Kerning, Software, and other thoughts

frederich's picture

Hello everyone,

I have recently been using Fontlab 5 (running on Windows 7) to create my first font. After struggling against a few issues, and winning the battle thanks to this forum, and some other places, I can now enjoy the pleasure of seeing my first font almost finished.

Through this process, I created characters to cover most European languages, and also "Cyrillic based" - I have absolutely no idea if I can actually "say" that, but let's try :) - languages. I have used kerning classes and generated kerning features thanks to these classes.

I have been doing some reading over the past few weeks, and to be honest, I don't really know what to believe or who to trust when it comes to kerning. Here is what stays in my mind : kerning isn't understood the same way in different software. Can this be considered true ? I understand this must feel like a real "newbie" question, but I guess you've got to start somewhere, eh ? :)

Let's sum up what I think I have understood : Microsoft Word doesn't "interpret" kerning - or at least I've tested this thanks to friends who use Office 2003 and 2007. Concerning Adobe Photoshop, kerning can be as the one I've made, but "metrics" isn't selected by default in the "Character" window - or is it, and it could be actually me who changed that without remembering ? I was surprised to see that my font was displayed correctly in many open source software, such as Gimp, OpenOffice or AbiWord - I'm also a Linux user on a personal basis.

So, here's what I thought : Could there actually be something I missed when generating/making the font ? Or are these common issues I actually have never heard of ? I have been reading about Microsoft Word and kerning that had to be "activated" or something, but to be 100% honest, I haven't found any accurate information concerning this.

I'm sure some of you must have already been in this situation, so this is why I'm asking for your help to understand this issue better.

Thank you for the time you spent reading this, and thank you in advance for your contribution.

Frederic

blank's picture

Kerning is off in Word by default. It can be turned on, but Microsoft’s programmers are not good enough to write code that can correctly interpret OpenType class kerning. This is a known issue and has been around forever. When I test fonts in Word I just make sure that the entire character set can be displayed and that the font naming works with Word’s insipid font Menu. Beyond that I don’t worry about Word, because most people who need to do serious typesetting will use an appropriate tool rather than Microsoft’s third-rate word processor.

frederich's picture

Hello James, and thank you for your answer.

I couldn't agree more with what you say about Microsoft Word. I don't know why I picked this software as the first one in my original topic, maybe I thought it was the most "spread". But you're 100% right, people might be using this font in much more appropriate tools.

So I got this part right, so far, about the Microsoft Word issue :)

Have you got any idea about the Adobe Photoshop part ? I've read over the web that some Adobe products used to have "problems" regarding fonts in general, and kerning in particular. But I have no idea what's the status regarding this with the latest versions.

I forgot to say in my original post that the Windows preview (by "Windows preview" I mean, the window that opens when you double-click on a font file) doesn't show kerning at all, but maybe this could be related to the first part of your answer :)

Now that I'm thinking about, does the file format (being either .ttf or .otf) have anything to do with the kerning and its interpretation in software later ? I'm pretty confused about that to be honest. But this is another subject :)

Thanks again for your help !

blank's picture

Have you got any idea about the Adobe Photoshop part ?

Not really. I’ve heard grumbles about this, but I don’t do much testing in Photoshop because it makes type a PITA in general.

Now that I'm thinking about, does the file format (being either .ttf or .otf) have anything to do with the kerning and its interpretation in software later ?

If the kerning is done as an OpenType feature it probably shouldn’t matter because the code will be the same in an OpenType or TrueType font. But there are other ways to build kern tables for those formats. So…maybe? But Microsoft doesn’t seem interested in explaining its incompetencies to the people affected by them, so we will never really know.

frankrolf's picture

Just a comment:
It might not be that MS’s programmers are not able to implement kerning in MS Word. I feel that this is not a fair thing to say.
Kerning is switched off for two reasons:

– millions of legacy documents would reflow
– kerning takes away performance.

If you set up your kerning right, it should work in any Adobe application, including Photoshop.

blank's picture

It might not be that MS’s programmers are not able to implement kerning in MS Word.

