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Kerning assistance

15 July 2007

Spacing and kerning are essential parts of type design. Together they are responsible for the rhythm which a typeface's black and white shapes creates on the page. Spacing letters – determining the space to the left & right side – goes hand in hand with designing them. Kerning is an additional step, correcting spaces within individual pairs of letters if these are still wanting.
Kerning is hard work, even more so when glyph sets get bigger. Only recently it occurred to me that DTL KernMaster might be a helpful kerning assistant; its automatic kerning is almost a one-click operation and is performed within seconds. (KernMaster has the same origin as URW's Kernus which I tested some years ago and whose results I considered surprisingly good.)
Automatic kerning may sound like a sin at first. Yet nobody says that one should entirely rely on a(ny) tool's results – please read my earlier note on The conceptual side of font production for my opinion on automatisms. I would consider KernMaster as an assistant. This means that it is still up to the designer to check all values, delete some, correct others, add more. A similar opinion was expressed by Miguel Sousa (see the Typblography review of TypoTechnica 2007). It would seem illogical to refuse automatisms per se. The point is to make good use of them. In a by-gone era, type foundries' staffs not necessarily produced better letterspacing and kerning just because they were human beings. A typeface's spacing should reveal the designer's eye for detail, irrespective of the method by which this was achieved.
Since FontLab Studio and DTL KernMaster use different font formats, the workflow is anything but straightforward: Generate an .otf from FLS (one for each master). Convert the .otf(s) to the .be format with BezierMaster or DataMaster. Have KernMaster kern the fonts. Import the .afm file(s) back into FLS.
So I connected both applications with a set of FontLab Studio scripts to:
1. export script generates .be fonts as required by KernMaster
2. [kern these in KernMaster]
3. import kerning back to the FLS font
The toolset translates an FLS multiple master font into a bunch of individual single master .be fonts for batch kerning in KernMaster, and imports kerning for all masters in one step.
More information and a detailed how-to with screenshots are provided in the PDF manual which is part of the download. The manual also covers kerning and class kerning strategies and KernMaster peculiarities.

Ten years later

Post scriptum, January 2018: Discontinued.

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