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  • Writer's pictureRaphaël Freeman

2. Ligatures

fi and fl ligatures

This is the second of a 10-part series of the Ten Keys to Seamless Typesetting.

There probably isn’t anything quite as explosive in polite conversation as saying that iPhone is better than Android (or vice versa). Perhaps talking about politics? Nah, the iPhone vs Android debate it still going strong.

In typesetting the argument always was (although I’m not sure if it is so much anymore), Pc vs Mac. Of course it’s not really the OS that is critical per se, but rather the software that runs on it. For example today, for my workflow, I need a specific feature on Word for Windows that is not available on the Mac so I just run Windows. InDesign, typefaces, scripts etc., are identical on the Mac and PC.

However, many years ago, before Adobe came out with InDesign and Quark ruled in the world of desktop publishing, the advantage of Mac over PC was the fact that Quark for Mac could insert ligatures (well the two in the image above) automatically.

The most classic ligature is the fi ligature. If you look at the image at the top of this page, you will see in the Arno font, if the f and the i were printed as the left of the image, the dot of the i will be very close to the top of the f and when printed would be too close to each other causing the letters to bleed into each other. The same problem with the fl ligature.

So what was the solution on the PC-version of Quark? There was no choice but to use the “expert set” of the typeface (mentioned in part one of this series). However, this was far from ideal because if the word had to be letter-spaced in order to achieve full justified text, then the spacing of the word containing the ligature would be unequal or you had to manually remove the ligature. Clearly not a good solution. However, even if you were on the Mac, you only had a solution for the fi and fl ligatures. There are of course many more combinations such as: Th, ff, fb, ffb, ffh, ffi, ffj, ffk, ffl, fft, fh, fi, fj, fk, fl, ft?

Honestly, I only worried about ff, ffi and ffl, and on the Mac still had to use expert sets, but it was very tedious.

In the below image you can see in the first row the letter combinations that require ligatures in the font Arno and the in the second row, the ligatures applied.


Again, just as in text figures, OpenType came to the rescue along with Adobe InDesign (modern versions of Quark and even Word support full ligatures too). Today in order to set the second line in the above image, nothing is required to do. In fact I had to turn off ligatures in order to set the first line.

In the below images we see how the combination of InDesign, OpenType format typefaces and of course many hours of work of professional font designers, allow us to enjoy a full set of ligatures as you can see in the first line of the image below. If you look closely, you might notice that the first f of ff or ffi and ffl is shorter than the second f and the crossbar of the two fs join.

Typefaces such as Arno, will often come with discretionary ligatures such as below. In the second line, we see alternates such the ft and ct ligatures. Probably not going to be used much in setting modern-day texts, but if setting a poem or prose from a previous century, discretionary ligatures can add a touch of class.

And to repeat the sign-off from the previous post in the series of Ten Keys to Seamless Typesetting – note how this blog post was written with no support for ligatures.


If you have a manuscript that you wish to be typeset seamlessly using a full set of ligatures, then contact us for a no-obligation discussion by clicking here.

Looking forward to your comments below!

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