The Great Debate: Metrics vs. Optical

Adobe InDesign Illustrator Metrics Optical kerning
Adobe InDesign Illustrator Metrics Optical kerning

There’s been so much debate between the automatic kerning settings between using Metrics and Optical in Adobe InDesign. In our classes, we’ve touted a combination of using Optical plus manual kerning for headlines in most instances, but have also seen instances where using the Metrics default works nicely too.

Just a background on Adobe’s automatic kerning settings: Metrics kerning uses kern pairs, which are included with most fonts (from their designers). Kern pairs contain information about the spacing of specific pairs of letters. Optical kerning adjusts the spacing between adjacent characters based on their shapes.

A few explanations and opinions on which to use:

The decision comes down to how well the typeface is designed. If you have a free font, you probably need to put some work into manually kerning it or using the Optical setting. Headlines need tighter kerning, so definitely use Optical or manually kern your pairs. Metrics is typically looser, so it might work well for body copy. Again, there’s no hard and fast rule here, train your eye to know good type, and then trust your eyes to make the call.

Here’s our study of a few different faces. You’ll see in some fonts the the space variations are similar, and on others they are vastly different. Which of these look better to you in these specific weights?

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