More Than You Want To Know About Type

Once in a while, someone can ask me a simple question about…anything and I start rambling off an answer. Before I know it, I have told them more than they ever wanted to know about the subject (it could be something related to digital scrapbooking or it could be how my day is going or what I had for breakfast). Suddenly, I’m embarrassed and wish I would have shut my mouth after just a sentence or two. Today, I’m going to share some information about the Type Tool and when this post goes live, I might find myself embarrassed and thinking, “Way more than they wanted to know about Type!” Hopefully, you can find something new you might want to try.

The type tools in Photoshop Elements and especially Photoshop are very powerful. I would be willing to guess that most of us don’t use them to their full capability, or even close. There are so many cool effects we can do with type, if we know the right places to click.

Here are some of my favorite resources with comprehensive guides for using the Type Tool and all of its’ options in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements:

A Comprehensive Introduction to the Type Tool (Photoshop)
Type Tool (Photoshop)
Type Tool (Photoshop Elements)

You get more customization options in Photoshop than you do in Photoshop Elements. Many of these same customization options are available in PaintShop Pro as well. There are a couple of options that are often unknown or misunderstood, I wanted to cover them a bit today.

Metric Kerning vs. Optical Kerning

Kerning is the spacing between letter pairs (read more about Kerning on Wikipedia). Many typographers manually kern their fonts when they create them. That means, they go through each letter combination pair and manually adjust the spacing between them so they loo right. Manually kerning is tedious, time consuming, and addicting all at the same time. A font that is kerned well can take years to create. This is why expensive fonts are expensive.

TypeToolIn the kerning drop-down in Photoshop, you have some choices, we are going to focus on Metrics, Optical, and 0. The Photoshop help file says:

“Metrics kerning uses kern pairs, which are included with most fonts. Kern pairs contain information about the spacing of specific pairs of letters. Optical kerning adjusts the spacing between adjacent characters based on their shapes.”

If you select 0 the spacing between letters will not be based on the shape of the letters at all. This is the default setting in Photoshop Elements and can’t be changed. Let me show you a comparison:

imageThis is my Fontologie Giggles font set to 0 in Photoshop, which is also how you will see it in Photoshop Elements.

imageThis is the same word and font, I only changed the kerning setting to “Metric”. The biggest difference is the space between the “F” and “a” which together become a “kerning pair”. The kerning pairs on the “Metric” setting are the ones I manually added when I created the font.

imageThis is the same word again, using the same font but with the “Optical” setting. Once again, the only noticeable change is the spacing between the “F” and “a”. This spacing is based on the font and the letter shapes and is Photoshop’s best guess.

Another little known feature that some high-end Open Type Fonts come with are ligatures and additional characters. To access these, just click on the little fly-out menu button in the Character window:


Then, on the fly-out menu, select OpenType and another menu will open. You can then turn off and on different selections by checking or un-checking them. I usually select items based on each letter depending on the look I am going for. By highlighting one letter in a word at a time, I can experiment with turning on and off different features.



imageThis is the font Feel Scrip without any OpenType options selected.


This is the same font (Feel Script) with the OpenType options “Stylistic Alternates” and “Discretionary Ligatures” selected


Again, this is the Feel Script font with the OpenType options “Contextual Alternates” selected on the “F” and “Swash” selected on the “y”.

imageThis time, I used a lowercase “f” and selected “Stylistic Alternates” for it and “Contextual Alternates” for the “y”.

You can get so many looks from one font it is amazing! This is the other reason expensive fonts are expensive…it takes a long time to design all of those different options for every character in a font!

How’s that for a not-so-short explanation of some of the cool things the Type Tool can do! In true geek fashion, it was probably more than you ever wanted to know, but hopefully a little helpful!