Ligatures Part 2 - Discretionary
by Ilene Strizver
A discretionary ligature is more decorative in nature than a standard ligature and should be used at your discretion, as the name indicates. Some discretionary ligatures combine frequently occurring letter pairs (like “Th”) into a single graceful design. Other ligatures, such as the “ck,” “ct” and “st” combinations found in faces such as ITC Dyadis and ITC Founder’s Caslon, originated from historical usage and add elegance and individuality to a setting. Still others, like the joined “oo” in ITC Rennie Mackintosh and the “LL” and “TT” in Jokerman, are designed purely for fun and spontaneity, creating an almost hand-lettered appearance.
Fonts in the new OpenType® format, which can accommodate thousands of characters, often contain discretionary ligatures. You can conveniently view all available discretionary ligatures in a font in the Glyph palette via the pop-up menu. They can be accessed in either of two ways:
- Turning them on and off globally via the OpenType palette. This can be done in Adobe® InDesign® by selecting the Character panel > OpenType > Discretionary Ligatures: or in QuarkXPress® from the Measurements toolbar or by choosing Style > Character > OpenType.
- Individually, by clicking them in the Glyph palette.
In non-OpenType fonts, discretionary ligatures are often referred to as decorative ligatures. Because they are not standard in the typical 256-character font layout of a Type 1 or TrueType font, discretionary ligatures (and other alternate characters) are usually located in alternate or extended fonts, or expert sets. Sometimes decorative ligatures are found in nonstandard locations within a font and can be located via the Glyph palette.
Note that unlike standard ligatures, discretionary ligatures are turned off by default in design applications. They can also be accessed in style sheets.
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.
Missed part 1 this article? Ligatures - Part 1.
- 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.