When should we use a fi ligature?

When should someone use ligatures?

What decisions and factors should be considered when determining when to use ligatures? Only in headings? Only in the body? Clean of the eye?

I ask because about seven people looked at a poster design and liked it. One remarked, "Hey Ryan, the f and me in identification are so close that the period is missing." Now that this is pointed out, others think it is a mistake too. I had to explain what a ligature is and that it is not a bug.

The font is Futura:

When, if ever, should someone use ligatures?


This is all a bit complicated as it has to do with kerning support and font selection, and there isn't one single answer that works for all situations. In my experience, ligatures are more likely to be needed in a tight serif font or in italics, rather than in a font without a font.

Further discussions and examples can also be found at:

  1. When should I not use a ligature in English typesetting?
  2. Which animal is a "weefil"?

The first answer above covers the current question in detail. The second has contrasting copies of certain ligatures on five very different faces.

When pressure is applied, one is sensible general rule :

  • Use explicit lexical Ligatures only for the things that make sense in the language you are writing in, such as: B. Æ, æ in Icelandic or Old English and Œ, œ in French.
  • Let the choice be yours more typographic Ligatures the software. This should happen automatically in situations where this doesn't look right without them.

This is as general as I dare, but unfortunately it won't always work.

Add nuance

Even so, there are sure to be occasions when you might want more or less ligaturing than the default font, if you only allow it on the autopilot.

For example, if you're trying to use a very old set of documents with historical ligatures like and the like, you should put them there, even if the font does not do so by default.

As Bringhurst notes, the type designer may not have done a historically correct job in classifying ligatures as standard or historical. See my first answer referenced above for a discussion of that.

Here is a series of ligatures from Robert Slimbachs Arno Pro in normal weight. (The first pair of characters on the first line does not count, and only the first character on the last line.)

As you can see, some of these, especially the first two, are actually there to explicit kerning rules for these couples too replace . To a certain extent, it depends on how exactly you set your type and the size. For example, you wouldn't use them for uppercase spaced letters, and maybe not if you were manually setting a larger header with custom kerning. This is a matter of taste, not a set of rules, and just like in so many other places, the sensitive designer needs to develop tasteful judgment about them.

A warning of a trend in modern OpenType fonts is appropriate here. Bringhurst complains that font designers (for example) Th in the standard ligature group instead of the historical like ct place . You may need to explicitly disable or enable this, or choose the appropriate glyph from the font group yourself.

The lesson is that chugging these things on at full autopilot is rarely a good idea for the best results.

Fancy ligatures

In contrast, the conscientious type designer offers, especially when hiring in one script , but sometimes also in one real italics (which means that no slanted face is masked in italics, and preferably one with Swash caps instead of just oblique Romans), a multitude of possible ligatures from which the typesetter can choose. Some of these will run automatically while others require your own judgment when setting up.

Since a font is essentially a calligraphic font, the font tables contain complex rules for merging adjacent glyphs.

I won't bother Hermann Zapf's masterful To show Zapfino , not only because its calligraphy is too obvious an example, but also because there are just too many ligatures there not to overwhelm the casual reader. Instead, here is an example of some of the optional ligatures from Richard Liptons Bickham Script Pro :

Setting Greek is of course completely different. Especially in one Chancellery Greek you may want to take advantage of the many ligatures available in a good clerical greek face. For example, here are some of George Douros' Alexander :

Automatic ligatures, code points and the Unicode standard

It looks like your original electronic version of Paul Renner Futura Standard ligature rules of script is a ligature for creation fi no matter whether you are needed or not. Understanding that this is just my opinion, it seems like some drawback to large screen sizes, especially given the fact that the f in this face will not bother and I immediately follow.

It's likely included because most sets are at least fi, fl, ff- Have ligatures to keep the hysterical bottlenose dolphins at bay - by which I mean that the Unicode code points for these only exist for lossless roundtripping when converting between Unicode and legacy encodings:

- These code points should not be needed always .

The Unicode Ligatures and Digraphs FAQ contains the following information about ligatures:

  • Q: I have a number of manuscripts here that frequently use the "hr" ligature (for example). I see you have coded ligatures for "fi", "fl" and even "st" but not "hr". Can I also have "hr" coded as a ligature?

    A: The existing ligatures are mainly used for compatibility and triggering with non-Unicode character sets. Their use is not recommended. Under no circumstances will it be coded anymore.

    Ligaturing is behavior that is encoded in fonts: if a modern font is asked for “h” followed by “r” and the font contains an “hr” ligature, it can display the ligature. Some fonts don't have ligatures, others (especially for non-Latin fonts) have hundreds. It does not make sense to assign Unicode code points to all of these font-specific possibilities.

  • Q: What about the "ct" ligature? Is there a character for this in Unicode?

    A: No, the “ct” ligature is another example of a Latin alphabet ligature that is common in older font styles. In the case of the "hr" ligature, the display of a ligature is a matter of type design and does not require a separate encoding of a character for the ligature. One of these is simply the string in Unicode and depends on the font design and font attribute controls to determine whether the result is linked in display (or when printed). The same situation applies to ligatures with long s and many others that appear in Latin scripts.

    Remember that the Unicode standard is a Sign isCoding standard and is not intended to standardize ligatures or any other form of presentation or any other aspect of the details of font and glyph design. The ligatures you'll find in the Unicode standard are just compatibility encodings - and are not intended to set a precedent where all ligatures must be encoded as characters.

There are two types of ligatures.

Type 1: The reason ligatures are in place is to avoid spaces between some letters that could interfere with your reading flow. For example, in some fonts "fi" overlap or specifically "fl". To find a solution to this problem, ligatures were invented, each forming only one letter on the type block:

Normal letters versus ligatures:

You can see that the normal letters are too narrow so you need to increase the overall spacing.

Type 2: Over time, font designers used ligatures to "refine" their font by adding special ligatures to the font that enhance the character of the font but are not always legible.

Super advanced ligatures from Underware's Sauna font that use ligatures to create a "script feel".

To come back to your example. In Futura the "fi" doesn't overlap so you don't have to use the ligature (I think this is a special Futura because the original doesn't have ligatures?).

However, if you want to add a special flavor to your font, use ligatures as you wish. However, be aware that if you use unusual ligatures, other people will notice and may detract from the actual design statement.

In many fonts designed for legible body text, ligatures tend to be subtle, barely noticeable changes that merely correct the otherwise uncomfortable placement of adjacent letterforms.

The Futura ligature in your example is not really like that - it stands out quite clearly and is probably unnecessary since the non-ligated and letter shapes fit together quite comfortably without overlapping.

It gives however, the geometric design of the font clearly again and would look very good in a logo, even if it appears to be annoying in the text. 1 As such, it may be better to treat as a more conventional "legibility" ligature, even if it just happens to be built into the script itself.

As such, one could simply explain that the "fun" combination with the point of being a conscious design choice to make the text look nicer and geometrically cleaner. You don't necessarily have to explain what a ligature is - if your customers get the impression that you changed the letterform yourself, what's the harm?

1) IMO, for small fonts, Futura is a bit of a borderline font anyway; it can work, and I've used it that way myself, but it's best used carefully and with a view to possible legibility issues. For long sections of text, there are other geometric sans fonts that can sacrifice a bit of design purity for improved readability in small sizes.

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