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common ligatures

What Are the Common Ligatures?

Knowing the common ligatures is convenient for font makers.

In this way, the fonts will make reading and writing faster and easier.

But, let’s first define what ligatures are about in relation to writing and typography.

In this way, we can better understand their uses and effect on fonts.

What is a Ligature?

A ligature refers to combining two to three letters to create a unique character, called a glyph.

The origin of the word means to bind or tie and was initially used to increase the writing speeds of scribes. 

The purpose of Ligatures was to smoothly join letters to one another with a common “connector” between them.

Ligatures include a + e to make æ.

You can see this in the word ‘encyclopædia.’

The most common ligatures being ‘&’ (the ampersand) and the f-ligatures:  

  • ff 
  • fi 
  • fl
  • ft 
  • ffl
  • ffi

Examples can be seen here.

How Do Ligatures Affect the Creation of Fonts?

When metal fonts were introduced in the 15th Century, documents were printed using metal block letters.

Therefore, many letters had problems on being joined with the others.

What they did was to combine characters for a better, more attractive fit.

It was also used by scribes that wrote with a stylus on paper or clay as an early communication method.

This made for faster, shorter, more efficient, and understandable communication between people.

Ligatures have been around for about as long as the concept of writing has.

It has been developed together with the different methods of writing and communicating.

Throughout history, evidence of ligatures can be seen in different works.

This works include the:

  • Germanic Migration Period runic inscriptions
  • Ancient writing system of the Mesopotamian as the Sumerian cuneiform
  • South Asian and Asian writing systems of the Brahmic abugidas

Even during medieval times, ligatures were used for practical reasons like:

  • Writing faster
  • Being more productive
  • Aesthetic reasons

When typewriters came about, certain ligatures included in the common words.

This is because they were derived from their written form.

They were already comfortable writing this way.

It, therefore, resulted in fewer keys needed and faster typing.

Ligatures were primarily labor-saving during all these periods.

This is also true from the time typewriters were popularly used.

This went on up to when computers and applications began to be used.

They were combined for both practical reasons as well as decorative purposes.

However, some may seem ridiculous and are not always legibly clear.

Types of Ligatures

There are five types of ligatures: (first two are most common)

  1. Standard Ligatures
  2. Discretionary Ligatures
  3. Historical Ligatures *
  4. Contextual Ligatures *
  5. Required Ligatures*

* typesetting software on computers

Standard Ligatures

Standard ligatures are used for character collision or combination improvement – to make it look more attractive. 

The most common ligature is the ‘&’ ligature, derived from the Latin ‘et,’ which means ‘and.’

It is so commonly used that it’s thought to be common practice and forgotten as a ligature.

However, despite being widely known and used, it’s still not accepted in standard or formal text.

It is mainly used to shorten and save space or in brand logos.

Standard ligatures, also referred to as lig, would refer to the examples included above: ff, fl, fi, ffi, ffl, ft, æ, etc.

Although in some languages, æ can also be a letter on its own, for example in Danish and Norwegian languages.

The collision of letters here would be the hook of the f and the dot of the i

Another example of the above collision would be the crossbar of the f joining with the crossbar of the t.

This can be seen when using Jenson while in Adobe.

Less common ligatures are not as widely known, for example, the combining of ‘i-j,’ which becomes a y with two dots above it.

Discretionary Ligatures

Discretionary ligatures, also referred to as dlig, are used, as the name states, at your discretion.

These are for your more decorative options, like creating wedding invitations, front pages of websites, magazines, and titles of books.

You can compare a whimsical calligraphy typeface like Oliva for a wedding to a more playful Storyteller that you can use for a blog or personal webpage. 

Historical Ligatures

Historical ligatures also referred to as hlig, are like the Standard ligature, connecting two characters in the historical form.

For example, instead of ‘short,’ it appears as ‘ſhort.’

Contextual Ligatures

Contextual ligatures referred to as clig, only change the appearance of one glyph at a time, whereas others may replace two or more at a time.

This provides options to a combination of possible ligatures.

Then you can select the one that appeals to you most instead of all the possible glyphs in a word.

