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In this movie, I am going to cover tracking and kerning. I have created some titles to play with. The first is Baskerville Italic, second is Birch, and the third is Copperplate. I will select the Copperplate, and there is an option in the Character panel to increase and decrease tracking. When I increase tracking, extra space is added between all of the characters evenly. You will also find a condensed font like Birch can also be more readable when some space is added between the characters.
On the other hand, a font like this Italic font can look a little strange if you increase tracking too much, and that also goes for calligraphic or scripted fonts. And I think that's because when you're handwriting, you generally don't leave big spaces between all the characters. So when you are increasing tracking, I would take into account whether you are really helping to make it more readable. Sometimes with scripted fonts, it looks better if the letters are closer together, so I am going to set Tracking back to 0. To the left of Tracking in the Character panel is the Kerning controls and this sets the spacing between two characters in the font as opposed to the entire title.
Now before I show you how to fix some of the problem spacing, such as the r and i here, or the large gaps between the words, let's talk about kerning pairs and what comes bundled with the font. When you are talking about a font like Baskerville, Helvetica, and Copperplate, and those major fonts from big companies, generally speaking they spend a lot of time working on kerning pairs. For instance, with this Italic font, the spacing between the F and the O look pretty good. So someone went to the trouble of making a custom kerning pair to make those work together.
On the other hand, it looks like they didn't do such a great job with the r and the I; I think this is a little bit tight. And of course, it's impossible to come up with every single variation. Now After Effects to use these built in Kerning pairs, the Kerning menu needs to be set to Metrics, and that's the default. But more recent versions of After Effects includes another option called Optical. When you choose Optical, After Effects will look at the shape of the characters and try to figure out a good way of fitting them together. And sometimes it actually looks better, particularly for display fonts, or inexpensive fonts, where there wasn't a lot of Kerning pairs built-in.
Unfortunately, no matter which option you choose, there will always be a few characters you're still not happy with. Although the r and the i are a little bit better, there's still a big space here, and the f and the o are not as good as they were before. So at the end of the day, you will often find yourself fixing kerning pairs on your own--and thankfully it's pretty easy to do. Now one option is to just place your cursor between two characters and start scrubbing the value. When you start scrubbing, sometimes you will get a bit of a jump.
I am going to set it back to the default, which is Metrics. So I would like to open up the r and the I, so I place the cursor between the two characters, press the Option key on Mac, and then press the Right Arrow key. Every time I press the arrow key, if you watch the Character panel, you will see its jumping in 20-unit increments. That's actually quite a large amount of space, and unfortunately, After Effects doesn't allow you to set how big an increment is when you press the Arrow key.
I can fix these spaces by pressing Option+Left Arrow key. Hit Enter. With the Copperplate, it's just a couple of letters here and there that I think I would tighten up. I find when I have characters like a P or an O, the shapes they create can sometimes need tightening up. So my approach is to use tracking to adjust the overall spacing and then go in with Kerning and try to even up the kerning pairs. When I'm done, I might even increase Tracking a little if Kerning has tightened up the characters too much.
And so as long as the end result is that the spacing is even, it doesn't so much matter how you get there. Now you might be thinking that all this kerning and tracking is time consuming and there is no way you could do this with every single word, especially if you are on the tight deadline. But let's say you're working on a movie title or a TV show, and you have a few weeks to work on the job. In that case, it's worth spending a few minutes on each title making sure they're absolutely perfect. So of course, any extra time you spend kerning and tracking, it has to be proportional to the time you are spending on the entire job, but I believe that little extra effort will make your titles look more professional.
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