How to get missing ligatures

blackhearse's picture

Hello. I am a publisher who will be re-publishing some old & out of print books. And I'm setting them in the original faces that were used. I am running into the problem, though, of not getting all the ligatures (or old style figures) I need in the font sets available. What do I do?

Should I contact these big name vendors and ask if they can design the missing ones I need?
Or should I hire a freelancer (work for hire) for this kind of stuff?

If the latter, what kinds of questions should I ask in order to know that I'll get someone who can do the job right?

Any input appreciated.


charles ellertson's picture

What your options are depends in part on what fonts you are talking about. Fonts are software now, and as software, can be copy protected with a copyright. But in the U.S., that is only for the *software,* not the design. So, a "supplemental" font could always be made, with the attendant problems in setting the text.

Fonts are also *licensed*, not *sold*. What your options are with regard to modifying them (as opposed to using a supplemental font) depends on the details of those licenses. Worse, it is entirely possible for the same typeface to have two different licenses -- e.g,. Monotype Bembo bought long ago with an Adobe license allows you to modify it, Monotype Bembo bought today from Monotype forbids it.

Easiest would be if you told us what the typefaces are. Or maybe easiest would be to have the books set in hot metal, like the originals. You could do that and still print offset, if that's a goal. If they are short enough, might even be cheaper...

Back to you, what are the typefaces?

blackhearse's picture

Thanks for the reply.
At the moment I'm working with Monotype Old Style. But I know I'm going to run into this problem again with other faces because I have another couple dozen books that I want to do in the future.

I am in the U.S. and think the "supplemental" route you mentioned would be best. I'm a small one-man show at the moment & the hot metal idea seems pretty daunting...though offset is my goal.

The characters I need were apparently included in the sets at one time, but are no longer. Would I be modifying the set by creating new ligatures or would they be considered entirely new creations? Don't know if that matters if I go the "supplemental" route.

charles ellertson's picture

The information I gave you was how to legally add characters so that you could, in the end, have a printed book. So, you make, or have made, a font family called, say, BHMOS. Members of the family are roman, italic, and a bold if you need it.

Glyphs in the font (because of cost) are the double f ligatures and the old style numbers only.

Using it will be a pain. You can probably get automatic substitution in a layout program like InDesign (grep search), but any kerning will have to be done by hand -- automatic kerning is always between glyphs within a single font. Actually, someone could probably write a script to handle much of the needed kerning.

By the way, this font was offered through Adobe at one time. Anyone who purchased it before 2011 can just go into the font itself, and modify it at will. That would make things far easier. Not sure about what would happen in a license transfer -- that is, you purchase the license from someone who bought it through Adobe before that date...


That's the legal, technical ways around your issue.

* * *

I just went and looked at Monotype Old Style

Whatever you think about the typeface design, whoever drew it up has no idea about printing. It might work as a metal font, printed letterpress. It will look terrible printed offset under any conditions, but esp, under the current manufacturing technique where the printing plate is made directly from the computer file.

It's hard to match printing where the type was set using metal, whether eventually printed letterpress, or where repro was pulled, negatives made & stripped up, and a plate burned.

I know, because I've done this many times. I've set patch corrections for books where the old pages (tearsheets) were shot for offset printing, and we had to paste up new copy on them. Worst (technically) I ever did was for some books written by Netanyahu's papa (Benzion) -- a distinguised scholar with significant publications at American University Presses.

Before PostScrpt, it wasn't really worth the effort. You couldn't do much, and it showed, badly. When PostScript came along, we always went into the fonts and add the weight (non-proportionally) that you get with pressing a piece of metal into a piece of paper. To give you an idea, the weight gain needed is about half the distance between a "regular" and "medium" font.

So much for bona fides and "been there, done that, charter member."

Whoever made the "Monotype Old Style" fonts forgot about printing, or probably never knew anything about it. Some copy artist sitting at a drawing table who had no idea about what happens as ink is put on paper, or for that matter, pixels on a screen -- though how type is displayed on a monitor is a moving target these days.

Unless for a technical reason -- like matching repro from an already printed book -- you should toss out Monotype Old Style" and start over. If you have to have a Caslon (which MOS isn't, by the way, in spite of the blurb) look at Williams Caslon.

The same with other revivals. Look at something set using them, and printed currently,using the process you will use -- offset, on-demand xerography, whatever.

hrant's picture

What Charles said (mostly :-). Especially concerning the fact that matching the look of an old book involves far more than simply choosing a font...

BTW if you want to extend a font for which you can't get/afford permission, you still can't copy the outlines from the original (to make an "add-on" font). There is a bit of good news though: many of those old fonts have more permissive incarnations that might be close enough to the "official" version; if you can use one of those instead you can save yourself a lot of money and headaches.

As for somebody to "do the job right", you can certainly learn to do it yourself, but expect to spend a lot of time (not least in terms of troubleshooting). If you can come up with a budget there are many "third parties" on Typophile (such as Charles, and yours truly*) who can do this sort of thing for you. I myself have done a handful of such commissions, for example on Adobe Garamond Premier and Goudy's Deepdene.

