Enhance the appearance of formatted text by changing overall spacing across words, between individual letters, and even between lines.

What you'll need

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A stack of flyers announcing an artist open studios event.

Use tracking, kerning, and leading to refine your typography and make your text easy to read. 

Tracking

Tracking adjusts overall letter spacing across a word, line, or a paragraph. It affects the overall tone of your design — increased tracking makes your text text look spacious and refined; reduced tracking makes it look compact and urgent. 

Change tracking in the Character section of the Properties panel or use the Character panel (Type > Character).

Two examples of ART WALK text with positive and negative tracking applied.

Tracking headlines

  • Select your headline text with the Type tool and select or enter a value in the Tracking menu. 
  • You can also click the up/down arrows or Shift-click the arrows to change in increments of 10. 
The OPEN STUDIOS headline has a tracking value of 50 applied. The TRACKING menu is open and shows options.

Tracking body text

A small amount of positive tracking can improve the readability of subheads, text viewed on screen, and elements like pull quotes and sidebars that need to stand out. Negative tracking is rarely used for body text as it can look squashed and hard to read. Try it for yourself.

A small amount of positive tracking is applied to a subhead and body text, making it easy to read onscreen.

Tip: You can adjust tracking visually. First press Cmd+K (macOS) or Ctrl+K (Windows) to open Preferences. In Units & Increments, change Kerning/Tracking to a lower value for finer edits. We used 5/1000 em. Select some text with the Type tool, and then press Option (macOS) or Alt (Windows) and the left/right arrows until the tracking looks just right. 

Kerning

For professional-looking headlines, combine tracking with kerning. Kerning adjusts the spacing between any two letters while tracking affects spacing for more than two letters. 

Try the automated kerning options built into InDesign for good results out of the box. 

  • Select your headline text and apply either Optical or Metric kerning in the Character panel or the Properties panel. Optical kerning adjusts spacing based on letter shapes and is generally a good option for large display text. Metrics kerning relies on font pairing metrics in the font’s design and is better suited to smaller text like subheads and body text.
Two versions of NOVEMBER headline text are layered on top of each other, showing slight differences between Optical and Metrics kerning.

Tips to help you identify poor spacing

  • Look out for poor spacing in some letter combinations such as Va, Fo, Ta, AV, AT, AW. They may require a light touch of manual kerning at large display sizes. To kern characters manually, select the Type tool and click between two letters. Select a kerning value from the menu or click the up/down arrows; add Shift for greater increments.
  • Try to balance the space between letters optically. Squint your eyes to blur the letterforms and focus on the shapes and the negative space between them. 
  • Rotate headline text 180° to work with abstract shapes instead. When you’re done, select the text with the Selection tool and set it back to 0° in the Transform section of the Properties panel.
At left, the WALK text is blurry like you are squinting at it. At right, WALK is rotated 180° to look like abstract shapes.
  • To adjust kerning visually, click between two letters with the Type tool, and then press Option (macOS) or Alt (Windows) + left/right arrows. To reset tracking and kerning to default settings, select the text with the Type tool. Press Cmd+Option+Q (macOS) or Ctrl+Alt+Q (Windows). 

Leading

Leading is the spacing between lines measured from baseline to baseline. (The baseline is the invisible line upon which the letters “sit.”)

  • Select multiple lines of text with the Selection tool or Type tool.
  • Set leading in the Character panel or Properties panel. 

 

Tips: 

  • For easy reading, leading is generally set around two points greater than the font size — for example, 10pt/12pt, 11pt/13.5pt (font size/leading). You can increase the leading further to add some airiness.
A paragraph containing a subhead and body text has 8pt over 14pt leading applied.
  • For longer lines of text in wider columns, increase the leading values to help guide the reader’s eye back to the start of the next line.
Body text spanning the page has extra leading applied. It is easier to read than the same text with auto leading values.
  • To adjust leading visually, select the paragraph with the Type tool. Press Option+up/down arrows (macOs) or Alt+up/down arrows (Windows) until the leading looks just right.
  • To reset leading to the Auto setting, select the paragraph and press Cmd+Option+Shift+A (macOS) or Ctrl+Alt+Shift+A (Windows). 


Thoughtful letter spacing applied sparingly can elevate your typography. There are no set formulas — the amount of tracking, kerning, and leading you apply to headings and body text depends on the typeface, purpose, and line length. Practice and you’ll soon get the hang of it. 

01/07/2021

Adobe Stock contributor: Wavebreak Media

Author: Rita Amladi

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