I did not say that that “MS’s programmers are not able to implement kerning in MS Word.”. I said that “…Microsoft’s programmers are not good enough to write code that can correctly interpret OpenType class kerning.”. And that is true. OpenType kerning exists in Microsoft word, and it does not interpret OpenType class kerning correctly. Given that Microsoft is one of the companies behind the OpenType specification, and that Microsoft has had years and several versions of office to get it right, the only logical conclusion is that the Word programmers just aren’t very good.

Theunis de Jong's picture

... – millions of legacy documents would reflow

That's not a valid reason. Word documents may already reflow by the simple act of opening them on another computer.

For some reason, Word insists on re-flowing text for the currently selected printer, taking its ppi and whatnot into account. While that's very printer-friendly (the hardware kind -- i.e., possibly intended to get the best possible output per desktop printer), it results in printers (the people) accepting a document from a client, opening it to print to PDF, and then seeing headings at the bottom of the page, page numbers in contents and indexes off, a totally different number of pages, etc.

Back in the day when we used to accept "print-ready" Word documents I always had a blast, moving from one printer setting, one Word version, and one computer to another, attempting to find the magic combination that suddenly made the document at least appear correct.

We now circumvent these issues by telling clients to generate a PDF themselves. Not a thankful job either (as the typical Word user doesn't have a clue of what a Virtual PDF Printer is, where to find it, and why their document may reflow when they install and select it) but at least we moved the problem off our desk towards the client.

frederich's picture

Thank you all for your contribution :)

Frank, the kerning in Photoshop is exactly as it should be, as long as "metrics" is selected for kerning in the "Character" window. What I was wondering was if the "metrics" choice was selected by default, or if "0" was the default choice. But then I guess that people are used to choosing between "metrics", "optical" or something else, aren't they ?

James, what do you mean by "PITA" ? All I know about PITA is this awesome Arabic bread, but I assume it doesn't have much to with typography :)

it does not interpret OpenType class kerning correctly

Now I begin the understand part of the problem.

All these questions really feel like beginner's trouble to me, don't they ? I was wondering, is there a way of "testing" the font to see if everything works as it should ? Or do you just have to install it and open it in every software you can to see it for yourself ? :)

Theunis de Jong's picture

A PITA is a Pain In The Aft region :)

blank's picture

All these questions really feel like beginner's trouble to me, don't they ?

Not really. Beginners have it easy, they can just stick to display fonts and not worry much about how they look in Word. The established designers can end up selling a ten-font family to an international corporation with 150,000 employees who used three different versions of Office across three versions of Windows, and Mac OS, and have external contractors. That’s when it gets really ugly.

I was wondering, is there a way of "testing" the font to see if everything works as it should ?

Build proofing files in Indesign. Indesign isn’t perfect, but it’s a pretty incredible piece of software. And the complex find/replace system with support for regular expressions makes building proofs a breeze.

William Berkson's picture

>it does not interpret OpenType class kerning correctly

Just testing my Williams Caslon Text, which has OpenType class kerning, in Word. After turning it on—which very few Word users will—it does seem to work, though I haven't tested it extensively. Where doesn't it work?

eliason's picture

Here's a case where it apparently doesn't in some versions.

William Berkson's picture

I was testing in Word 2011 for Mac. Craig's link is about a problem with plain kerning tables in Word 2003 and 2007.

frederich's picture

Thank you for explaining the PITA part to me Theunis :) I've got to keep this one in my mind ! (My French brain didn't realize the obvious before...)

The established designers can end up selling a ten-font family to an international corporation with 150,000 employees who used three different versions of Office across three versions of Windows, and Mac OS, and have external contractors.

I'm having nightmares now James :) Thank God I'm absolutely not there.

I have almost never used InDesign in my life, except for a few weeks about 8 years ago, but I'll look in this direction and try to figure what proofing files are. Thank you for the advice !

Here's a case where it apparently doesn't in some versions.

Thank you for sharing this Craig. This was a thread I had seen before actually, and it made me aware of the situation with previous versions of Microsoft Word.

If you set up your kerning right, it should work in any Adobe application, including Photoshop.

I'm bouncing back on what you said Frank, about setting up the kerning right. What I basically did was :

- Create kerning classes manually.

- Add kerning values in the New Metrics Window.

- Generate kern feature in the OpenType panel.

Does that seem good to you ?

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