letterspacingUse 5–12% extra space with caps, but not with lowercase

Let­terspac­ing (also known as char­ac­ter spac­ing or track­ing) is the ad­just­ment of the hor­i­zon­tal white space be­tween the let­ters in a block of text. Un­like kern­ing, which af­fects only des­ig­nated pairs of let­ters, let­terspac­ing af­fects every pair.

Low­er­case let­ters don’t or­di­nar­ily need let­terspac­ing. Nor do cap­i­tal let­ters when they ap­pear at the be­gin­ning of a word or sen­tence, be­cause they’re de­signed to fit cor­rectly next to low­er­case let­ters. But when you use cap­i­tal let­ters to­gether, that spac­ing looks too tight.

That’s why you al­ways add 5–12% ex­tra let­terspac­ing to text in all caps or small caps, par­tic­u­larly at small sizes.

How to set letterspacing

Word Right-click in the text and se­lect Font from the menu. Click the Advanced tab. On the line that says Spacing, in the box on the right, en­ter the amount of let­terspac­ing. Let­terspac­ing in Word is mea­sured in points. Use 0.6–1.4 points of let­terspac­ing for every 12 points of point size (this cor­re­sponds to 5–12%).

Pages ViewShow Toolbar (or op­tion + ⌘ + t) → Format but­ton → Style pane → un­der the Font sec­tion, click the gear icon and use the Character Spacing box to add 5–12%.

CSS Set the let­ter-spac­ing prop­erty in the range 0.05–0.12em (an em is 100% of the font size, so this is equiv­a­lent to 5–12%).

These are not ab­solute lim­its—use your judg­ment. But avoid the com­mon er­ror of spread­ing let­ters too far apart. If the spaces be­tween let­ters are large enough to fit more let­ters, you’ve gone overboard.

by the way
  • Ty­pog­ra­pher Fred­eric Goudy is fa­mously cred­ited with opin­ing thatAny­one who would let­ter­space low­er­case would steal sheep.” But a few sources claim that his orig­i­nal com­ment con­cerned black­let­ter fonts, not low­er­case, and that he used a more col­or­ful verb thansteal.”

  • I ac­cept the mi­nor­ity view on Goudy’s com­ment be­cause, as Goudy was doubt­less aware, some­times low­er­case should be let­ter­spaced. Fonts in­tended for body text have spac­ing op­ti­mized for the 10–12 point range. But ty­pog­ra­phers will of­ten add let­terspac­ing to low­er­case text smaller than 10 point to keep the spaces be­tween let­ters dis­tinct. Sim­i­larly, ty­pog­ra­phers will of­ten re­move let­terspac­ing from low­er­case text used at larger sizes (e.g., headlines).

  • If you use para­graph and char­ac­ter styles to make a style with all caps or small caps, in­clude let­terspac­ing as part of the style definition.