Adjusting Text Kern, Ligatures and Baseline

When editing text in TextEdit, Pages and other apps, you'll often see options for Kern, Ligatures and Baseline. These adjust the character spacing, combine some letters into a single character, and adjust the vertical positions of the letters. See examples and learn how to use these text features.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Adjusting Text Kern, Ligatures and Baseline.

So whenever you edit text in most apps like say TextEdit or Pages you may have noticed that there are options under Format, Font, for Kern, Ligatures, and Baseline. So what do these do?

Let's start by taking a look at Kern. You can see here in TextEdit I've got Use Default, Use None, Tighten, and Loosen. So Kern basically is the spacing between characters. So here we've got everything set just as the default. But say I want the spacing to be tighter. I go to Format, Font, Kern and I can Tighten it. Notice that Option, Command, and the left square bracket will tighten it. So it tightens it a little bit. I'll use the keyboard shortcut and continue to tighten and then I can use the right bracket to expand.

So if I want more spacing between characters, I want it to be proportional according to the font and things like that so it looks good, I want to use this option here. Now I can go in and set it to the Default or None and in most cases they will be the same thing. Just to get it back to how it was before. So that's Kern.

Ligatures actually change how characters look. In order to use them you need to be using a font that supports them. Sans serif fonts usually don't support them. Sans serif is like this when the lines are straight and there's no special fancy things at the end. A serif font like Times often supports these. Notice here Times does support it and you can see it in fi and fl, two of the most common ligatures. Notice how they both, kind of, become one character. So fi kind of combine together to become one. Let's turn it off to see the difference. If I go to Format, Font, Ligatures, and Use None and you can see now fi and fl separate.

So you have the options here of doing Default which will use the most common ones and Use All which uses some special ones. So if I do Use All it's not going to make any difference here in Times. But if I go to another font here you can see I've got fi and fl together but also st are together. That's kind of an unusual one. If I were to go to Format, Ligatures and say Use Default the s and the t would not be combined in that special character. So you have those options there. They only come up in fonts like these fancy fonts and sometimes scripted fonts as well.

Finally, that brings us to Baseline. So applying Baseline to a whole bunch of text really doesn't do anything. It will just basically move the text vertically up or down. What you need to do is use it with two characters next to each other where you want things to be a little different. For instance in the math formula like X2 I would type X2 but what I really want is the two to be superscript. I want it to be up. So I'd got to Font and then I'll go to Baseline and say use Superscript and you can see it puts the two up on top there. Let's switch back to a regular looking font like that so you can see it more clearly.

Now there are differences on how this works based on the app that you're using. So let's switch to Pages for instance. Here we'll put x2, let's make that much larger so you can see it, and let's switch this to Superscript. So, I'll go Format, Font, Baseline, and Superscript and not only will it move the character up but it actually makes it smaller when you do Superscript. So Superscript does a couple things.

But if I were to go to Baseline and then Raise or Lower it would just raise is slightly and not change it. I can keep raising it slightly or lowering it slightly just to move it. Sometimes you want actually to have it be subscript. I'm going to Undo that and do Subscript there. So you have X prime for instance in a math formula.

Also note that in Pages instead of finding Format, Font, and Kern you've got Character Spacing. The does the same thing. It's just called Character Spacing in Pages for some reason instead of Kerning.

Comments: 4 Responses to “Adjusting Text Kern, Ligatures and Baseline”

    2 years ago

    A small, but important aspect. I just corrected proofs of my book and found letters r and n too closely spaced, so that a letter m resulted, which I have requested to correct. Good work!

    1 year ago

    Good one! I’ve been “overcoming” these features for years!

    Kika WaiʻAlae
    1 year ago

    How do I put the long a short vowel etc. marks above the alphabet? I have a Hawaiian keyboard that helps with that but sometimes I would like to be able to do it in another keyboard setting. Mahalo…

    1 year ago

    Do you mean accent marks and similar? You can do that by just pressing and holding the key. For instance, to get á, I just pressed and held the “a” key until the variations appeared and then selected one. See

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