How to Use the Leading and Tracking Options in Photoshop CS6

By Barbara Obermeier

The Character Panel in Adobe Photoshop CS6 offers type specification options galore to customize your work. Leading and tracking are two of the most used.

Leading is the amount of space between the baselines of consecutive lines of type, usually measured in points. (The baseline is the imaginary line on which a line of type rests.) You can select a specific amount of leading or allow Photoshop to determine the amount automatically by choosing Auto from the Leading menu.

Wider line spacing can make text easier to read (as long as you don’t go overboard!) or can be used for artistic effect. Tighter line spacing makes for more compact text but can decrease readability if your tightening goes too far.

When you select Auto Leading, Photoshop multiplies the type size by a value of 120 percent to calculate the leading size. So, Photoshop spaces the baselines of 10-point type 12 points apart. You can change this automatic value by clicking the Paragraph panel and selecting Justification from the panel’s menu. A dialog box appears, containing several values. Type the amount you want in the Auto Leading box.

Tracking is the amount of space between letters in a word, line, or paragraph. You can specify negative tracking to squeeze all the letters together more closely or positive tracking to let them spread out a bit.

Don’t confuse tracking with kerning, which deals with the space between two individual letters. Tracking sets a value to evenly space all the letters you select, and kerning helps you close or widen the gap between two individual letters, officially called a letter pair.

One use for tracking is to help lines of text fit a specified horizontal space, and you can make this technique work if you use it judiciously. Beginners typically overdo tracking, squeezing letters together so tightly they touch, or spreading them apart so that wide gaps appear.


To track a set of characters or a line, select the text you want to squeeze or expand, and select a value either from 0 to –100 or 0 to 200 from the Tracking menu, or type a specific value (from –1000 to 10000) in the Tracking text box.

Each unit is equal to 1/1,000 of an em (the width of an em dash in a particular typeface), so a setting of –100 reduces the space between characters by 1/10 the width of an em dash (quite a lot!).