To design great book covers, you’ll need to embrace the idea of tweaking your letters and lines. When we talk about letter and word position, we have two areas to address: the first is the position of the actual letters within a word (kerning); the second is the position of each line in a paragraph and the space between them (leading).
If you’ve attempted to make a book cover, flyer or other design using large letters, you have probably noticed the annoying tendency for certain letters to appear too far away from the words to which they belong. The example below illustrates the problem. Without letter adjustment, the Y feels too far away from the other letters.
Similarly, you’ve likely experienced the frustration of trying to make two lines of large text sit close together, only to find your word processor has something else in mind. Fortunately, we have solutions to both problems.
Great Book Covers Embrace Kerning
Kerning refers to manual adjustments to the space between letters. Because the letters we type show up on the page as individual blocks, they don’t naturally overlap each other or tuck inside one another the way we might sometimes prefer, especially at larger point sizes.
Why not pull the Y closer to the other letters in Yearly, so the word will look as it should? The goal of kerning is just that: to equalize the apparent space between each letter and minimize abrupt gaps or crowding.
When our eyes land on a word known by sight, the word’s identity is triggered in memory quite rapidly. When sight-words are known well enough, our brains recognize pronunciations and meanings automatically, without any attention to sounding out the letters. As we mature and our reading skills improve, we read words as single units, or images, without pausing between characters (another reason why all writers need editors).
Uneven letter spacing distorts the picture of a word, and our brains must work harder to identify it when glancing over a choice of book covers. When it’s very uneven, we consciously recognize the misplacement of letters and become distracted from the actual content. Proper kerning removes the interruption of white space and the confusion of crowded letters, making words appear more like the sight-words our brains are accustomed to reading. Book covers serve as the packaging of our books, and the key text should be comprised of sight words.
In the example above, the gap created between the R and o in Rome leaves the word looking more like R ome. While still readable, the distraction of white space gives the word a less than polished appearance, and at first glance, we can sense something doesn’t look quite right. When we see this lack of attention to detail on book covers, we conclude that the same lack of attention will be found in the book’s contents. Not good for book sales.
Additionally, gaps after the T and L make ITALY read more like IT AL Y.
Fortunately, the problems are very easy to correct, using a graphics program such as Photoshop.
Above The R and o are now close enough together to make the white space between them similar to that of the other letters in the word. Additionally, the T and A in ITALY overlap somewhat, as do the L and Y. This equalizes the apparent space between each letter.
Book Covers with Correct Kerning
Here we’ll use the same words on two different book covers to illustrate how the appearance improves with kerning. In the first of the book covers below, the problem areas are indicated by an orange line. Letters that need the most attention are the capital T’s in the first line of the title, the spacing after the & symbol (it doesn’t look centered between the two words), and the capital C and W in the second line of the title.
(Note that smaller type, like the text you are reading, does not require kerning.)
To shrink the gaps, kern the T’s in the title until they overlap the r in Truth and the a in Tales. Move the C in Cupcake and the W in Warrior closer to the other letters. Reduce the space between the letters of both the LYVO and KS combinations (in the author’s name). Finally, equalize the space around the & by typing the T immediately after it, with no space bar in between them.
Every typeface has its own set of spacing challenges, so a problematic sequence of letters in one font may look okay in another. Additionally, different characters require different degrees of adjustment, and many letters don’t need to be kerned at all. Capitals such as V, A, W, L, T, Y, and R, in large type, almost always require adjustment on book covers.
Great Book Covers embrace Leading (pronounced ledding)
Leading refers to the amount of space between lines of text. In this paragraph, for example, the lines within it are spaced equally; the amount of space between the header and the paragraph, on the other hand, is more pronounced. Similarly, the space between the last line of a paragraph and first line of the next is a bit larger.
When lines of text are spaced correctly, we know which lines belong to a single text element. We also know when one text element ends and another begins (such as a new paragraph).
Spacing between the lines of common elements, such as the subtitle or book description, is equal on professional book covers, even when the letter size is not. For example, in The Bikini Ready Diet, the lines in the title have the same amount of space between them, regardless of the point size. This consistency in leading indicates that all of the words belong to the same text element. It’s a small detail, but the brain perceives it on well-designed book covers.
On this particular cover, the spacing is fairly consistent for each text element. Though not required, consistent leading across text elements will lend structure and cohesiveness to your future book covers.
For the majority of book covers, as letter size increases, line spacing usually decreases. As letters get smaller, lines become harder to read and require increased leading for legibility.
Hope you enjoyed Kerning and Leading: Spacing Letters and Lines on Book Covers. Thanks for reading!
Previous: Type: Contrast & Legibility
Other articles that may interest you:
- Typeface and Font for Book Covers
- Book Cover Copy: Front and Back
- Copy Placement: Where do the words go?
Thanks for reading!
By Stacie Vander Pol