What are the rules on increased tracking?

Eric Kelsey's picture

I have always avoided increased tracking mostly because I don't know the rules on it. I have heard it is only ok for all caps? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.


Jan's picture

rules? design isn’t science.

Eric Kelsey's picture

Regardless of how I worded my question I think it is clear what I am asking. If you don't have anything constructive to add, please don't comment.

will powers's picture

Tracking in text is not regarded as a good practice. When I am in a jam with a page make-up problem I may track a para +1 or -1 to make or lose a line. In a tricky index I may go as much as +2 or -2. Beyond that the para becomes too tight or too loose and these become obvious.

For strings of all caps or small caps, positive tracking is generally a very good practice, for it reduces the color strength of the caps segment of a line. But be careful when tracking all caps or small caps, especially when using a large size. Some letter pairs may then become too open and you'll have to pull back the spacing in some pairs. This is far too often forgotten now that tracking is so easy to do.

On the other hand, look at books produced by Leonard Baskin at Gehenna Press. He set long strings of BEMBO CAPS WITH NO ADJUSTING OF LETTERFITTING AT ALL. Many who appreciate fine printing regard Baskin as one of the masters.


Eric Kelsey's picture

Thank you for your comment Will, it was very helpful and informative.

I have slightly tracked a paragraph before as a solution to get rid of widows. Also to adjust the spacing between words for large blocks of justified text.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Sometimes you can use positive tracking on a tightly spaced (particularly so) typeface to increase the legibility at text sizes.

I've used negative tracking on typefaces I've found to be spaced too loose for display purposes.

anhng's picture


Tracking treatment is used depending on different situation.

If the text is set ragged right or left. A good compositors like to avoid consecutive hyphenated line-ends, but frequent hyphens are better than sloppy spacing, and ragged setting is better yet. And tracking is to decrease its stiffness, as well as preventing an outbreak of hyphenation. Many san-serif look good when set ragged no matter what the length of the measure. Obviously, There is a contradiction there, so you need to decide.

In other case, when the text is justified, the word space become elastic, which always create "river". The size of the ideal world space depending on factors such as letterfit, type, color, and size. A loosely fitted or bold face will need a larger interval between the words. At larger sizes, when letterfit is tightened, the spacing of words can be tightened as well, For a normal text face in a normal text size, a typical value for the word space is a quarter of an em (font size divided by 4).

Language has some effect on the word space as well. In highly inflected languages, such as Latin, most word boundaries are marked by grammatical tags, and a smaller space is therefore sufficient. In English and other uninflected languages, good word spacing makes the difference between a line that has to be deciphered and a line that can be efficiently read.

If the text is justified, a reasonable minimum word space is a fifth of an em (M/5), M/4 is a good average to aim for.

Couple more rule
- add little or no space within a string of initials ,ex: Names such as W.B.Yeats, or J.C.L. Prillwitz.

- Letterspace all strings of all caps and small caps, and all long string of digits. Such as acronyms. Title and heading, adding extra leading is often desirable. And meaningless string like phone number,

- Don't letterspace the lowercase without a reason. If you do, you would steal sheep :D

I just pick out couple word spacing principles explained very well by Robert Bringhurst from the book "The Elements of Typographic Style". It's good to learn the rule first, then breaking that rule (of course, with a reason). There are more rules, so in case you don't know it yet, you should get that book.

Hope that help.

Eric Kelsey's picture

Thanks for all the great comments.

Anh, very thorough answer, thank you! I will definitely purchase that book, its sounds like a good one.

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