Applying the combinations at random in different words, using a handwriting or calligraphy type of font, can create a more organic feel to your text.

Required Ligatures

Required ligatures, also referred to as rlig.

They are main features on computers and laptops.

You can enable or disable them.

Font makers developed digital ligatures for a number of reasons.

Aside from the need to overlap letters, it was also for creative and aesthetic purposes.

Ligatures can now occur automatically while typing, depending on the program or operating system you are using.

Arabic script combines characters and replace them with ligatures.

This is because they are fundamental to the foundation of the language.

This may be the case with other languages as well that make use of ligatures in the language.

For example, the ligatures Æ and Œ are proper letters in some Scandinavian languages.

ß is commonly used in the German language, replacing an ‘s’ in English.

The above is an example of how people use ligatures in the personal names of both males and females. 

You can also insert ligatures manually. 

However, it’s not always advisable to do it this way as it can create confusion for search engines, spelling and punctuation checks, etc.

Alternatively, you can enable ligatures to appear automatically when writing your text, instead of doing it manually to a word or selection of text.

Ligatures and the Different Softwares

Programs such as InDesign allow you access to all of a font’s characters for decorative purposes; you can read more about this here.

OpenType features in Adobe provide the opportunity for more precise communication and a better-looking design.

It therefore gave your work a personal touch with a hand-lettered appearance.

Some find that the attractive collision of letters can create a particular historical print that they find desirable to use for an old-fashioned type of font.

These are usually identifiable by inclinations to the left with exaggerated curved strokes.

For an example of these, you can search for vintage or retro typefaces such as Hermona, Northead, Macrosty, Bignord, or several others.

You can create a style of font that best represents the topic you are talking about. 

Alternatively, you can use fonts to build an elegant image for a brand like Hougbond or Fairwater.

Moreover, you might want to create a mysterious forest effect for your mystery novel with fonts such as Medusa Gothic or Mistery Curse.

With so many to choose from, you can use ligatures for stylistic, practical, mandatory, or to make reading easier on the eyes.

People who spend many hours reading and writing scripts on a computer or laptop, like programmers, require something easier to read. 

In an article written by Scott Hanselman, he writes about a need for programmer-friendly fonts.

That would be a font with built-in ligature supports that take “spacing, density and glance-ability” into consideration.

You can read more about these fonts and ligatures here.

The article also talks about how the use of ligatures in fonts makes a difference in everyday use.

This is especially for someone that has to look at a text and create for an extended time using text.

Coding and Ligatures

Standard ligatures used in coding include mathematical terms such as; greater than or equal to’ with the use of the shortened ligature: 

Another standard ligature is the ‘not equal to; character:  

Because these special characters are common, we forget that they are just that, unique characters.

Programmers have a unique combination of ligatures that they use when coding. 

Some of the code fonts include Hasklig, Fira Code, Monoid, and Iosevka.

Note though that we have more stylistic freedom nowadays to create and style our work.

However, the positioning, size, and spacing of ligatures in relation to the surrounding text, is also crucial.

An incorrectly executed ligature can negatively impact the rhythm of your text or overall design.

That is, a ligature that is too tight or open compared to the surrounding text.

Sans Serif Fonts

Sans Serifs have now joined in the trend of including many ligatures in their designs, which you can browse here.

This is a new move for their traditional look, with the association creating a trendy, modern twist to an already established look.

This is evident in a few samples, like the sunflora, widely used for wedding invitations, greeting cards, brochures, menus, etc.

Their Michael font uses bold and ideal ligatures for logos, photography, labels, social media covers, etc.

And Chin-up Buttercup is perfect for eye-catching signage, window and wall art, scrapbooking, and other DIY projects.

It offers a professional look yet adds a personal touch, as though it’s hand-made with love.

The combination allows for both easier reading as well as ornamentation or presentation.

To put it simply, less about the functionality, more about the aesthetics. 

There is a lot of freedom in using the discretionary ligatures in whichever way you want.

However, it is better to do this sparingly and not overdo it.

You don’t want to exhaust the uniqueness or boldness by creating ligatures for every second letter, though no one is stopping you.

