Ligatures Part 1 - Standard
by Ilene Strizver
A ligature is a special character that combines two (or sometimes three) characters into a single character. A standard ligature is functional in nature, and is created to solve the problem of characters that crash when set next to each other.
The most common standard ligatures are the “f”-ligatures: “fi,” “fl” and sometimes “ff,” “ffi,” “ffl,” and occasionally more. These are created to prevent the unattractive collision that occurs in some typefaces between the hook and/or crossbar of the “f” and the dot or serif of the “i,” or the ascender of the “l” or second “f.”
Although the “fi” and “fl” ligatures are standard in Type 1 and TrueType® fonts, a broader range of standard ligatures are found in many of the new OpenType fonts. They can be accessed in either of two ways:
- Individually, by clicking them in the Glyph palette. It’s easier if you access all the standard ligatures from the drop-down menu in the Glyph palette.
- Turning them on and off globally. This can be done in Adobe® InDesign®, by accessing the drop-down panel in the Character palette, or in QuarkXPress®, by choosing Style > Character > OpenType. You can also access them with style sheets. Note that standard ligatures are turned on by default in most design programs.
Ligatures should be used with extreme care (or avoided entirely) if you plan to adjust the overall letterspacing of the text containing these combinations. Since a ligature is a single character, its internal spacing won’t change when you tighten or open up the letterspacing. In fact, when using extreme tracking, most design apps will replace ligatures at a certain tracking threshold with the original single characters to maintain consistent spacing.
Continue to part 2 of this article, on Discretionary Ligatures.
- Editor’s Note: Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 3rd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.