Are ligatures necessary for large type in billboards?

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Dana Chen's picture
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Joined: 21 Aug 2004 - 3:00pm
Are ligatures necessary for large type in billboards?
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A friend and I are having an interesting discussion about ligatures. Two days ago, I noticed that the banner on this page on the Apple website is missing a fi ligature in the word "find." Myriad Pro definitely has the fi ligature, but it is not used.

My friend says that ligatures are not necessary in large font sizes, such as in billboards. I thought otherwise. The ligature definitely looks a lot smoother than doing without it.

I don't remember any mention in school of not needing ligatures in billboards.

Someone suggested that perhaps the use of ligatures in large type has to do with whether it is serif or sans serif fonts are used. I can see how in a serif fonts the f and the i have more of a tendency to overlap, but I'm not exactly sure.

Any thoughts on all of this?

Chris Lozos's picture
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Joined: 25 Feb 2004 - 11:00am
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Your eyes tell it. If it looks bad, it probably is. There is no hard and fast rule on billboards that I know of. Billboards are ad spaces and therefore open to all sorts of typographic futzing around (and lots of boardroom chatter between old guys in suits).

ChrisL

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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To me, ligatures have in fact existed largely in the conscious, hence display, realm. And they do make sense there. But I also think they have a big role to play in immersive text setting too, and this hasn't really been explored.

So in answer to your specific question I myself would say that an "fi" ligature is a good idea much more often than not, especially on a billboard. But it has to be well-made, and many of them are not, because: it's a rarer character so it gets less attention; and it can be hard to get the internal spacing just right. If it's not well-made it'll do more damage than an "f"+"i". You could also use an "f" + "dotless-i" sometimes with good effect.

hhp

brian jaramillo's picture
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Joined: 3 Nov 2001 - 11:00am
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the elusive Zfft ligature spotted on a sign recently ;D

http://www.agency26.com/zen.jpg

Daniel Weaver's picture
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Joined: 26 Aug 2003 - 4:14pm
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Think about viewing a billboard. Its not like you are 2 feet from it. Its likely you are some distance from it and it appears about the size of display type in a publication. As Chris says if it doesn't look right it isn't.

Dana Chen's picture
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Joined: 21 Aug 2004 - 3:00pm
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Its likely you are some distance from it and it appears about the size of display type in a publication.

My thoughts exactly!

Norbert Florendo's picture
Joined: 9 Jun 2005 - 2:21pm
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If it looks bad, it probably is.

To my knowlege, the original and primary purpose of a ligature was to improve spacing between two or more problematic combination of characters. Historically, they were particularly useful in book setting where eveness of text color was important and because inter-character spacing was more difficult to adjust with metal type. It seems, in general, that serif designs tend to require ligatures more than sans serif.

So as Chris mentioned, your eyes tell it. The only "rule" you should follow is to use a particular ligature if it IMPROVES or "evens out" the visual spacing between characters and not merely because the ligature exists.

Zoom into the Graduale Romanum printed by Jan I Moretus in 1599. You can see a multitude of ligatures in use, the common ones (fi, ct, long s+t) and historic ones such as double long 's', long s+a, long s+c, long s+i.

Chris Lozos's picture
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Joined: 25 Feb 2004 - 11:00am
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"the elusive Zfft ligature spotted on a sign recently ;D"
I much prefer the "jimmybuffet" ligature myself :-)

ChrisL

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Norbert, arguably an even earlier and more common reason for the use of ligatures was to emulate handwriting. Think of Gutenburg himself, as well as the first Greek types.

hhp

Norbert Florendo's picture
Joined: 9 Jun 2005 - 2:21pm
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Yes, Hrant, handlettered manuscripts are where the first occurences of ligatures can be found, and for various reasons.

Also, scribes were notorious for "fudging" to help correct line-endings, misspellings, missing words, spontaneous abbreviations, &c.

Guttenburg attempted to emulate these "tricks."