TypeTalk: Standard and Discretionary Ligatures

TypeTalk is a regular blog on typography. Post your questions and comments by clicking on the Comments icon above. If Ilene answers your question in the blog, you’ll receive one Official Creativepro.com T-Shirt!

Q. What exactly is a ligature, and what is the difference between a standard and a discretionary ligature?

A. A ligature is a special character created by connecting or combining two or more characters into one.

A standard ligature solves the problem of characters crashing into each other when set next to each other. The most common standard ligatures are the f-ligatures: fi, fl, and sometimes ff, ffi, and ffl. These specially designed letter combinations avoid the unattractive collision that occurs in some typefaces between the hook of the ‘f’ and the dot of the ‘i,’ or the ascender of the ‘l’ or second ‘f’.

The problem of the colliding characters (left) is elegantly solved by Hoefler Text’s fi ligature (right).

You can access ligatures in two ways: globally by turning them on and off from an OpenType palette, or individually by clicking on them from a glyph palette.

You can view Arno Pro’s standard and discretionary ligatures separately using the pull-down menu of the glyph palette. As you can see in the upper example, there are many more standard ligatures in this typeface than the typical fi and fl, including all-cap and long s (looks like an f with only half a crossbar) ligatures. Below it are Arno Pro’s historic discretionary ligatures.

Note that if your tracking is extreme, some programs replace ligatures with the original single characters to maintain consistent spacing.

Love type? Want to know more? Ilene Strizver conducts her acclaimed Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her e-newsletter at www.thetypestudio.com.

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Posted on: January 15, 2009

Ilene Strizver

Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer, writer and educator specializing in all aspects of visual communication, from the aesthetic to the technical. Her book, Type Rules! The designer’s guide to professional typography, 4th edition, has received numerous accolades from the type and design community. She conducts her widely acclaimed Gourmet Typography Workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her free e‑newsletter, All Things Typographic, at www.thetypestudio.com.

2 Comments on TypeTalk: Standard and Discretionary Ligatures

  1. I need to set some Japanese words in an upcoming project. I have a few advantages here–I studied Japanese for a while, and I know the difference between hiragana, katakana, and kanji, and I will recognize the characters I need when I see them. I also appear to have some fonts on my machine that contain the appropriate glyphs. The question is: is there any way to find the glyphs I want other than just scrolling through an OpenType glyph palette?

  2. Check the OpenType subsets for a possible category, including Stylistic Sets. If you don’t find it there, you just might have to select it manually.

    Good luck!
    Ilene

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    T H E T Y P E S T U D I O
    Westport, CT
    203.227.5929
    http://www.thetypestudio.com/

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