Kerning, Tracking, and Leading

When working with type, you should understand the difference between kerning, tracking, and leading.


Kerning refers to the space between pairs of letters. You want the amount of kerning to be enough that your letters don’t look crowded (unless that’s a mood that you’re going for) and small enough that the letters flow together and are easily readable. For larger titles, typographers will adjust the space between each letter to get it just right. Some characters require more space between them, and other characters require less.

With smaller text, kerning isn’t as important, because smaller letters means smaller spaces between them which makes it difficult to detect small kerning problems.


Tracking is similar to kerning. It controls the overall space between a selection of letters. By adjusting the tracking of a text layer, you can control the space evenly between all of that layer’s characters. Tracking is usually referred to using the terms loose and tight.

  • Tight tracking moves the characters closer together. Tightening the tracking can make a long title or credit fit on one line while keeping the font size the same.
  • Loose tracking spaces out characters. Loosening the tracking can make a complex font or all uppercase characters more readable, or just spread out text across more space.


Leading (rhymes with bedding) controls the vertical space between lines of text. The default leading is based on the font size and works well in most cases. In some cases, tweaking the leading can increase readability or make two lines of a title seem more unified. Too little leading, however, can cause certain characters of a line of text to overlap the line of text below it, which usually decreases readability. The term leading comes from the printing practice of using lead strips to separate lines.

The following diagram shows the difference between the three terms: kerning, tracking, and leading Notice that the tracking of the fourth line uses the same font and font size as the other three lines, but the tracking is much tighter.

Written by Nat Dunn. Follow Nat on Twitter.

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