The basics

1 Frequently used terms


Tracking refers to uniform changes in the spacing between characters within a selected piece of text. While adjusting the tracking of display type is common, a designer should avoid doing this to body text. A designer may want to adjust the tracking of body text to avoid orphans or widows in a design which can be typically be accomplished by selecting large amounts of text (one or two paragraphs at a time) and making minor adjustments of ±10/1000 of an em, though less would be best.


Kerning is the spacing between individual characters. Kerning is defined within a typeface but sometimes is done poorly, or you are working with a problematic pair of letters (e.g., AV) and you must fix it yourself. Kerning is usually reserved for display type and is not required for body text.


Leading (pronounced LED-ing, not LEED-ing) is the distance from one baseline to the next, but it may be easier to think of it as the space between lines of text. Standard leading is 120% of the point size (e.g. 10 point type would have 12 point leading), though a realistic range for body text could be between 120–145%. Display type may be also set solid (100% leading) or even set with negative leading (less than 100%) as text gets larger.

Text and display typefaces

Text typefaces are for typesetting at between eight and 16 points, though it is safer to stick to between 10 and 12 points. A typeface used for text type should have high legibility, not grab attention, and be easy to read for long periods of time. Highly legible fonts can be identified by their large x-height, open counters, and low contrast between thick and thin strokes.

Display typefaces are for typesetting larger than 14 points. Display typefaces are all about drawing attention, making a statement, and communicating meaning at large sizes. Typefaces used for this purpose don’t need to be as legible as a text typeface.



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Typography Handbook Copyright © by David Piechnik is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.