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I'm working on spacing my Century Catalogue (inspired in part by the recent digraph discussion), and have again come up against a fundamental question that's been bothering me for a while.
Tracy's theory of spacing in Letters of Credit makes a great deal of sense to me, especially for the metal type days when it was not practical to have kerning pairs for all possible digraphs. Essentially, Tracy recommends carefully determining the side bearings for 'n' and 'o' such that "nnonn", "nnonon", and "nnoonn" all look consistently spaced, then setting the side bearings for all other letters so that nxn and oxo look consistent.
However, to my eyes, no matter what side bearings I choose, "oooo" looks more tightly set than "nonon" and "nnnn". If I widen the "o" side bearings, then "ooo" looks good (just like "nnn"), but "nonon" is too loose relative to "nnnn".
I know there's a widespread sentiment that relying too heavily on kerning is just a symptom of bad side bearings, but it seems to me that kerning these standards might actually be the right way to solve the problem.
There are a few ways I could go with this:
1. Nice big side bearings on the "o" so that "oooo" looks great (just like "nnnn"), then kern no and on (and, of course, all other pairs from similar classes).
2. Nice narrow side bearings on the "o", then plus kern on "oo". This seems to be closest to the side bearings I see in the ATF catalogues, most likely because it's easier to add a thin space than subtract.
3. Halfway between, a bitty minus kern on "on" and "no", and a bitty plus kern on "oo". This seems to be the closest to the spirit of what Tracy is recommending, not least because it gives reasonably good results when kerning is turned off.
It's also possible that my sense of "oo" being too tight is just plain wrong; that the side bearings are the right way to do this and kerning is not needed.
Any insight would be much appreciated.