Another question... (Importance of ligatures in typeface for a (novel) book body)

technopaegnion's picture


I'm starting thinking my question are boring but I'm curious and new in the (fantastic) world of typography.

So, my last question concerned the choose of a typeface for a novel book body. Now I'm asking how much the ligatures are important in a book.

Can ligatures influence the choose of a font?
I just found the font "Esta" ("Esta ligatures") with a large number of ligatures (e.g. for s+h, s+t, s+k, f+r, f+y etc. etc. etc.).

Do you know other typefaces with similar range of ligatures, suitable for a novel book body?


ebensorkin's picture

The most important thing about a font is not if it has ligatures or not. If it does have them then you aught to ask - is this better than not having them - eg is this an improvement? And if it doesn't, does it suffer from not having them? There are plenty of fonts that have poorly designed ligatures so having ligatures and even larger numbers of ligatures are not a mark of quality per se. Quality has to do with if the font supports reading - this applies to the ligatures as much as any other aspect. Learning which fonts support reading & which ones don't can take time. The other relevant question has to do with the tone struck by the font when set in text. Of course a good fit with the paper to be used in the book is an issue too.

franzheidl's picture

I must admit ligatures, especially historical forms like st-ligs etc. seem to ba a bit of a flovor of the month/year thing to me, especially since OT. I agree with Eben, ligatures do not improve legibility/readability per se. It's just that some faces actually need them to set properly, some don't (which in return doesn't make either better than the other, per se). To me Ligatures just seem to be a bit of an overestimated topic as of late. Like Eben, i'd choose a typeface rather going by things like content, style, tone/color, and yes, sometimes by era. If you've come that far, then you can still look if the font actually includes all the ligatures you might need and if thery're well drawn. To me giving the sheer number of ligatures first priority in chosing a typeface is like bying a car just because it features an ashtray while others don't.

Quincunx's picture

I think that for extensive reading text the ligatures you mention are not important, because they are usually purely stylistic (sh, st, etc.).

Only ligatures that are necessary in some typefaces, because otherwise letters collide into each other, can be usefull (e.g. ff, fi, fl, fb, etc.).

blank's picture

I think that for extensive reading text the ligatures you mention are not important, because they are usually purely stylistic (sh, st, etc.).

Has anyone done any research into whether or not quaints actually detract from legibility? Personally, I can’t help but stop to notice them in many typefaces, but that might just be my type-geek tendencies. I wonder if the general public find it annoying every time st or ct pop out at them?

Quincunx's picture

I don't know, it was just common sense. I can't imagine they help while reading. But if they detreact from legibility; I don't know. But they are obviously not necessary, while some of the other ligatures sometimes are (ff, fb, etc.). I too can't help noticing the st or ct ligatures in many typefaces.

Gary Long's picture

With the old style typefaces I find that the f-series of ligatures, besides being necessary in most instances, add a suble elegance to the typeset copy without being distracting. But I'd avoid the st, ct etc. ligatures, which draw too much attention to themselves in body copy (at least today; maybe four hundred years ago readers were used to them). Many typefaces, however, are designed such that ligatures aren't required; in such cases, an fi ligature, for instance would look silly (e.g. Trump Mediaeval).

ebensorkin's picture

I think that for extensive reading text the ligatures you mention are not important, because they are usually purely stylistic + I don’t know, it was just common sense.

I am going to have to disagree. Not emphatically, but gently. Using a rule of thumb rather than looking & deciding on a case by case basis may work most of the time but it's not ideal.

The goodness or badness of a ligature for text is always on the same basis - 'does it solve a problem in a way that supports reading'. BTW some classic 'st' & 'ct' ligs I have seen are quite thin and don't distract too much. And actually they may have even supported reading. Where as 'st' & 'ct' ligs that were made after they fell from common use were I think made for a different reason - to attract attention & look old. My guess is that the different motivation resulted in a showy presentation - and so they are not good for reading. But they were probably good for making a sign look 'old' - maybe. Also, depending on the design you might get a nice sy lig for instance. Keep in mind too - just because it hasn't been done doesn't mean that it cannot be done.

There is also such a thing as a Spontaneous Ligature - where letters are allowed to overlap but retain their basic design. I know Verdana has at least one.

Quincunx's picture

I agree with your statement 'does it solve a problem in a way that supports reading'. And what I meant before, I don't think ct/st/etc ligs are important for book body type (which was the original question), you don't need them for legibility. At least not as much as some of the other ligatures; c and t do not collide into each other, and they are perfectly legible on their own. A loop between those letters, no matter how thin, attract (my) attention. :)

I've read a book a while ago set in a Garamond-like typeface which for some reason had ligatures turned off (I guess), and the f collided with the b, h and other f's, and it was really distracting in my opinion. I think it was so apparent, that even non-typophiles would see it.

But I guess if you look at it on a case by case basis, there might be occasions where more different ligatures are appropriate. But I still think that such a decision would probably be made on a stylistic basis (to make something 'look old' or 'luxurious') rather than for legibility. But maybe I'm wrong. I haven't read any studies about ligatures in long text, if there are any. :)

Miss Tiffany's picture

I'm probably just echoing what others have said, but in general I find historical ligatures distracting in anything more than a couple of paragraphs. Generally designers make the connecting loop to round or large and this bothers me both as someone reading and a designer. I think it does slow readers down if the ligatures are poorly designed because they create uncommon word shapes.

mondoB's picture

The basic f-series ligatures are necessary to avoid clumsy collision combos, but there is another form of collision which you can avoid manually. When an italicized word is followed by a punctuation mark other than a period, that punctuation mark should always be italic too, otherwise italic slams into upright roman. Not everyone agrees with this, but I insist on it as a style point in my books.

ebensorkin's picture

The basic f-series ligatures are necessary to avoid clumsy collision combos

Yes, in many - but *not all* text fonts.

Quincunx's picture

Not all text fonts indeed, for example Dolly does not contain the 'ff' or 'ffi' ligatures. Because two f's do not collide.

Gary Long's picture

Even where the f's don't collide, I do like to see ff, ffi, and ffl ligatures in fonts styled in the "old style" tradition with good overhangs on the f. By making the first f slightly shorter, as is often done, it adds a nice flow to the shape of the word.

Quincunx's picture

But that would be mainly stylistic, as I said earlier. Not that there is anything wrong with that. :)

Nick Shinn's picture

The premise that there is an optimized typography for literature equates the text with highway signs.

Jane Austen wrote longhand, and her novels were circulated for many years that way, before being published.

I wonder how Pride and Prejudice reads with a full complement of quaints.

Perhaps this is something that e-books could offer -- choose your font and layout (designed by Gwen Steffani, perhaps).

Anne Rice with quaints? A special edition of Harry Potter (not for Muggles...)?

ebensorkin's picture

Dolly is a great example.

Don McCahill's picture

I am with many who favor f ligs, but not ct and st in the text. They seem to make me stumble over the reading when I notice them.

That said, they can be used in chapter titles effectively to give a historic air to the book.

SuperUltraFabulous's picture

Hi there:

Set a page of text @ 8.5 points or less and scan the page quickly (or squint). Do you see blacker areas? Are those areas the ligatures?

Then those are bad ligatures. I have seen these on many occasions where the type designer has for some reason not balanced the stroke weight with the rest of alphabet.

Recognizability is also important. Will a layman reader or even a reader with slight visual impairment be able to discern two characters tied to together? Will fl be seen as a funny capital A? An oddity?

Turn the page up side down may help you see weird spots too.

Mike Diaz :-)

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