How to Adjust Spacing Between Letters Using GIMP

GIMP logo

La Manade/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 

This tutorial will show you how to adjust letter spacing between specific pairs of letters in GIMP, a process known as kerning. Note, however, that this is a hacky approach that is only suited for use with very small amounts of text, such as the main wording on a company logo design.

Before pressing on we advise against producing a logo in GIMP unless you are 100% certain that you'll only be using it on the web and not in print. If you think you may, in the future, need to produce your logo in print, you really should design it using a vector-based application like Inkscape. Not only will this give you the flexibility to reproduce the logo at any size, but you will also have more advanced controls available to edit the text.

However, we do know that some people will be determined to use GIMP to produce a logo and if that applies to you, then this technique will help to ensure that the text content of your logo is as well-presented as possible.

GIMP is a very powerful image editor that also offers enough text controls to allow users to produce designs such as single side leaflets and posters. However, it is an image editor and ultimately its text controls are a little limited. A common feature of vector line drawing and DTP apps is a kerning feature that allows you to adjust the space between pairs of letters independently of any other text. This really only becomes important when setting text on logos and headlines, which is something that some users will want to do using GIMP. Unfortunately, GIMP only offers the option to adjust letter spacing universally and while this can be useful to help squeeze multiple lines of text into a constrained space, it doesn't offer the control to kern letters independently.

Over the next few steps, we'll show you an example of this common problem and how to adjust letter spacing using GIMP and the layers palette.

Write Some Text in a GIMP Document

First, open a blank document, add a line of text and see how the spacing between some letters can look a little unbalanced.

Go to File > New to open a blank document and then click on the Text Tool in the Tools palette. With the Text Tool selected, click on the page and type into the GIMP text editor. As you type, you'll see the text appear on the page as well. In some cases, the spacing between all the letters will appear fine as it is, but often at larger font sizes, you'll see the spaces between the letters of a word may appear a little unbalanced visually. To an extent this is subjective, but often, particularly with free fonts, the spacing between some letters will very obviously need to be adjusted.

Rasterize and Duplicate the Text Layer

Unfortunately, GIMP doesn't offer any controls to allow you to independently adjust the spacing between letters. However when working with small amounts of text, such as the text of a logo or a web banner, this little hack allows you to achieve the same effect, but in a slightly more roundabout way. The technique is to just duplicate the original text layer, delete different parts of the text on different layers and then move one layer horizontally to adjust the space between a pair of letters.

The first step is to rasterize the text, so right-click on the text layer in the Layers palette and select Discard Text Information. If the Layers palette isn't visible, go to Windows > Dockable Dialogs > Layers to display it. Next, go to Layer > Duplicate Layer or click the Duplicate layer button in the bottom bar of the Layers palette.

Delete Part of Each Layer

The first step, before deleting any parts of​ the text, is to look at the text and decide which pairs of letters need the space between them adjusting. One way to do this is to look for a pair of letters that visually appear to have the correct gap between them and then look at which other pairs of letters will need to be adjusted so that they have spacing that balances with your selected pair. You may find that squinting a little to make the letters indistinct will help you to see where gaps may be larger or smaller than the ideal.

If you want to increase the gap between a couple of letters, the first thing to do in this step is to draw a selection around the letters. You can either use the Free Select Tool to draw a selection using straight sides or use the Rectangle Select Tool. If you use the latter, you will have to draw two rectangles using the Add to current selection mode. Once you have drawn a selection that contains just two letters, you then right-click the bottom layer in the Layers palette and select Add Layer Mask. In the dialog that opens, select the Selection radio button and click OK. Now go to Select > Invert and then add a layer mask to the duplicated layer in the layers palette.

Adjust the Letter Spacing

Click on the Move Tool in the Tools palette, followed by the Move the active layer radio button in the Tool Options palette. Now click on the lower layer in the Layers palette to make your selected letters active. Finally, click on the page and then use the right and left arrow keys on your keyboard to adjust the space between the letters.

When you're happy with the spacing between your letters, you can right click on the upper layer in the Layers palette and select Merge Down. This combines the two layers into one.

Obviously, this has only adjusted the space between two letters, so you'll now have to repeat the previous couple of steps to adjust the spacing between the other letters that need editing. You can see the results of my steps on the first page of this article.

This really isn't a very fluid way to adjust the letter spacing of letters within text, but if you're a die-hard GIMP fan who only needs to adjust letter spacing on a very occasional basis, then this may be easier for you than trying to get to grips with a different application. However, if you have to carry out this kind of work with any kind of regularity, we cannot stress enough that you will be doing yourself a huge favor if you download a free copy of Inkscape or Scribus and spend a little time learning how to use their much more powerful text editing tools. You can always export the text from there into GIMP later.