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Tracking and kerning are two terms that often get confused. They are distinctly different. We're going to begin with tracking because it is the more global of the two. It's a good idea to begin with your tracking, which adjusts the space across a range of type, and then drill down to your kerning, which adjusts the space between a pair of characters. So let's see what I mean by that. I'm going select this piece of type. There is currently no tracking applied. The Tracking options, they are not on the Tool Options bar, but they are in your Character panel and they are these.
So if I wanted the space between the words to be bigger, choose a positive number, and if I want the space between the words to be less, or if I want my letters more tightly fit, I would use a negative number. This is not in any way affecting the size of the type. It is just the space between the characters. I can also use this scrubby slider and if I move to the left, things get tighter; to the right, they get looser. So how much is the right amount? There is no right amount. It depends upon the typeface that you are using and upon your own personal preference. I'm going to set this back to 0.
I'm now going to turn on this layer, the layer that's called loose, and we see the same type, but with loose tracking applied. Now loose tracking may be appropriate here for the following reasons. When you're working with type set in all caps and you're working with serif type, as I am--this is font group Trajan Pro--it looks good. I know that's a very subjective term, but it does tend to look a lot more sophisticated perhaps when you add some space between the characters.
So I've applied in this case 100 units, out of a maximum of 1,000 or 100/1000ths of an em space between the characters. Now if I were to try this same approach, but working with sans serif type, we see that the opposite isn't actually true. Yes, I'm still working with type in all uppercase, but when you work with sans serif type you tend to want the type to look more dense. You're working with sans serif to create more of an impact, and spacing out the letters is actually going to diminish the impact.
So on the top here we have our type with 0 tracking and that looks fine. Then below we have our type with, again, 100 units of tracking, and that doesn't look so good. So as a general rule of thumb-- and you can find exceptions to this all over the place and feel free to break this rule--but just as a general guideline, when working with serif type in all uppercase, very important, you shouldn't really track text in lowercase or upper- and lowercase, although again there are exceptions to that.
But when working with text in all uppercase, positive tracking for serif, negative, or no tracking, for sans serif.
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