CalArts: Intro. to Typography-W3: 3.1 Typographic Space

Typography is as much about shaping the space between and around letters, words, and blocks of text as it is about shaping type itself.

In typography, there are terms for different kinds of spaces and there are principles that govern how these spaces should relate to one another.

So let’s take a closer look at typographic space.

Letter Spacing

The spacing of letters relative to one another in a typeface is called letter spacing.

Type designers program letter spacing directly into the font file.

In general, they aim to make the spaces between letters balanced with the spaces within letters.

the spaces between letters
the spaces within letters.


Adding or subtracting space between the letters in a word, sentence, or paragraph in typesetting is called tracking.

If you’re setting type at small sizes, like 9 points or below,
adding a little bit of tracking, say 10 or 20 units
can help make the letters more clearly legible.

But at large sizes, too much tracking will make a word start to visually disintegrate แยกออกจากกัน, 
because the letters aren’t close enough to one another to stick together as a word.

In fact, if you’re setting a large title, 
you may want to set negative tracking,
to bring the letters even closer together than their native letter spacing.

One place for extra tracking is always appropriate is in setting all uppercase type.

Because uppercase letters usually appear next to lower case letters. 
They’re designed with the tighter spacing of the lower case.

So when you set them with one another. 
You need to add tracking a good 20 to 50 units.


Adjusting the spacing between two particular letters regardless of the overall tracking is called kerning.

Kerning is sometimes necessary when you have two letters that fit together awkwardly.

In this word, because of the shapes of the uppercase A and the v, there’s some distracting extra space between these two letters. 
So we’ll kern them to be closer together.

Typefaces these days are preprogrammed with kerning for problematic letter combinations. 
So manually kerning is rarely necessary.


The space between lines of type in a paragraph. The space between one baseline and the next is called leading เลดดิ้ง.

The name comes from the strips of lead that used to be placed between lines of type in letterpress printing.

A particular setting of type is described as a combination of type size and leading.

A common setting for text in books, 
for instance is 9 point type with 12 points of leading.

This is described as typeset 9/12, and it’s written like this.

There’s no easy rule to determine proper leading,
 but the principle is to set the lines of type far enough away from one another that our eyes can clearly distinguish between them,
but still close enough together that we see the paragraph of type as a single block.
And not as a collection of disconnected floating lines.

In this typesetting there is too little leading.
It’s hard for our eyes to follow along the line without getting it confused with the one above or below.

And in this paragraph there’s probably too much leading.
The lines are really distinct from one another but the paragraph is no longer holding together as one visually cohesive chunk.

The x height of the typeface you’re setting affects the leading,

because typefaces with big x heights look visually larger than typefaces with small x heights
they need more leading.

Here both typefaces are set 9 over 12 (9/12), 
but the typeface on the right with the smaller x heights, feels like it has more leading.


Another factor in this matrix of spatial relationships, is line length ลายน์เล้ง.

Line length is measured by the average number of letters that fit on a line.

A good line length is long enough that your eye doesn’t have to keep start new lines every few words, 
but short enough that when you come to the end of one line you’re close enough to the start of the next to be able to find it easily.

66 characters per line is often seen as a sweet spot for line length,

but up to 80 characters still works,

and down to 40 for narrower columns of text also works.

So how does line length affect leading?

Well, if your lines are longer
you may need more space between them in order to help the reader’s eyes follow along them.


A final variable is text alignment.

When text is aligned on the left side and not on the right, it’s referred to as left aligned.

The advantage of setting type this way is that 
it allows the typeface’s native letter spacing and word spacing to be preserved unaltered. ตามเดิม, ไม่เปลี่ยนแปลง

The disadvantage is that it creates an uneven edge along one side of the text, called a rag.

And in a future video we’ll look at how this rag can be manipulated to make it as visually pleasing as possible.

An alternative to left aligned text is justified text,

text that has been aligned on both the left and right sides.

The advantage of setting type like this is that it creates even edges on both sides.

But the disadvantages that word spacing and/or tracking have to be altered in order to make longer lines shorter and shorter lines longer.

And this breaks up the lines of text, creating vertical channels through the paragraph,

and has to be compensated for by increasing leading.

So as you can see the variables that define typographic space, tracking, leading, line length, and alignment all affect one another.

So as a typographer it’s important to be really aware of all of these spatial relationships when you're working with type.