How do you space ligatures

eliason's picture

Type designers, which of these statements most closely matches your practice of spacing ligatures (fi, for example)?

1) I give the same or about the same space between ligated letters as I would between their unligated forms: evenness of color demands that consistency. Thus, for example, the fi ligature is even in width with the unligated letters fi.

2) Ligatures "tie" letters together: I always and rather consistently tighten the internal space of ligatures relative to the space between their unligated forms. The fi ligature is predictably narrower than the unligated letters fi.

3) The space between ligated letters is an internal counter with its own design demands: there is no special relation between it and the space between those letters' unligated forms. The fi ligature bears no consistent relation in width to the unligated letters fi.

John Hudson's picture

None of the above. Evenness of colour seldom demand consistency: it usually demands careful inconsistency. Ligatures, because of their connections, are more complicated and dense shapes than unconnected letters. Therefore, it is usually necessary to make them a tad more open and looser than unligated letters, otherwise they form dark patches on the page.

So, a little bit of 1 and a little bit of 3.

Nick Shinn's picture

I try to optimize for "filling" and "office".

In "filling", I aim to make the space between "f" and "i" slightly larger than between "i" and "l" &c., to avoid the picket fence.
However, the verticals should not be so far apart that "ffi" becomes too open. I also try to get the verticals in "ffi" and "ffl" &c. evenly spaced, which may seem contradictory to the anti-fence aesthetic, but what the heck, affiliate.

My practice these days is to design ligatures out of typefaces. In the first place, despite the wonders of the age, there are still many font uses where ligatures are not supported.

With OpenType support, I think the best way to deal with awkward glyph combinations (many involving accents) is with contextually nuanced alternate forms of f that are substituted by the Ligature feature (by default), rather than pre-made composite glyphs.

Certainly, the "f" ligatures have a pedigree and cachet in old style text faces, but as a design solution for multi-lingual fonts in today's plethora of genres, sizes, and output devices, they are inappropriate.

Goran Soderstrom's picture

My idea on this is to always look at the ligatures in long words when spacing them. Something that looks really bad in my opinion is when they are to tight, so you really "see" them as ligatures and not as a part of a word, but I agree they are tricky to space.

I think it also has something to do with how the original "f" is looking, in a way.

ebensorkin's picture

It's probably a bad idea to create any sort of reflex about this because each design will be different. Some designs are sort of picket fence oriented anyway. Some designs are eclectic and almost need a very distinct approach to the ligatures. But what Nick said about Ligatures being less than ideal as optical solutions and for me particulatly when setting a long running text strikes me as mostly right. Where generalizations come in, what John said about "careful inconsistency" seems especially right.

eliason's picture

All helpful info, thanks!

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