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If kerning is the manual adjustment of spacing between two specific letters, how does it relate to tracking and leading? Tracking is an overall adjustment of space applied equally to a word, a line, or a passage of text. Leading is the space between lines measured from the baseline to baseline. Tracking and leading can both affect the overall typographic color or tonal weight of the page and its legibility. First, let's look at tracking.
Tracking can have a dramatic effect on the number of characters per line and the legibility of the text. We only want to make minimal adjustments in order to improve the appearance of the text. It's like the story of Goldilocks who tasted the porridge in the home of the three bears. The first bowl of porridge was too hot. The second bowl of porridge was too cold. The third bowl of porridge was just right. Why am I my telling you this fairytale, because we want to see spacing that is just right.
If we add too much space to a paragraph or a line of text, it will look loose and be hard to read. If we take away too much space, it will look too tight and also be hard to read. Another reason to use tracking is to avoid those unsightly widows and orphans. A widow is a word or a part of a word hanging out at the end of a paragraph. It's undesirable, because it harms the overall color of the page of text by creating gaps of space between the paragraphs.
By slightly decreasing the tracking of the paragraph, we can pull those widows up into the text to make a more attractive arrangement, or we might increase the tracking slightly to push the text into filling of that empty line space. Now you can see that the continuous color and typographic texture of the page looks better. An orphan is a word or a part of a word at the top of a column. This is even more undesirable because it interrupts the horizontal alignment of the column tops.
We can use tracking to fix this situation. Tracking might also be used to fix gappy word spacing or to fit type into a specific area, but remember Goldilocks, we don't want leading that looks too tight or too loose, it needs to look just right. Let's talk about leading. Leading is a counterpart to tracking. It's the space between lines, and it's measured in points from baseline to baseline. Leading is a term carried over from the earliest days of metal type.
The space between lines was adjusted by inserting a thin strips of led to increase the space between lines. For easy reading, leading is normally two points greater than the type size. That allows a comfortable space between lines so that the Descenders and Ascenders won't bump up against one another. If you have lines that are long, you will want to increase the leading to allow the eye to find its way back to the beginnings of the lines. Also if you have a type style that has a strong vertical stroke like Bodoni, you will want to increase the leading a bit to compensate.
This way the eye can distinguish the horizontal flow of the line more easily. As with other factors that we've discussed, tracking and leading are also relative. They exist in relation to the type style, the length of the line, and size of the type. Different factors can change the mix. That's why it's important to develop your typographic eye and remember the theory of typographic relativity because everything exists in relation to everything else, and we want to create a harmonious whole when we design with type.
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