5 Tips for Ligatures in Graphic Design

August 6, 2012
Ligatures on the Behance Network - Google Chrome_2012-08-06_10-15-58

Ligatures by Carlijn Hoogenboom

Ligatures are fantastic design tools when employed in subtle moderation.  If you look up “typographic ligature” on Wikipedia, you’ll learn that a ligature is the combination of two graphemes.  In the case of graphic design, we’re talking about connecting two letters.  Historically speaking, ligatures were used to abbreviate in an era of inkwell handwriting and expensive paper.  Today, most ligatures are either remnants of that functional historical use or strategic graphic design elements that help evoke a mood or promote a brand.  You can spice up your own graphic designs, posters, business cards and logos with ligatures with the five following tips.

1.  Do your research

Before you start sketching a logo or font that features ligatures, learn from the following resources:

Special, Extended, and Expert Characters – This About.com resource is an extensive list of links that will help you get the most out of existing fonts.  As a graphic designer, you need to know how to access the special features of many fonts.  Doing so will help you identify matching keystrokes between two or three letters that, when combined, make the perfect ligature fast and easy.

Design Your Own Ligature – This free textbook chapter presents several specific techniques for crafting your own ligatures.

Logopedia Ligatures – Take a quick peek at how ligatures are used in popular logos.

Ligature Search – Run Google Image, Flickr, Behance and other searches for typographic ligature examples for inspiration.

2.  Keep it simple

Probably the worst mistake you can make when working with ligatures is to overdo it.  Too many ligatures, especially those that are not well known, can make body copy confusing and difficult to read.  Ever cringe when you see a Renaissance festival poster printed with nothing but some gothic font?

Keep your ligatures simple and consistent.  Your ligatures should help you make a point, set a mood or brand a company; and thus each should have a specific purpose for placement.

3.  Set a mood and brand your company

As noted, each ligature should have a specific purpose.  In most cases, ligatures are used to convey a mood and maintain theme consistency.  That’s why they’re so great for branding companies.  Consider what purpose ligatures have in your design:  should they be modern, elegant or exciting?  Apply know design principles to that end and don’t be afraid to break the rules to craft a striking, unforgettable ligature design.

The CW - Logopedia, the logo and branding site - Google Chrome_2012-08-06_10-19-08

The CW logo is modern and authoritative, from Logopedia

4.  Use existing fonts for body copy

It’s OK to use ligatures in body copy so long as they’re sparingly used.  Many existing fonts already employ ligatures, and some are well recognized, time tested and easy to read.  Still, ensure you use ligatures minimally.  For example, use ligatures only for the first two letters of paragraphs or only for two or three character combinations.  If in doubt, cut the ligatures from your body copy altogether.  Existing fonts with ligatures can set a mood as well as custom-made ligatures.

5.  Make your own ligatures for branding and logos

If you were to create a logo for a new client, would you start with a template?  Of course not.  That’s why ligatures you’re using to brand a company should be custom made.  You don’t have to create a new font (see No. 4 for body copy), but you should use your favorite drawing software to create custom ligatures for use in logos and branded headlines.  No company wants to look like another, especially a competitor, so creating a custom ligature can help ensure your client comes across as original and their branded collateral conveys a specific mood.


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About Brian Morris

Brian Morris serves in various capacities as a freelance writer, content developer and public relations specialist for growing small businesses. When he’s not writing, he can be found on the racquetball court - usually getting his tail kicked by guys 20 years older.

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