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U&lc Online Issue: 29.1.1

Ligatures Part II: Decorative Ligatures


by Ilene Strizver


For Your Typographic

Decorative ligatures come in many varieties, but they’re all intended to add visual interest to your typesetting. Also called discretionary ligatures, some of these characters combine frequently occurring letter pairs (like ‘Th’) into a single, graceful design. Other ligatures, such as the ‘ck’, ‘ct’, and ‘st’ combinations found in faces such as ITC Dyadis and ITC Founder’s Caslon, originated from historical usage and add elegance and individuality to a setting. Still others, like the joined ‘oo’ in ITC Rennie Mackintosh and the LL and TT in Jokerman, are designed purely for fun and spontaneity, creating an almost hand-lettered appearance.

Where are they located?
Decorative ligatures are not standard in the typical 256 character font layout, and are usually located in alternate or extended fonts, or expert sets. Sometimes decorative ligatures are found in non-standard locations within a font and can be located with Key Caps, Fontek Character Chooser, Character Map or any keyboard layout utility. In an OpenType font (the newest font format), ligatures are incorporated into the font, but can only be accessed by an application that supports this feature of OpenType.

NOTE: Remember, a ligature is treated as a single character by your application. Take care when you open or close the overall letter spacing of a word containing these combos; the ligature’s internal spacing will remain unchanged and might look too tight or too open compared to the rest of your text.

Editor’s Note: Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules!, published by North Light Books. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.



The whimsical feel of Jokerman is enhanced by the ligatures for double Ts and Ls.

The use of ligatures lends individuality to this setting of ITC Dyadis.

Four ligatures – ‘Th’, ‘st’, ‘of’ and ‘th’ – are part of what helps this copy, set in Marguerita, flow so well.

Two different conjoined ‘oo’ ligatures and a ‘Th’ ligature give a hand-lettered look to this example, set in ITC Rennie Mackintosh.