I think I'm posting this question in the proper SE site, as it pertains more to designers than programmers.

I developed an iOS app with a programmer (I'm the artist), and we're using Helvetica Neue.

The problem is with the kerning - some letter pairs are spaced poorly ingame. It's definitely obeying the kerning table faithfully, so it's not the programmer's fault. But I looked at the kerning table, and there's virtually no modified spacing for much-needed letter pairs, like et and ro. At best, a few capital letter pairs have overly simplistic spacings, like -2 or +1.

I don't know a lot about fonts - do I have a poorly done kerning table? If I bought a copy of Helvetica Neue, would the kerning table be proper? (We're currently using a font copied from the system.)


  • What modifications do you think "et" and "ro" need? Do you have a screenshot of the problem? – thomasrutter Jun 6 '13 at 7:53

My guess is that you're on the right track; system fonts are not meant to be general-use fonts. Try it with a purchased copy and see if that cleans up the problem.

Some other suggestions:

  • Try other weights of Helvetica Neue, if you have them.
  • Try other system fonts (to see if it's a font problem or an OS problem).
  • Try other non-system fonts.
  • 1
    I could be wrong, and I have no knowledge of iOS text rendering, but I would have thought that the system Helvetica Neue system font would be exactly the same as one you'd buy. – e100 Feb 17 '11 at 20:30

In my experience it is typical even for many professionally designed fonts to omit some relatively important kern pairs or kern things less than well, especially once you step outside the basic A-Z, or capitals followed by lowercase. Common weak points are symbols next to letters, lowercase letters preceding capital letters (important for many modern product names like "OpenType") and any non-latin letters (Russian, Greek, whatever).

For example, "nT" is not kerned in Helvetica Neue:

Whereas Nimbus Sans, also based on Helvetica, gets it right.

Not that this makes Nimbus Sans a better typeface.

Myfonts lets you try out letter combinations, with the font's included kerning and OpenType features like ligatures, which is great for trying before you buy.

This way, you can verify before you buy a font whether the included kerning is right for you. And in your case, you can use it to verify whether it's a specific problem with your copy of the font, or it's the way it was designed.

Note: doing this same on Typekit will not necessarily give you as accurate results as on MyFonts, because on Typekit they are rendered as web fonts by the browser, and thus depend on browser support for OpenType features.

  • to be fair 'nT' is hardly a common pair ;) – DA01 Jun 6 '13 at 17:24

If there is an option to turn ligatures off, this might solve the problem.

  • Good ligatures are very good to make reading easier. So I would not disable them. But without more information of the op your answer can only be a guess ... – Kurt Jun 6 '13 at 9:31

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