Discretionary ligatures

cph's picture

When is it appropriate/acceptable to set body type with discretionary ligatures? I thumbed through a friend

hrant's picture

At your discretion? :-)


rcapeto's picture

I think that using ct and st ligs in contemporary setting
looks, in general, unbearably affected.

cph's picture

That was going to be my topic

cph's picture

I think ligatures will become more and more common as OpenType becomes more and more standard. My problem using ligatures is that you have to modify the text to set the ligatures (the characters actually change, so

keith_tam's picture

It depends what it is, I guess. If it is important to impart an 'olde worlde' flavour for a parcitular project, then go for it. If it's a bread-and-butter, everyday kind of job, then I think the discretionary ligatures look a bit achaic and in the way. General readers are simply not used to them and probably won't even know what they are.

porky's picture

"ct" and "st" always make me smile when I see them, but "&c" always jars - maybe because so many modern ampersands are now so far removed from their original "et" ligature roots?

jfp's picture

my definition:
ct and st can be used at anytime you will use Swashes, if you see what I mean.


Aaron Sittig's picture

Isn't it about time to redefine what discretionary ligatures are? It sounds like maintaining even the most basic discretionary ligatures used to be a monumental task, and as such, little experimentation with additional ligatures was practically possible.

But today with Opentype, I think inevitably someone will bring us new ideas about what discretionary ligatures should include. The first step could be to implement all the f+ascender ligatures, ex: fh, fb, &c. After that, why not move on to very common two character combinations of your target language? english examples: th, ch, ll, ed. Of course these new ligatures wouldn't be generally accepted but could be the thing to give that edge to magazines more indiscrete in their typography. Out of this experimentation, the more useful discretionary ligatures could be identified and implemented more widely.

This seems to be one of those areas where typography could push forward and escape some of the tradition it's mired in. Why are 'ct' and 'st' the only standard discretionary ligatures? Shouldn't we have more?

danger's picture

When I discovered what I could do with ligatures and automatic substitution in OpenType, I nearly wet my pants. I've been conceptualizing a face that's almost entirely ligatures, with many 3 character and a couple of 4 character composites.

My first attempt will be, most likely, a display face but a closely-related text face is a possiblility. The only problem I forsee with text faces is letterspacing. If you're opening up a bit to air out the paragraph, a ligature with its set width is going to clunk like the liberty bell. (And no, I haven't stolen sheep in a long time.)

This may be the future of typography.

brennan's picture

off topic

John Hudson's picture

If you're opening up a bit to air out the paragraph, a ligature with its set width is going to clunk like the liberty bell.

InDesign will automatically break ligatures apart if the text is tracked more than 20%. It would be nice if the user could set the tolerance.

hrant's picture

Hey, that's good news. But 20% of what? Do you mean +20 tracking?

BTW, it would be even better if the font could set the cutoff.


John Hudson's picture

I'm not sure, Hrant, you'd have to play around in InDesign and see what happens. The '20%' figure was mentioned by David Lemon during an ATypI presentation a couple of years ago. I presume it means expanding the default spacing to 120% of normal.

hrant's picture

> 120% of normal.

That's what doesn't make sense: "normal" is really just zero, and 120% of zero is...
But I should just test it in Indy, like you said.


danger's picture

Yeah, Brennan, I read that just a couple of hours before in "Stop Stealing Sheep and Find Out How Type Works." They say, "We're not sure how 'black letter' in this anecdote got changed to 'lower case,' but we've always know it to be the latter; whichever way, it makes infinite sense." (page 7)

I also read it as lowercase in Bringhurst's book and had always heard it that way.



day's picture

I thought this was a ligiature post which need to be judged on a per-job situation.

But on the letter spacing issue, I don't have a problem with letter spacing if it is done with discetion. The Goudy quote has always been 'blackletter' and i think the modern mis-quote is redundant and somewhat disresectful.

Plus after reading "The Elements of Typographic Style" (Robert Bringhurst), I have had a lot of modern myths &practices dispelled.

One more thing though, i want to use Ligatures but my typeface is not an 'opentype' font. Is there any sotware of plugins i can use?

hrant's picture

Day, be careful: Bringhurst spins some myths of his own.


figbash_acrobat's picture

I would love to hear what some of these are, since I don't anticipate being able to read book of that caliber with a different perspective at least for a couple months. (I bought Typology and have been a little disappointed.)

Not to stir up unnecessary trouble of course. :-)


hrant's picture

Well, one myth is that his "cultural" type classification system works.
The truth is it only works for old stuff - it can't classify styles that are evolving now.

Typology: Heller's book? Yeah, one can't expect too much.


dan_reynolds's picture

Can one expect anything from Heller's books?

micah_cowan's picture

Regardless of whether or not Goudy is misquoted about this, I've rarely found letterspacing to be tasteful, except of course in setting something for display or subheading, etc. But I really hate when people use it merely because it's a slightly better-looking alternative to huge word spaces.

I do understand their necessity in setting magazines and newspapers, due to deadlines and such: but such situations often don't have much to do with fine typography, eh?

I would be extremely interested in counter-examples, though (that is, examples of tasteful letterspacing in running text).

Regarding discretionary ligatures

micah_cowan's picture


I recently bought Heller

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