Ligatures. The decorative aspect of typography, one might say. The term ligature means “connection” in Latin.
Ligatures are the connection of two or more individual letters, or glyphs. This transcended from the use of metal plates when two letters were typeset together to reduced the risk of ink flowing onto other letters and ruining their form. Now, a misconception of ligatures is that they’re separate letters, this isn’t the case. Ligatures are two single letters crafted into one letter, or glyph.
There are two types of ligatures; Standard and Discretionary. Standard ligatures are applied by default as they are an improvement of the text, for example fi, ff, fl, ffl and Th. These kind of ligatures help with the readability of text and allows your eye to flow through text with ease. For example, the single letters of ‘f’ and ‘i’ will clash as the terminal of the ‘F’ will clash with the tittle of the ‘i’. So to stop this the two letters were crafted into a single glyph. Here’s an example of fi with and without ligatures:
Discretionary ligatures are used for decorative aspects. These are used in things such as logos and for creative advertising, rather than being a practical fix. Examples of these ligature set outs are ck, sp, st, rt and ct. These kind of ligatures heavily remind me of celtic script. Nonetheless, discretionary ligatures are available under Character > the option panel menu > OpenType > Discretionary ligatures. Here is an example of discretionary ligatures:
Overall, ligatures help with the readability of type. But professionally designed ligatures should match the letter spacing, or kerning, of the rest of the font. Personally, I wouldn’t use discretionary ligatures unless I was designing a piece for the early 20th century, whereas I’d use standard ligatures in every day practice. This is because discretionary ligatures seem a little too decorative for todays style and approach, where as standard ligatures actually improve the legibility and readability of the text. However, by using ligatures you’re still using traditional means in a contemporary context. It keeps us in touch with the past, something few people like, but today it will help us develop and maybe look at evolving on these letterforms.