Instead, try and stick to these specific, tried and tested, variations for a creative combination:

  • Th (This is the most common discretionary ligature.)
  • st
  • ct
  • ck
  • oo
  • TT
  • LL

You can try these combinations with many different fonts to obtain the most desirable ones.

For example, the ‘ck,’ ‘ct,’ and ‘st’ ligatures can look very graceful, elegant, and unique.

However, not every combination will be aesthetically pleasing in every font.

Repetitive letters, such as MM, NN, WWW, TT, CC, etc., can develop into some beautiful ligatures in various fonts,

This is because of man’s creativity in coming up with differrent ways to connect them.

A More Careful Consideration of Fonts

We perhaps take for granted the freedom we have for using ligatures.

Know that shortly after the 20th Century, they became used less frequently.

This is due to their complexities and the number of variations that we can choose from.  

In the early stages of computers and software, there seemed to be no real need for all these remarkable characters.

This is because typing is a lot faster now.

Even if there had been a need for them, the software available was not capable to create ligatures.

Demand for Ligatures

It’s only in recent years that there has been a demand once again for ligatures and the variety of fonts we can present them in.

It’s also because of software program developments that we can access all these easily.

Due to the resurgence in demand for ligatures, font makers created quite a number of typefaces.

This is also because computers can operate and process more than just one language, English.

They can now support many languages and their respective alphabets, along with any ligatures they make use of.

These developments are happening in leaps and bounds, and we have quick and easy access to them all.

Since they are everywhere, almost every company name, logo, branding, advert, etc., uses a font.

Some form of ligatures, we have grown so used to seeing them, that we don’t even see them anymore.

The US Dollar symbol ‘$‘ is said to have originated as a ligature.

It originally began with a line from the ‘U’s right-hand side,’ forming the line that now traditionally strikes through the ‘S.’

We need to stop and take a good look at how they flow seamlessly into one another.

Then, we realize that something is outstanding about it.

Ligatures and Font Creation

The selection of ligature and font has done its job successfully once an audience finds it memorable and can see the relation to the topic as a whole.

It is essential to select the correct typeface with ligatures, even though it can seem daunting due to the extremely high quantity to choose from.

Aim to have a flawless design.

In this way, readers will not notice the off-center, poorly spaced, or illegible text.

Just ensure that it is consistent throughout your text, including punctuation, number values, certain symbols.

Ensure that the curvature of all letters is the same.

Moreover, see to it, too, that the stroke widths are equal.

Lastly but more importantly (and often overlooked),  check that your letter spacing between glyphs and whole words must be equal.

Spacing

The spacing between two glyphs is what you call ‘kern pairs’ or ‘kerning.’

This involves the reduction or increase in space between two glyphs.

This is important as it can dramatically affect the readability of a text.

You do not want your readers to misunderstand you, right?

Despite selecting a typeface with ligatures that you might think stands out above them all if it’s not legible, it just is not worth the risk.

What to do if you have a long text and not just one bold word or statement?

Then perhaps, consider selecting a more straightforward type of font .

In this way, you will not ‘lose’ your word in a blur or a bundle of twirls.

This goes in conjunction with the color and texture of the font that you select.

You need careful consideration when deciding which ligature to use with which font.

This is because it can either make or break what you are aiming to achieve.

With so many options to choose from, you have the freedom to mix and match.

Consider having a bold or slightly more risky ligature and font for your logo or title.

Then have a similar but more legible and straightforward ligature with a font for sections with more text.

Final Thoughts

Font makers developed ligatures to improve productivity.

In addition, font makers also considered  speed and stylistic variations to create a more appealing and unique text.

Without connecting letters and creating special characters, we wouldn’t have the creative freedom to layout our words in an eye-catching manner.

Do note that we would not be able to ‘get a feel’ of the book’s theme if we did not write the title with jagged edges depicting a thriller,.

Moreover, light, gentle strings attaching two letters, can manifest the connection between a grandmother and granddaughter.

Perhaps we could be daring enough to say that ligatures are the foundation of fonts.

Without them, we would only have a variation of bold, italic, thick, bordered, and colorful fonts to choose from.

Then, how effective would that be?

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