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Understanding Type and Text in Photoshop, Part 3: Type-Related Palettes

In Part 3 of his three-part series, Photoshop expert Pete Bauer provides an in-depth look at the many type-related options Photoshop offers through the Character and Paragraph palettes.
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Photoshop CS3 is an image-editing program, but an image-editing program that provides you with an incredible amount of control over type and text. In Part 1 of this three-part series you found basic information about working with type, while Part 2 introduces the type tools, type layers, and anti-aliasing. In this article, you’ll learn how to control your text like a typographer, using the many options in the Character and Paragraph palettes.

Type Basics: The Character Palette

The Character palette (see Figure 1) can be shown and hidden from the collapsible palette dock, through the Window menu, or with a button in the Options Bar when a type tool is active. The palette replicates many of the fields and options available in the Options Bar for type tools. Unlike the type-related fields in the Options Bar, the Character palette is also available when a non-type tool is active.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Several of the Character palette’s fields are also available in the Options Bar when the type tool is active.

The Character palette can be used in several ways:

  • It can be used without any type in the image to establish presets for the type tools. This will affect all type that will later be entered until such time as additional changes are made in the Character palette or the Options Bar.
  • {lb] With a type layer active in the Layers palette but no type selected in the image, changes can be made to the entire layer. These changes affect all type on the layer, but only type on that layer. The changes remain in effect in the Character palette and Options Bar.
  • {lb] When some type on a type layer is selected with a type tool, changes can be made to that portion of the type without affecting the rest of the type layer. Such changes affect only the selected type, and remain in effect.
  • If a type tool is active and in use, the Character palette can be used to set the characteristics of type that has not yet been entered. All type entered from that point on has the new characteristics, but previously entered type is unaffected.

You'll find 12 fields and 8 style buttons in the Character palette. (The eight buttons are duplicated by commands in the palette's menu.) You can navigate among the numeric and text fields in the Character palette with the Tab key. Tab advances to the next field, while Shift+Tab returns to the previous. Note that this works even with the Font Family (name) and Font Style fields. In these fields, you can type the first letter of an entry in the pop-up list to jump to it. (In the Style field, you can only jump to styles available for that font. If you type I for italic and the current font doesn't offer italic, you'll hear an error tone.)

Font Family

This pop-up menu includes a list of all fonts available to Photoshop on your system. Font families include Helvetica, Times New Roman, Arial, and so on. All properly-installed TrueType, Type 1, and OpenType fonts should appear. This menu selects only the font family.

Font Style

This pop-up menu shows the font styles and weights built into the font itself. The options may include Regular or Roman, Bold, Italic, Semibold, Condensed, Expanded, and combinations of those options, such as Semibold Italic. Some fonts are designed at a single weight and style, in which case the menu's arrow will be grayed out. Such fonts include Stencil and Techno.

Font Size

The Font Size field determines how large the font appears in the image. In addition to the preset values in the pop-up menu, you can type any size between one-tenth of a point and 1296 points. By default, Photoshop uses points as the unit of measure for font size. One point is equal to 1/72 inch. You can change the unit in Photoshop's Preferences. In addition, you can type any unit of measure directly into the field. For example, typing 28 px makes the font size 28 pixels. The other available abbreviations are in (inches), cm (centimeters), pica (picas), and pt (points). Fractional values can be entered as decimals.


Pronounced like the metal rather than the verb "to lead," this measurement determines the distance between lines of type. Like size, it is normally set in points but you can enter values in any unit of measure. The pop-up menu defaults to Auto, which sets the leading at 120% of the font size (although this can be changed in the Justification dialog box opened through the Paragraph palette's menu). You'll find that the values in the pop-up menu mirror those of the Font Size pop-up menu. Remember that leading is based on the tallest character in a line.


Kerning is the space between a pair of characters. It affects only those two adjoining characters. Each font is designed with specific kerning for various pairs of characters, applied with the default setting of Metrics, but you can fine-tune the appearance of type with judicious use of kerning. Kerning is especially valuable when letters of different font size adjoin (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2 Reducing the kerning moves the letters closer together.

To adjust kerning, select a Type tool and click between the letters that need adjustment. Use the pop-up menu or enter a numeric value in the Kerning field. Pressing Return or Enter commits the change. If you change you mind while still in the numeric field, you can use Cmd-Z (Mac) or Ctrl+Z (Windows) to undo or simply press Escape to cancel. Kerning is measured in 1/1000 em, a unit of measured based on the particular font's size. One em in a 24-point font is equal to 24 points.


While kerning sets the distance between two letters, tracking adjusts the spacing among a group of selected letters. Tracking is measured like kerning. It can also be applied to an entire type layer by selecting the layer in the Layers palette and then making the change. When tracking is adjusted for a group of letters in a selection, the first letter doesn't move. All selected letters beyond it (by default, to the right) will shift to meet the adjustment. Consider tracking to be the addition or reduction of space to the right of each of the selected characters.

Vertical Scale

Because Photoshop's type is vector-based, you can scale it without loss of quality. The Character palette allows you to adjust the height of selected characters from 0 (invisible) to 1000%. The font's default appearance is always 100%. You can apply vertical scaling to selected type or to an entire type layer. Keep in mind that this scaling is independent of the menu command Edit>Transform>Scale. The Character palette still shows 100% after a scale transformation.

Horizontal Scale

Useful for simulating expanded or compressed font styles, horizontal scaling can be adjusted from 0 to 1000%. When used proportionally with vertical scaling, the effect is comparable to changing the font size.

Baseline Shift

The baseline is the imaginary line upon which most letters in a font rest. (Some letters, of course, extend well below the baseline, such as g, j, p, q, and y; others may extend slightly below the baseline, such as e and o in some fonts.) Shifting a letter above the baseline creates superscript, while shifting below the baseline produces subscript. True superscript and subscript are typically smaller than the other characters in the text, as you can see in Figure 3. (You can use the Superscript and Subscript style buttons.)

Figure 3

Figure 3 Superscript and subscript are generally preferable to baseline shift.

Text Color

The swatch in the Character palette indicates the current type color. Click it to open the Color Picker. Remember that Photoshop allows multiple colors in a single type layer. Each letter can be a different color, if so desired. Use a type tool to select text to change, or select a type layer in the Layers palette to apply the change to the entire layer.

Style Buttons

From the left, the buttons are Faux Bold, Faux Italic, All Caps, Small Caps, Superscript, Subscript, Underline, and Strikethrough. When the selected font offers a bold weight or an italic style, it's definitely preferable to choose it from the Font Style pop-up menu that to apply the faux style. On the flip side, using Photoshop's Superscript and Subscript buttons is usually easier than working with Baseline Shift and then scaling the character. Remember, too, that Photoshop will not allow you to warp type to which faux bold has been applied.


This pop-up menu selects the dictionary to use for spell checking and for hyphenation (paragraph type only). All available dictionaries will be listed. Photoshop allows you to mix languages on a type layer. Select a words or words with a type tool and select a language from the pop-up menu.


You have the option of applying one of four types of anti-aliasing to selected type or a type layer, or having no anti-aliasing applied. (Anti-aliasing options are discussed in Part 2 of this series.)

Open Type Font Options

If you’re working with an Open Type font (identified by "Pro" at the end of the font name), you have a variety of additional options available through the Character palette menu (see Figure 4). (The button in the upper-right corner of the palette opens the menu.) Not all options are built into every Open Type font.

Figure 4

Figure 4 Open Type fonts have a variety of options built into the font.

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