* hpapazian at gmail dot com

Not sure about what would happen in a license transfer

That's not looking good lately:


charles ellertson's picture

Too much hhp.

hrant's picture

Putting stuff in the background is often smart, but auto-tracing rarely is; better to trace manually over a background.


Thomas Phinney's picture

Charles, that particular method, which still relies on the outlines during the auto-trace, I would not want to absolutely bet on it passing a legal challenge in the USA.

I wouldn't be surprised if it DID pass such a challenge, either. But I don't regard that as well understood a situation as if one used the outlines to generate a bitmap, and then did a new manual or auto-trace based on the bitmap. I think it is widely accepted in the industry (whether true or not) that this would almost certainly pass legal muster as far as US copyright goes.

hrant's picture

On the piracy front - related:

the best solution is to just pick another font.

Unless he really does have/want to match the original as closely as possible.

Using a typeface well is at least as important as selecting it

But the latter still counts.

I'm all for taking the time to really understand something (I've never sold a car - I've always run them to the ground or totaled them) but that's a matter of education - it's not rational to bemoan the typeface richness we now enjoy.

Also, I would not equate letterform variations with lettering. It's still a font. Most people do only use the new technology decoratively, but there remain worlds of functionality and subtle expression to explore.


Thomas Phinney's picture

> The shape, including the details, can't be copy protected.

Copy protected? Do you mean protected by copyright?

If so, that is only true as far as the word "copyright" is involved, and you are talking about the USA. But the USA also has design patents, which *do* protect the shape, including the details.

(That being said, design patent has a much shorter duration than copyright, and few foundries have found the cost/benefit attractive. Note that using design patent for typefaces is hardly novel: the very first US design patent was for a typeface, issued in 1842 to George Bruce.)

Just last week I was asked by a developer about the possibility of me creating a look-alike of my typeface Hypatia Sans. I had to point out that it is covered by an Adobe-owned design patent, so even if I wanted to, I could not legally do so.


hrant's picture

But of course "look-alike" can be debated. There's a difference between plagiarism (which harms cultural progress) and inspiration (which promotes it) - even if the difference could never be set in stone.


Nick Shinn's picture

There is a simple solution: Old Style 7, which has OSF and Small caps.

As for the other typefaces, I’m pretty sure that you will be able to find digital versions, equivalents, or near equivalents.*

However, you will not be able to facsimilize the original documents easily (if they were set by pre-digital technology), even with ostensibly the same typefaces, because the “H&Js”—justification method—was quite different then and impossible to replicate automatically now, so lines will break in different places, requiring laborious finessing.

That is, if facsimiles are your goal.

An interesting topic, authenticity.

*A major reseller, such as FontShop or MyFonts, will be able to help you track down (close) matches, if you contact them directly rather than just wading through their catalog with keyword searches.

hrant's picture

how do you get a design patent for anything based, say, on Janson?

The same way Adobe did in fact do it for a Garamond?

it doesn't take an "exact match" when your goal is simply to set good type.

But it's never just "good" - it's always "good enough", which spans a universe of quality depending on the people involved.

Otl Aicher died when a car hit his lawnmower because suffering a curved texture at one end of his field was not "good enough"...


hrant's picture

Charles, how is it reasonable or productive to throw a vandalistic tantrum when somebody respectfully disagrees with you? Is Typophile supposed to be a collection of monolithic personal statements?


blackhearse's picture

Sorry for jumping back in late. I work crazy hours and it took me a while do digest all this. The input so far has helped immensely.

Charles, thanks for pointing out the legal/tech issues & letting me know about the Adobe route. I never would have known or thought about the latter. I'm definitely not adverse to manually kerning if necessary. But your point about this face not printing well w/ offset is one I hadn't fully considered. I have seen those kinds of differences before in printed pieces but thought it was probably my imagination. Unfortunately, I do need to use MOS since it was used in the original. And, yes, I'll be using CTP imaging.

Can you expand a little on what "patch corrections" are?
I am reproducing the entire layout & design of the books as well...not just using the same type. They're not "facsimiles," though, because I have used modern justification methods. Can anyone recommend someone who can add the necessary weight to my fonts? I've worked w/ Indesign for about 6 years, but that's way beyond my skill set. Also, how can I learn to tell which revived fonts are weighted properly and will print well using today's technology? Does one always have to compare old and new samples printed with the same method?

hrant, thanks for your helpful info. I certainly don't have the time to learn something like this myself & just may take you up on your offer. I've got a lot of projects in various stages at the moment, though.

Also I think I checked out Old Style 7 a while ago & it wasn't an exact match. I'll take another look, though.

Does anyone know if either Ronaldson or Baskerville MT are weighted properly? I'm using those in two other books as well.

hrant's picture

From what I gather Charles has a lot of experience tweaking weights. If you can't get him to do it feel free to email me: hpapazian at gmail dot com


charles ellertson's picture

Mr. Fox News of Typophile has spoken.

hrant's picture

Since I don't know what you imagine to be a "flight of fancy" (for example, Adobe did get a design patent on a Garamond, so they could get it for a Janson) as a precaution I have saved your post. Don't equate occasional disagreement with a level of disrespect that warrants holding hostages. If you want to help somebody at least as much as seeing Typophile as a soapbox or a venting mechanism, you will not stoop to deleting the help you provide.

