Yes, we kern.

We’re reposting a few of photos from a recent project in the studio, and for a good reason. Let’s talk about kerning!


Wood type has been in mass production since about 1850, and the styles created in wood became a major force in the progression of design, particularly poster design and anything printed at a large scale, well into the late 20th Century (if not still today).

At BPS, we have a good collection of wood type – probably 50 or 60 fonts, in a wide variety of styles, sizes, and ages. Some is cheaply manufactured type from the late 1960 or ’70s, and some is rare type from the 1850s. Almost all of them are complete fonts.

As anyone who has taken a course in typography will know, when working on design, some type needs to be kerned. This is particularly true with capital letters that have a narrow top or bottom. Most commonly that is T, V, W, A, L and Y. Less commonly it could be O, S, D, R, and others, and a particular letter’s need for kerning depends on the design of that font and particular letter combinations.



We kern our wood type when we’re producing a poster or print for sale. We have done this in the past, and will continue to do so, probably forever. The A in the photo above has a manufacturer’s mark from William Page. While we don’t know exactly how old it is, it was definitely made before 1900. And while it may seem like a crime to cut into something that has survived this long, we don’t buy type as an antique for our shelf, we buy it to produce good prints. For good prints you need good design, and for good design, you sometimes need kerned type.

If the craftsmen who manufactured this type in 1875 could have even imagined that their handiwork would still be in use today (almost 140 years later), they would certainly be disappointed to see it being used badly. There are tools for print shops – minutely adjustable saws, designed specifically to kern type accurately, and we take great care to maintain the integrity of the actual type face. When done properly, a kerned letter can still be locked up with type where kerning is NOT necessary, and still function perfectly well. If wood type was kerned for printing in 1850, 1900, and 1950, why on earth wouldn’t we kern it in 2013?


Above: A pair of Tubbs Mfg. Co. wood type A’s, kerned decades before we ever touched it.

We love old type. We love it when people save complete fonts from being parted out for flea market initials and mantlepiece fodder. If you’ve saved a complete font with the intention to print from it, we love you for that. If you plan on using it as it was intended, and kerning it when necessary, then we love you just a bit more, and we think the old printers of yesteryear would be proud of you too.