Tighten Up Those Headlines – Kerning Control Comes to Fonts.com Web Fonts


Johnathan Zsittnik in Archive on October 17, 2013

OpenType Kerning Features

Since the mass availability of Web fonts, the gap between the typographic possibilities within Web and print design has been steadily closing. Continuing the trend, today we unveil new kerning and letter spacing capabilities to our Fonts.com Web Fonts service that can help take your Web designs one step closer to pixel perfect.

While kerning can be incorporated through standards-based implementations, there are several limitations that Web designers currently face:

  • Kerning settings in the browser may be on or off by default
  • The amount of kerning applied is inconsistent between different browsers
  • Kerning cannot always be controlled via the low level font-feature-setting: “kern” syntax from the CSS3 spec or the high-level, font-kerning syntax from the CSS3 spec
  • Text-rendering-optimizeLegibility, from the SVG spec, has inconsistent effects on kerning across browsers.

A variety of JavaScript libraries exist to enable kerning and overcome the issues described above, however each force the Web designer to specify kerning levels rather than leveraging kerning information specified by the font designer.

I had a chance to chat with Sampo Kaasila, about the technology he helped build and its inspiration. In his words, “The realization that kerning support is inconsistent and sometimes wrong across different Web browsers provided the impetus to develop this technology. It provides Web designers with kerning that is settable, correct and consistent across browsers.”

The new capabilities within Fonts.com Web Fonts allow you to specify letter spacing in a variety of ways. You can use auto kerning to take advantage of kerning pairs designated by the font designer. Or, you can specify your own kerning value for letter pairs. A tracking control allows the adjustment of spacing between three or more consecutive characters.

Kerning can be applied globally to a CSS selector. For example, I can enable auto kerning for all of my subheads by turning the feature on for the selector (i.e. H2) designated for my subheads within my CSS. Alternatively, kerning and tracking can be applied to targeted blocks of texts.

The new letterspacing controls are an extension of our OpenType feature technology that enables OpenType features such as fractions and ligatures to be rendered in all modern browsers – including those without native OpenType feature support. We’ve also enhanced this technology to allow users to specify a preferred glyph when multiple options exist. In the example below, two options for stylistic alternates are presented for the lowercase k  in the Fairbank typeface. This enhancement lets you specify a choice instead of using the default glyph.

Custom Kerning

To give users a sense of what’s going on ‘under the hood,’ I had Sampo provide an overview of how the technology operates. “Our service works in conjunction with client side JavaScript code. Runtime adjustments are made to the inter-character spacing to ensure correct spacing, depending on if the style in the external CSS or inline style attributes has enabled or disabled the kerning. Additionally, a consistent default on or off setting will be applied if there is no style information regarding kerning. Our service reads all the kerning information within the font’s kern and GPOS tables. This is then compiled to JavaScript code in the cloud. At run time, before the page is drawn, a rule application engine applies the kerning by injecting style information, which then correctly positions the characters when the browsers draw the text.”

Here’s a quick how-to for using these new capabilities

  1. Login to your Fonts.com account. You’ll need a Fonts.com Web Fonts subscription, but even a free plan will work. Free plan subscribers have access to the technology and compatible fonts.
  2. Search for fonts containing kerning support. Use the kerning support filter like this to narrow your Web font search.
  3. Add the font to your project. Be sure to grab the variant with “OT features” in the name. To be certain you have this option, don’t add an entire family to your project. Adding one weight at a time will allow you to specify the version you want – in this case, the version with OpenType features.
  4. Visit the Manage Web Fonts page to work on your project.
  5. Open the Add & Edit Fonts control for your project.
  6. Select the OpenType Features tab (If you don’t see it, your project does not contain a font with OpenType features).
  7. Select the Basic panel to apply kerning and OpenType features globally to a CSS selector, or the Advanced panel to apply kerning, tracking or OpenType features to targeted text.

Applying kerning or OpenType features to a CSS selector

  1. From the basic panel of the OpenType Features control, enter the selector name you wish to style.
  2. Selecting the font you want to use for the CSS selector from the Choose a font menu.
  3. Click Add.
  4. Click the CSS selector you just added form the menu below.
  5. Check Apply Auto kerning box to enable kerning. Preview the impact in the preview pane at the bottom of the control.
  6. Click the icons of any OpenType features you wish to apply to your selector. Again, you can preview the impact in the preview pane at the bottom of the control.
  7. Make sure you are using the JavaScript publishing method. This will not work through the non-JavaScript (CSS linking) or self-hosting publish methods.

Auto kerning Web Fonts

Applying kerning, tracking and OpenType features to targeted text

  1. From the advanced panel of the OpenType Features control, enter the text you wish to stylize in the “test your own text here” pane.
  2. Make sure you’ve highlighted the text you wish to stylize.
  3. Use the Auto Kern check box to enable auto-kerning.
  4. Use the Kerning slider or menu to kern two consecutive characters.
  5. Use the tracking slider or menu to adjust the spacing of three or more consecutive characters.
  6. Click the icons of any OpenType features you wish to enable for your text.
  7. Click the Select HTML button to view and copy the HTML you’ll need to add to your site.
  8. Make sure you are using the JavaScript publishing method. This will not work through the non-JavaScript (CSS linking) or self-hosting publish methods.

Custom Kerning

We hope you enjoy using this new technology. You can provide any feedback or tell us how you’re using it in the comments section.

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