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I love words, and I like finding the beauty in practical, everyday things. Somehow I'd never paid attention to the way words and text come together.

I think most people can tell when a word or page is beautifully laid out and when it looks sloppy. Having the words to articulate what makes text beautiful, though- that is an entire realm of knowledge.

For some time, I've been using a professional typesetting program (LaTeX, for those who care) to write my papers, because it yields such a beautiful, polished result. I was curious about why it looked so much more beautiful than documents produced by a word processor. So now I'm learning: it's all in the details.

One of those details is called kerning, and it is best described by an illustration. I snagged the following two examples from Dario Taraborelli's very beautiful article on LaTeX, and I hope he doesn't mind- I'm still figuring out how to make a graphic out of my PDFs.

This word was created by MSWord, a program which cannot handle kerning (nor can almost any word processor). Notice the unsightly gap between the capital T and the lowercase a. This, is Ellen Lupton points out in her book Thinking With Type is a type crime. A detail, but one that the eye unconsciously picks up. Part of what makes a page seem 'sloppy.'

Here is the word properly kerned, as produced in LaTeX. The T and the a snuggle together. The spacing is much more even. Beautiful.

That was your irrelevant knowledge for the day. Do with it what you will.



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 26th, 2008 03:06 pm (UTC)
I love when folks geek out on the little things. It's those little details that can sometimes make such world of difference.

And BTW, I haven't forgotten your letter of rec. request. I've just been a bit busy lately, so I haven't gotten to it yet. Soon. I will soon.
Nov. 26th, 2008 06:28 pm (UTC)
Actually that's really cool, and something to think about when I'm laying out my childrens' book (!).
Nov. 27th, 2008 01:50 pm (UTC)
Ooh, a children's book! I'd love to help if need be.
Nov. 28th, 2008 01:18 pm (UTC)
I learned all that back in 8th grade when I took Graphic Arts (print shop) instead of Industrial Arts (wood shop). How well I remember loading lead type into a composition stick and physically kerning lines to increase their width to the point of being snug. Kerning like you depicted wasn't possible--you had to substitute a single ligature for the two characters, if such a ligature was provided. Linotype machines could create custom ligatures, but they weren't in the school budget. My graphic arts education has served me well since the personal computer was invented.
Nov. 28th, 2008 10:38 pm (UTC)
Have you read Dee Brown's When the Century Was Young? He writes beautifully (and hilariously) about being a young reporter wrestling with a bad-tempered linotype.
Nov. 28th, 2008 03:30 pm (UTC)
It sounds like about time for you to get your hands on some real moveable type - especially since you're so hands-on in general.

The Great River Arts Institute in Bellows Falls offers an amazing one-weekend typesetting intensive in the fall, which I highly, highly recommend. Watch Carol Hendrickson and I pulling proofs at http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=gerundboi&search_type=
Nov. 28th, 2008 10:37 pm (UTC)
Nifty! Maybe if I have the budget next fall, I will. I was actually thinking of you while posting this entry. "Hmmm, Tessa would like that!"
Nov. 29th, 2008 01:34 pm (UTC)
Tessa love that. Tessa would go to grad school for that, if there were a program outside of Alabama.

You're still in school, yes? If you can spare a couple credits I think Dan Carr, one of the GRAI teachers, gives typography classes sometimes at Keene State and sometimes (if I'm not mistaken) at UVM. Maybe you could get it for next-to-free!
Dec. 1st, 2008 01:30 pm (UTC)
Cool! . . . I can't really spare the credits, and they charge just as much for auditing. But things may change! At least it's nice to know that it exists.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )