May 20, 2023

A ligature is a typographical feature where two or more glyphs (typographic symbols) are combined into a single design element. Typically, this combination is done to improve the appearance of the text, as it can create a more even spacing between characters and reduce the amount of whitespace between letters.

Ligatures are especially common in script typefaces, where they are used to create a more flowing and natural appearance to the letters. For example, in cursive fonts, the letters “f” and “i” are often combined into a single glyph to create a more pleasing appearance.

The use of ligatures dates back to the early days of printing, when type was set by hand. In the days of movable type, printers would often manually combine individual letters into ligatures in order to save space and reduce the amount of time it took to set type.

As technology improved and printing became more automated, ligatures became less common. However, with the rise of digital typography and the ability to easily customize typefaces, ligatures have once again become a popular feature of many fonts.

Types of Ligatures

There are several types of ligatures, each with its own purpose and usage:

Standard Ligatures

Standard ligatures are the most common type of ligature and are found in most fonts. They are designed to improve the appearance of specific letter pairs that can be problematic when typeset in certain fonts. For example, the letters “f” and “i” can look awkward when placed next to each other, so many fonts include a ligature that combines the two letters into a single glyph.

Other common letter pairs that are often combined into standard ligatures include “ff”, “fl”, “fi”, and “ffi”.

Discretionary Ligatures

Discretionary ligatures are not included in all fonts and are typically used for decorative purposes. They are designed to add an extra level of detail or flair to the text and are often used in headings or other display text.

Discretionary ligatures can be used to create unique typographic effects, such as swooping curves, loops, or other decorative elements. They are often used by designers to add a personal touch to their work.

Contextual Ligatures

Contextual ligatures are ligatures that are only used in certain contexts or situations. They are designed to improve the appearance of the text by adjusting the spacing between letters based on the surrounding characters.

For example, in some fonts, the letters “f” and “l” are combined into a ligature when they appear at the end of a word. This is because the combination of these two letters can create a large amount of whitespace between them if they are not combined.

Contextual ligatures can also be used to adjust the spacing between other letter pairs, such as “a” and “v” or “w” and “o”.

Historical Ligatures

Historical ligatures are ligatures that were used in older typefaces but are now only used for historical or decorative purposes. They are designed to mimic the appearance of older typesetting techniques and are often used in books, posters, or other printed materials where a vintage or antique look is desired.

Examples of historical ligatures include the “ct” ligature found in some old-style typefaces or the “st” ligature found in blackletter or Gothic fonts.

How to Use Ligatures

Ligatures are typically included in fonts by default, but they may need to be enabled in order to be used. This can be done in most modern word processing or design software by selecting the appropriate option in the font settings.

In some cases, ligatures may also need to be manually inserted into the text. This is typically done by typing a specific character code or by using a keyboard shortcut.

In web design, ligatures can be included in a website’s CSS code by using the font-feature-settings property. This property allows designers to enable or disable specific font features, such as ligatures, in order to customize the appearance of the text.