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The Wikipedia article stats that kerning is

the process of adjusting the spacing between characters in a proportional font, usually to achieve a visually pleasing result.

For intance when we look at the word Typography

  • a metric kerning of InDesign or
  • no kerning

could be used as the following example demonstrates:

example for kerning between a "T" and a "y"

I wonder now what happens when two characters are separated by a space as the next example shows:

example for kerning  between a "T" and a "y" separated by a space
The first "T ypogrphy" uses metric kerning , the latter no kerning (0).

Now, is it common to use kerning in this case too like there wouldn’t be a separator in-between the T and y?

Note: The sans-serif typeface Arial was used in the examples.

  • I wouldn't think this would be very perceivable in any case – Zach Saucier Mar 19 '16 at 21:56
  • Hold on, I may have misunderstood the question.. Are you asking if characters are still kerned if there is a space between—so you are thinking it is the T and Y pair that is being kerned even with a space between? Rather than the T and the space being the kerning pair? – Cai Mar 25 '16 at 10:31
  • @CAI: Yes exactly that’s my question. :) – elegent Mar 25 '16 at 10:36
  • Ah ok, well my answer still applies in general, I'll update it when I get a chance later today though. – Cai Mar 25 '16 at 10:47
  • @CAI: Yes you are right it provides a nice overview of kerning. Thanks, but no stress please :) – elegent Mar 25 '16 at 10:52
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You are not seeing the same kerning as in between the "T" and "y".

Kerning is applied between characters, yes, but do not forget a space is also a character.

If you select 'metrics' in InDesign, it uses the values supplied in the font file. Therefore, the small difference you see must be taken from information in the font.

Checking arial.ttf I find lots of capitals are kerned against the space, both before (space A, space T) and after (A space, L space). Your T y and T space are listed as

T y -> -113
T space -> -37

These values differ from InDesign's, because it is in design units. For arial.ttf, this value is 2048. InDesign shows it in 1000ths, so for the T-space it shows 37*1000/2048 = 18 (for kerning, it seems it always discards the decimals).

As to whether this is common: for Arial, every kern pairs using space is combined with a capital character, with only a single exception:

quote right space -> -76

So it seems for this font, the designers ("Robin Nicholas, Patricia Saunders 1982") deliberately chose to ever so slightly kern the most "open" capitals. Other designers will have made similar decisions for other fonts.

  • I love the detail and history you put into this answer @usr2564301. – Rick Henderson Nov 6 '18 at 1:40
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Contextual Kerning

In most cases, kerning is the spacing between pairs of characters. It is however possible and useful to apply kerning based on a larger string of characters. This is called contextual kerning.

Contextual kerning is often needed in characters with negative sidebearings. Most often with a space or punctuation in between. For example, the triplet L apostrophe A. The L apostrophe pair will have negative kerning and the apostrophe A pair will have negative kerning—this may result in the L and A colliding and the apostrophe too close to the A and too far away from the L.

enter image description here

Contextual kerning is supported by the OpenType format but support in desktop publishing software and various text-processing engines may vary.

Regarding your specific example of T space y—I don't have Arial to check but I would think it is probably kerning between the T and space you are seeing.

I don't have any figures to back this up, but—from my experience—contextual kerning isn't something many type designers implement. After the very long and tedious process of kerning character pairs, not many designers will be too worried about contextual kerning. Especially when it may not be widely supported.

In the typeface I am designing now, for example (and I just had to check), if I set up kerning for every possible combination of characters—including punctuation and numerals and ligatures etc—I would have to kern over 45 million pairs of characters.

Related reading on contextual kerning:



Edit: Everything from here on is about kerning in general, I originally misunderstood the question...

Creating equal perceived space.

The purpose of kerning is to create equal perceived space between characters. This doesn't only apply to letters, but numbers and punctuation as well.

enter image description here

A period next to an n or i sits right next it. A period next a v or r sits further away. Should you kern that? I would say so.

enter image description here

What about an apostrophe? The apostrophe sits right next to a capital V but further away from a capital A. It's up to you wether that needs kerning.


Space between words.

Most kerning is about the perceived space between characters in words. Kerning spaces is about the space between words.

enter image description here

The extra space from an r or v when combined with a space may create the perception of a larger space between words. If it does they should probably be kerned.


Every Typeface is Different

All of this being said—Every typeface is different. All of these are considerations, not rules. When designing a typeface you will have to weigh up your options and decide what needs to be kerned, what doesn't, what is more important, what is an extreme edge case etc.

There are a number of tricks you can use to help with kerning. Kerning with your type upside down is one—which helps you consider the shapes and spacing of the type without focusing on the meanings of the characters or words. These techniques are out of scope for this question—but spaces should be taken in to consideration throughout the process.

  • Oh I hope I can someday find out what font you designed. I love answers like this. – Rick Henderson Nov 6 '18 at 1:42

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