Happy Typography Thursday all! This particular Thursday also happens to be Valentine’s day, so we thought it would be only appropriate to talk about bringing things together….letters, that is! So let’s get romantic and talk about the beautiful joining together of two letters that we call a “ligature.
A ligature in typography refers to the joining of two or more letters or glyphs in ways that they typically wouldn’t be joined (i.e. cursive letters are not ligatures). Historically, ligatures were used for practical purposes. When hand-writing manuscripts, it was less time consuming and also less expensive to utilize ligatures, since combining multiple letters into one form saved ink and paper. It’s important to note that the letters aren’t just stuck together with some Elmer’s, but rather carefully crafted into a single typographic glyph, or form.
When movable type was invented in 1450 by our main man Johannes Gutenberg, the practicality of ligatures remained significant. Combining 2 or 3 letters that are commonly used together in a ligature meant that only 1 block of lead type would have to be created, versus an extra 2 or 3. When you think about all the different typefaces, point sizes, and common combinations of letters, that is a big hunk of metal that you’ve saved.
In the mid-20th century, ligatures started to become less and less common, with the growing popularity of sans serif typefaces, Linotype machines, phototypesetting machines and then finally computers.
However, with the now negligible practicality of ligatures, they have become a special feature of typography, used to add interest or evoke a certain mood in a design, much like letterpress itself. You will see ligatures used in logos, hand-lettering, typographic-heavy designs, calligraphy, and wherever else you might imagine. In a world where everyone has access to hundreds and hundreds of fonts (not all of them good), seeing a ligature evokes a sense of history, and reminds us of the beauty of the typographic form.
(Typographers & Designers, take a moment to dry your eyes)
Many typefaces have special features and glyphs that you can dig through and find some wonderful ligatures to insert into your design/type. It’s also common to create them, either in Illustrator (or any other design program), or in hand-lettering.
Now that you know the brief history, let’s look at some ligatures!
Here are a few logos featuring the lovely ligature
And here’s some miscellaneous typography featuring the ligature! Click here to see some more.
Thanks for reading! If you have any favorite designs that utilize ligatures, we’d love to see them!