Type designers use various tools to push text to an elevated level of design. This is a process that starts at simply typing letters on screen, then through adjustments with a trained eye, results in a perfectly crafted and thoughtful design that sometimes transcends mere typed language.

Two measures of adjustments used in typography are kerning and leading. These two aspects of typography are particularly important because their value can offer the greatest amount of customization to a group of text in order to achieve a desired look and feel.

Kerning is the process of adjusting the space between characters in a font, usually to achieve a visually pleasing result. Kerning differs from tracking which is the uniform adjustment of spacing applied over a range of characters. Very often a designer will take advantage of kerning to exploit the individual shape of a letter to create interesting visual relationships between other letters in a group.

Tighter kerning or tracking can compliment the overall shape of the word, forcing the viewer to see the word as a whole shape rather than individual letters. Tighter kerning can also help illustrate interesting negative spaces between letters, and other spacial relationships which can become a design element in itself.

Loose tracking gives a sense of airiness and openness. It brings more attention to the individual letter instead of the overall shape of the word. Loose tracking can also express boldness and expansiveness, commanding a large area to communicate an idea.

Leading refers to the distance between the baselines (bottom) of successive lines of type. The word comes from lead strips that were put between set lines. When type was set by hand in printing presses, slugs or strips of lead of appropriate thicknesses were inserted between lines of type to add vertical space, to fill available space on the page.

Closer leading fits more text on the page, but decreases legibility. Looser leading spreads text out to fill a page and makes the document easier to read. Leading can also be negative, in which case the lines of text are so close that they overlap or touch, creating a desired design.

There is rarely a time when a designer uses a software’s default values as the finished text. Creative use of kerning and leading can result in a variety of emotions and drama in type design. Kerning and leading are just a part of what develops into an overall type treatment that will successfully brand a business. When type treatments are consistent across a business’ branding, a visual continuity is achieved throughout products and services, providing the desired effect of the type to all aspects of branding.

Here are some inspiring resources and examples: