Speak the Language of a Typesetter

By Yvette Fitch


Do you know what she means?

Web developers and print typesetters have a lot in common, especially in this age of digital print, however, often, it seems that they speak a different language!

If print is like music, then the typesetter is the composer.  Not only does the typesetter add the notes (type) to the page, but this person also determines the proper spacing of the individual characters to create a harmonious composition.  This role is as old as print itself, and the terms used by the typesetter have their origins in those earliest printing presses.  However, for those who create their compositions in HTML, CSS and javascript, some terms used by their typesetting counterparts may be unfamiliar.

Here are a few important terms that will help you communicate with the person who’ll be designing your printed works for optimum readability:

LEADING -Pronounced “ledding“, it’s the space between lines of type.  In web design, the term is line-height.  Per Wikipedia, the term leading derives from the lead strips placed between lines of type in early presses.

Leading = Spacing between lines

Leading Example

Leading = spacing between lines of text










TRACKING -This is the space between the letters in a line of text.  This should not be mistaken with kerning (see below).  Tracking affects the spaces between all the letters in a word.  Most fonts have a set tracking related to the font size.  This allows this spacing to scale appropriately as the fonts increase or decrease.  It’s handy to use tracking to adjust a line of text to fit into a set space in a document.  In web design, the term is letter-spacing.

Tracking = Spacing between letters in a line of text.

Tracking Example

Tracking = spacing between the letters in a word


KERNING -This is like tracking, however, when you adjust the kerning, you’re adjusting the spacing between 2 adjacent letters in a word, leaving all other spaces in the word unchanged.  This is helpful when using a font where the default spacing leaves an awkward space when using certain letters.  To make the word “look better”, you can adjust the kerning to move the letter closer or further away from the next letter.  To kern type online, specialized javascript tools are required.

Kerning = Spacing between 2 adjacent letters.

Kerning Example

Kerning = spacing between two adjacent letters










This is by no means and exhaustive list.  We’ll examine more in future posts, however, knowing these three terms will go a long way in closing the language gap between you and your typesetting team.


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