Kerning, tracking, and leading are functional, technical and aesthetic aspects that help us understand what is a quality font… or isn’t.
To understand when a typeface is of good quality and well designed, we must first understand that within type design, or font design, there are innumerable technical aspects to consider, which contribute to the final result of that font. We talk about things like the quantity of styles, typographical variations like bold, italic, black, thin, small caps. But also things like space management and therefore kerning, tracking and leading.
All the proportions between the various glyphs, between the vertical and horizontal rods. Or even the management of open type features of a font. These are all functional, technical and aesthetic aspects that help us understand how the quality font is… or isn’t. The knowledge necessary to build a complete and well-made font are many and are not limited to aesthetic or stylistic choices only.
Technical aspects to be analyzed
The best way to understand if a font is of quality or not is to verify if, within it, there are these technical and design features. A typeface, to be considered quality, obviously also needs to respond to certain aesthetic characteristics.
And here everything becomes a little more complex. Because if, on the one hand, the technical aspects are easily analyzed and identifiable, the aesthetic canons are more subjective, right? No. I will explain this to you shortly.
Now, let’s focus on some technical aspects that I personally use to check the quality of a font:
Glyphs must be well designed
The first thing to do is to observe and analyze the individual glyphs. There are some features that make a quality typeface, and there are some that make them quite the opposite. The thing to look at is how the various glyphs are consistent with each other in terms of style and design. Individual letters must communicate in the same way within each typeface.
To do this kind of analysis, there are some tricks that type designers have used for hundreds of years. For example, there are some groups of letters that are designed using the same compositional elements, such as h / n / m / r / u. As well as the b / d / p / q or uppercase letters like O / Q / C / G, which have similar structures and curves.
It is this set of elements that make up the supporting structure of a typeface. When you go to analyze the quality of a font, you need to look for that repetition of those shapes, of those curves, of that thickness of the rods. In this way, reading a text with a quality font, one perceives a sense of rhythm. There is nothing out of place.
Furthermore, one way to analyze the design coherence of the glyphs is to compare certain details and their components.
Graces must be visually consistent
In a quality serif font, for example, the graces must be visual all the same or at least coherent with each other. And the same goes for the punctuation, the eyelets, the thickness of the temples, the ends of the temples and, in short, all the details.
Diacritical marks must be well balanced between them
Other things I always look at are the accents and diacritics, especially those of glyphs not commonly used in English as circumflex accents. Even if these elements are well designed and balanced, following the same aesthetic principles and with attention to detail, it is often an excellent sign of quality.
The number of glyphs
Furthermore, the quantity of glyphs contained within a given typeface is also attentive. Having many glyphs is not a collector’s habit, but it is simply a tool that makes the font you use flexible since it makes it adaptable to all the various languages that use those specific glyphs or diacritics. For example, German uses the double S (or scharfes S ) ß, the Polish, the ogonek ę, again the French, the cedilla ç.
So, if you plan to write a long text, I suggest you choose a font that also contains these diacritical marks, because every now and then you will have to enter foreign words.
How to understand if a font is of quality
Now let’s take an example of everything we’ve said so far. Take the Helvetica Neue, Minion Pro and Melisande Sharp fonts. There is no doubt about the perfection of the first two, both designed with undoubted coherence. Writing a text in one of these two fonts, everything will appear in its place, coherent and linear.
Melisande Pro (downloaded for free), on the other hand, is not horrifying but appears to be of poor quality. Analyzing the first group of letters of the image, we can see that the h / n / m / u have the same basic forms. However, the r does not recall the form of n, as happens in the other two fonts.
Furthermore, m / n / r do not have optical corrections, which is very important when working with typography.
Another mistake can be seen in the accents, which are inconsistent with one another. This denotes a lack of attention to detail, which makes this font altogether of low quality.
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