Illustrator & Typography – The best tips worth knowing

Improve your skills and workflow by examining these five often-overlooked aspects of illustrator and typography. the differences between optical and metric kerning, how to use the Glyphs panel, how to use Roman hanging punctuation, how to use hyphens correctly, and how to edit the settings to show large font previews… all the tips you need to know.

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1. Optical vs. Metric Kerning

You may have noticed the pop-up menu where you can choose between “metric” and “optical” font spacing when using Adobe InDesign. If you don’t, you can ignore this page.

In Adobe CS, you can use the Character panel to automatically kern text using metric kerning or optical kerning. Knowing which ones to use and when usually depends on what font you’re using and how many built-in kerning pairs it has in the font. Metric or automatic kerning is usually recommended for text. However, if you combine different fonts or font sizes, consider the optical settings as Illustrator will adjust the letter to fit you. Optical adjustments can often lead to better results for the display type.

Optical vs. metric kerning

The layout of your text in InDesign is controlled by this setting:

Metric spacing is based on the font’s spacing information that the font designer put there via character widths and kerning pairs. When metric spacing is used, the font appears exactly as the designer intended.

This character spacing information is completely lost when using optical spacing. Instead, it uses a patented spacing algorithm that estimates each character’s width and kerning. It frequently makes wrong assumptions, which surprises no one.

2. Glyph field

In a font, a glyph is a visual symbol that represents one or more characters of a language or script. For the same character, different fonts have different glyphs, allowing for different interpretations of the same idea or symbol. Glyphs are typically stored in font files, which can contain hundreds or even thousands of glyphs.

You can access a font’s full character set from the Glyphs panel in Illustrator and InDesign. You can find the Glyphs panel by going to Window > Type > Glyphs. Once open, create a text box and then double click on the glyph you want to use. Another tip here is to explore the entire family of a particular font, as you’ll find that some glyphs only appear in italics. Three families of beautiful glyphs are Minion Pro, Burgues Script, and Bickham Script Pro.

You might also be interested in a tutorial I wrote for Layers Magazine: How to use the glyphs panel in Illustrator to create a font monster.


A named collection of glyphs from one or more fonts is called a glyph set. A glyph set stores frequently used glyphs so you don’t have to look for them every time you need them. No specific document is attached to glyph sets. They are saved in a separate file that can be shared with other InDesign presets.

With the added glyph you can determine whether the font is saved or not. For example, if you’re working with dingbat characters that might not appear in other fonts, it’s helpful to remember the fonts you intend to use. The font square in the Glyphs panel and the Edit Glyph Set dialog box turn pink when a glyph’s font is saved but not present. A “u” next to the glyph indicates that the font’s Unicode value determines how the glyph is displayed when not saved with an added glyph.

3. Roman hanging punctuation

Roman hanging punctuation is an often-overlooked area of ​​typography, although in most cases its application gives a much cleaner line to the edge of your body text. By default, this option is off, but you can turn it on in the Paragraph Tools panel. In the Paragraph toolbox, click the small down arrow (see image below) to find the additional options, then click Roman hanging punctuation. Here are other additional options worth exploring.

Roman hanging punctuation

5. Large font preview

Choosing the right font for your particular project isn’t always going to be an easy task, so why not make it a little easier and increase the size of your font preview. To do this, go to Edit > Preferences > Font Preview > Large. While you’re here, you might want to explore the other options available in the Settings panel, which many designers overlook. It can only improve your workflow.

font preview

Hyphens are not hyphens

There are three types of hyphens and they should be used for their respective purposes (admittedly, I’m pretty lazy with that). Below are the definitions and the ASCII codes required to use each dash, along with examples.

The hyphen – (-)
A hyphen is used to separate the words in a compound adjective, verb, or adverb.

e.g. “Read the subtitle above again.”

The En Dash – (–)
The En Dash is used to express a range of values ​​or a distance.

eg “I estimate 5-20 people will actually listen to this advice.”

The Em Dash — (—)
The Em Dash is used to give a sudden pause for thought.

eg “I’ve been thinking about writing – which issue do you think this was published in?

Update: 2/18/2010

“The MAC shortcut for a hyphen is Alt + – and the shortcut for a hyphen is Alt + Shift + -. There doesn’t seem to be one for PC, but some people set up Ctrl + – for en and Ctrl + Shift + – for em in the required program. I find it has made converting dashes a lot easier and more rewarding.” Thanks for the tip Mitchell Harris.

computer art

This article was originally written for Computer Arts Magazine (Issue 170). Below are a few snapshots of the article in print.

Computer art 170

Type Tips Illustrator

More typography tips and resources

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Passion Illustration by MaximusBill

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