before applying the optical kerning option to the “W” and “a” pair (top), and after (bottom)

You can also use manual kerning, which is ideal for adjusting the space between two letters. Tracking and manual kerning are cumulative, so you can first adjust individual pairs of letters, and then tighten or loosen a block of text without affecting the relative kerning of the letter pairs.

Word kerning isn’t the same as the Word Spacing option in the Justification dialog box; word kerning changes the kerning value only between a specific word’s first character and the word space preceding that character.

Kerning and tracking

A. Original B. Kerning applied between “W” and “a” C. Tracking applied 

How kerning and tracking are measured

You can apply kerning, tracking, or both to selected text. Tracking and kerning are both measured in 1/1000 em, a unit of measure that is relative to the current type size. In a 6‑point font, 1 em equals 6 points; in a 10‑point font, 1 em equals 10 points. Kerning and tracking are strictly proportional to the current type size.

Tracking and manual kerning are cumulative, so you can first adjust individual pairs of letters, and then tighten or loosen a block of text without affecting the relative kerning of the letter pairs.

When you click to place the insertion point between two letters, InDesign displays kerning values in the Character panel and the Control panel. Metrics and optical kerning values (or defined kern pairs) appear in parentheses. Similarly, if you select a word or a range of text, InDesign displays the tracking values in the Character panel and Control panel.

Apply kerning to text

You apply either of two types of automatic kerning: metrics kerning or optical kerning, or you can adjust the spacing between letters manually.

Use metrics kerning

  1. Set the text insertion point between the characters you want to pair kern, or select text.
  2. In the Character panel or Control panel, select Metrics in the Kerning  menu.
  3. In the Character panel or Control panel, select Metrics or Metrics - Roman Only in the Kerning  menu.

If Metrics is applied to fonts (including some Japanese OpenType fonts) which do not contain pair kerning information, spacing for each character will be set to “0” and character compression will not occur.

To avoid using the built-in kerning information of a font for selected text, choose “0” in the Kerning   menu.


The default setting is Metrics – Roman Only. When Metrics - Roman Only is applied to Roman OpenType fonts, kerning is the same as when Metrics is selected. When Metrics - Roman Only is applied to CJK OpenType fonts, only the Roman characters will be kerned with kerning pairs as if Metrics were set. The CJK characters will not be kerned, as if '0' were set. For this reason, choose '0' to turn off pair kerning.


If you use font metrics kerning in a Japanese OpenType font, it is recommended that you choose OpenType > Use Proportional Metrics from the Control panel menu. That way, you can avoid making unnecessary manual kerning adjustments.

Use optical kerning

  1. Set the text insertion point between characters you want to pair kern or select the text you want to kern.
  2. In the Character panel or Control panel, select Optical in the Kerning  menu.

Optical Kerning is designed on the basis of Roman character forms. You can use this feature with CJK fonts, but you should always check the results of the operation.

Adjust kerning manually

  1. Using the Type tool  , click to place an insertion point between two characters.

    If a range of text is selected, you can’t manually kern the text (you can choose only Metrics, Optical, or 0). Instead, use tracking.


    If a range of text is selected, you can’t manually kern the text (you can choose only Metrics, Metrics - Roman Only, Optical, or 0). Instead, use tracking.

  2. Do any of the following:
    • In the Character panel or the Control panel, type or select a numeric value in the Kerning menu.

    • Press Alt+Left/Right Arrow (Windows) or Option+Left/Right Arrow (Mac OS) to decrease or increase the kerning between two characters.

The amount of the word kerning adjustment is the same as the Kerning value in the Units & Increments Preferences dialog box. When you press the shortcut and hold down the Ctrl or Command key, the kerning amount is the Kerning preferences value multiplied by 5.

Change the default kerning increment value

  1. In the Units & Increments section of the Preferences dialog box, type a new value for the Kerning option and click OK.

Turn off kerning for selected text

  1. Select text.
  2. In the Character panel or Control panel, type or choose 0 in the Kerning menu.

You can also press Alt+Ctrl+Q (Windows) or Option+Command+Q (Mac OS) to reset kerning and tracking. When you do so, kerning is set to Metrics regardless of which kerning option was previously applied.

Adjust tracking

  1. Select a range of characters.
  2. In the Character panel or Control panel, type or select a numeric value for Tracking  .

Highlight text containing custom kerning and tracking

In some instances, you’ll want to be aware of text that has custom tracking and kerning applied. If you select the Custom Tracking/Kerning preferences option, green highlighting appears over text with custom tracking or kerning.

  1. Choose Edit > Preferences > Composition (Windows) or InDesign > Preferences > Composition (Mac OS).
  2. Select Custom Tracking/Kerning, and then click OK.

Adjust kerning between words

  1. With the Type tool  , select a range of text and do one of the following:
    • To add space between selected words, press Alt+Ctrl+\ (Windows) or Option+Command+\ (Mac OS).

    • To remove space between selected words, press Alt+Ctrl+Backspace (Windows) or Option+Command+Delete (Mac OS).

    • To multiply the kerning adjustment by 5, hold down Shift as you press the keyboard shortcut.


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