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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Typography

How to Adjust Kerning in Photoshop

When finishing off a design project, adjusting a logo, creating headlines, or editing typographic compositions, kerning is a part of the design process that designers take into consideration. Today we are going to explore the meaning of the term "kerning", discover how adjusting kerning improves design, and learn how to adjust kerning in Photoshop.

kerning in adobe photoshop mriya groteskkerning in adobe photoshop mriya groteskkerning in adobe photoshop mriya grotesk
Mriya Grotesk Sans-Serif Typeface available on Envato Elements

What You'll Learn in This Kerning Photoshop Tutorial

  • What is the meaning of kerning in typography?
  • What are the types of kerning?
  • Why do you need to adjust kerning?
  • How to adjust font kerning in Photoshop

1. What Is Kerning?

Before we go into what kerning is in Photoshop, let's first define the term. What is kerning? Kerning defines both the typography term as well as a design process.

In typography, kerning is the name given to the spacing between individual characters and letterforms, to achieve eye-pleasing results and better readability.
Kerning is also the design process of manually adjusting this space between characters to make the text look uniform, legible, and visually better.

Kerning helps improve the appearance and design of your text, which might look awkward if left unadjusted. If you were to equally space the letters of a word, you'd be shocked how your text wouldn't actually look spaced. An example is shown below. 

For example, if the letters 'c' and 'l' are too close to one another, at a distance they might mistakenly be read as the letter 'd'. Since letters are not structured and designed with equal curves and shapes, you will sometimes need to manually adjust the distance between two specific letters to make the text legible and match the rest of the letters in the design. Some challenging pairs of letters to kern include ll, rn, wa, ya, yo, tr, ol, li, and cl.

Text with and without kerning effect Text with and without kerning effect Text with and without kerning effect
Representation of Kerning effect
Mriya Grotesk Font and Mauren font With and without KerningMriya Grotesk Font and Mauren font With and without KerningMriya Grotesk Font and Mauren font With and without Kerning
Mriya Grotesk and Mauren fonts available on Envato Elements

2. Why Do You Need to Adjust Kerning?

Kerning is about creating the perception of an equal space between letters, according to the human eye. It is mostly applied when designing logos, adjusting headlines, and creating typographic compositions. While you may count on modern software to create kerning of fonts, and some typefaces have their own built-in glyph pairs, your role as a designer is to have more control over the matter and a keen eye for evenly spaced type. Kerning is pretty much an optical adjustment and a visual exercise of manipulating the space between two specific glyphs to create the illusion of a well-balanced space.

Kerning matters. It is a very powerful tool that plays a huge difference in improving your designs. The simple step of separating or minimizing the space between letters can turn something ordinary into something unique, creating impact at first sight. Many brands use typography for their logos, but instead of using the font as it is, they alter its kerning to turn it into something unique. Below are some brilliant examples of how kerning creates an impact in design.

Having good kerning helps make logotypes and text readable and adaptable on different screen sizes, such as tablets, smartphones, and laptops. Legibility is vital in making the text clear and convenient. If words are too close-knit, they may appear messy, and if the characters are too far apart, the words may be slower to read. Adjusting kerning helps the reader focus on the text and makes it easier and faster to read. 

Brands logotype kerning samples: FedEx, Zara, eBay, Spotify, Balmain, Balenciaga, Versace, Netflix

3. What Are the Types of Kerning?

Each typeface you encounter will have different spaces between its individual letters, so you will have to adjust the kerning to each one differently, especially when it comes to logotypes and headlines, where spacing is more apparent. To have more control over the type, it's better to kern the letters yourself as you cannot rely on the font software to kern them correctly for you.

Graphics software programs like Photoshop, InDesign, or Illustrator usually include two default auto-kerning tools: Metric and Optical kerning. 

Metric kerning, also known as Auto, is basically the default setting in which built-in kerning pairs are used. These built-in kerning pairs have adjusted spacing suggested by the typeface designer.

Optical kerning, on the other hand, overrides a font's built-in kern tables. Optical kerning adjusts the kerning between letters based on their shape. It is useful when using fonts with no built-in kern pairs or when adjusting different type sizes and combining different fonts.

Below is an example of Metric vs Optical vs Manual kerning, and the results of these three kerning methods overlayed.

types of kerning styles metric optical and manualtypes of kerning styles metric optical and manualtypes of kerning styles metric optical and manual
Types of Kerning: Metric, Optical and Manual kerning sample

4. How to Adjust Kerning in Photoshop

Step 1

Now that we know what kerning is in Photoshop designs, let's learn more about kerning in Photoshop. Spending some time kerning type will help your design look more professional. Let's learn how to manually adjust kerning in Photoshop, using the Old Movie Night Flyer PSD file from Envato Elements.

Using Photoshop to adjust kerning (or Photoshop text spacing) is easy. To kern your type, you will need to open the Character panel (Window > Character).

adjusting kerning in Photoshop Old Movie Night Flyer PSD from Elementsadjusting kerning in Photoshop Old Movie Night Flyer PSD from Elementsadjusting kerning in Photoshop Old Movie Night Flyer PSD from Elements

Step 2

Select the Horizontal Type Tool (T) and make sure the cursor is between two letters whose spacing you want to change. In this case, we will adjust the white space between the letters VI, NI, and HT in the "MOVIE NIGHT" title.

old movie postern kerning using type tool cursor between lettersold movie postern kerning using type tool cursor between lettersold movie postern kerning using type tool cursor between letters

Step 3

Within the Character panel, you will see a V/A kerning icon. You can either change the number values in the kerning tool by choosing a value from the dropdown menu or type in the value.

adjust kerning from V/A kerning tool ico on character paneladjust kerning from V/A kerning tool ico on character paneladjust kerning from V/A kerning tool ico on character panel

Step 4

You can experiment by increasing and decreasing the space between a pair of letters. A useful keyboard shortcut is to click between the two letters and hold down the Option/Alt key then use the right arrow key (to increase) or left arrow key (to reduce) to adjust the kerning.

In Photoshop text spacing, a positive value means you are adding white space between letters, and a negative value means you are decreasing the space between the letters.

Manual kerning helps in achieving control and readability. So take the time to practice kerning on your logos, banners, headlines, and signs.

photoshop adjust kerning flyer poster deisngphotoshop adjust kerning flyer poster deisngphotoshop adjust kerning flyer poster deisng

Want to Gain More Typography Skills? 

I hope you liked this quick tip tutorial on what kerning is in Photoshop and how to adjust kerning in Photoshop. If you are looking for more Photoshop resources, check out these articles:

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