Reweighting a traditional metal font into a digital version requires looking at printed versions of each, then making the adjustments.

A very good, and entirely obvious, observation. Many type designers have loudly deplored the overly-light revivals (which tellingly however came out fine on the laser printers back then) for at least 30 years.

The question is, what's the best way to make a font thicker?* If you're not allowed to modify it, you can stroke it; a bit brutish, but better than nothing. If you are allowed to modify it, and you can afford the time/money, you use a font editor; otherwise you still go caveman and stroke it. If you can really afford the time/money you do the font editor work manually; otherwise you can go auto - but be warned: in FontLab the auto-bold is pretty bad** (although it seems they actually fixed that recently, inheriting Fontographer's quite decent algorithm).

* Oh, and lightening is an entirely different animal..



hrant's picture

Even with the unwarranted personal attacks I don't feel comfortable simply re-posting what Charles wrote in public, but since it was a useful contribution to the Typophile community if anybody would like a copy feel free to email me.


blackhearse's picture

Thanks again for the info. and advice. This is a really good forum. The scan charles posted showed up great & illustrated important differences quite well.

hrant, thanks again for the offer. As I'm not yet a very learned typophile, and wouldn't trust my judgment with regard to weights, I will certainly get in touch as soon as I finish a couple short projects I'm working on.
Your take on just adding stroke is an interesting solution. I agree, a bit brutish, but better than nothing I suppose if done in moderation...


charles ellertson's picture


InDesign will allow a stroke of less than .25 points. I tried an 0.02 stroke on a letter to do just what was suggested to you. Problem is, most/all preflight programs will report that thin stroke as an error -- it's no different to the preflight program than a rule, after all, and an 0.02 point rule would be a mistake. (BTW, you don't ever want to use less than a .33 point rule, when printing offset.)

So you use that thin stroke & send your files to the printer, and they send you back a reported error ... meaning you might lose schedule, and in either case, have to make a decision based on an unknown result. For us, I took that stroke out as soon as our preflight program reported it as a problem.

Also, no telling what a particular RIP is programmed to do when it encounters such fine strokes.

Too many type designers seem to feel they're the final arbitrators, but we've been using type since, what., the 1450s? And OpenType has been used for what, 10 years? The Standard first established in 1996, I believe. You still need, in addition to authors, all of the following: editors, interior designers, cover designers, typesetters, and printers. Oddly enough, with what's available today, the smallest need is for type designers. Especially those who know little about using type. Be a touch careful abut what the problems will be when asking for advice.

In your original post, you asked

If the latter [hire a freelancer], what kinds of questions should I ask in order to know that I'll get someone who can do the job right?

What matters is what a final product looks like. Ask to see results. If for the web, a PDF ebook, I suppose. If traditional print, books printed with the same system you will use -- on-demand, or offset, or whatever.

My own opinion, stated earlier, is you can capture most of the feel of an old book, but it is both hard and expensive to even try to replicate it, and in the end, you may well feel disappointed.

One way is to have it set metal, pull repro, lay that out, then find a printer with a camera room that can still make negatives & strip up flats to burn a plate. Or, I suppose, find someone who can do a good job scanning in the layed-out repro. Or print letterpress from the metal, but you've got a 5,000-7000 impression limit with that metal type.

Option 2 is to use computer fonts -- PostScript or OpenType, brought up to 2013 standards, which will print as you want.

One way to do this is to learn to do the work yourself. Since, as you say, there will be multiple projects & typefaces, that has a certain appeal, though it will not be fast. The other way is to pay people. It might be cheaper to jut use metal type, as above. Cost it out.

Option 3 is to select one of the current, completed OT fonts that will give you results you can live with, both in terms of type design and the printed product. Since you're re-publishing, these will perforce be revivals of older fonts, and there are A LOT of bad revivals out there. Best chance is to stay with broad categories -- a Venetian, a Scotch, etc.

Be sure to see books printed with those fonts, and don't accept xerography as an example if you're going to print offset.

BTW, how about just using the old books as camera copy? Been done many times before...

hrant's picture

Too many type designers seem to feel they're the final arbitrators

A small number do. A slightly bigger number act like they do. Most realize -and many even freely admit- that a tiny stroke is harmless, especially when you factor in non-ideal output. On the other hand, a not-so-tiny 2o-unit (0.2 points at 10 point in an Em of 1000) blob all around a letterform can very much give it a different (read: slovenly) character when printed in high quality. Feel free to do that sort of thing to something by Goudy for example, but not to something by Unger for example.

And of course no amount of stroking is going to make a ligature pop out (tempting to make a sexual analogy here :-). So I'm sorry to report that sometimes you still need a stinky, weasely type designer...


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