Typography is known as an invisible art: if done correctly, the reader will never notice. One of the hallmarks of a well-designed typeface is the ligature. In its simplest terms, a ligature is two or more letters crafted into a single character to improve the appearance and legibility of the type on the page.

Before the days of computers and phototypesetting, letters were cast into hot metal and set next to each other in a chalice. One of the problems faced during this period of typesetting was that certain characters had features that physically collided with one another. To solve this problem and increase the typographic legibility of the printed word, font designers included ligatures with their fonts, combining these clashing letters into one uniquely designed character.

Ligature picture

However, the appearance of ligatures pre-dates the moveable metal typesetting boom of the 15th century by thousands of years. In fact, the word ?ligature? comes from the Latin word ligatus, meaning to tie or bind. In history, the ligature extends as far back as the earliest forms of written communication. They are also featured in many historical scripts and religious texts. Considering everything was written by hand, the ligature can be seen as a natural progression of language and writing. This is most evident in the connection of characters in many people?s handwriting the world over. Today, almost every digital typeface will have the common fi, ffi and fj ligatures included within its glyph palette. However, there are many type designers going beyond the expected set. A number of fonts from Hoefler & Co, Sudtipos and Emigre all include a variable set of ligatures and stylistic alternatives not only to enhance the legibility of the type, but also to aid in the interest in and creative appearance of the written word.

Picture of Ligatures

Considering everything was written by hand, the ligature can be seen as a natural progression of language and writing. This is most evident in the connection of characters in many people?s handwriting the world over.

Share This