Design Your Own Ligature
- Companies of every kind sign their names with letters that link.
There is probably no artistic style more intuitive than blending two or more letters into one. The result is a letterform called a ligature. Ligature means to tie. Letters that are tied make a compact signature perfect for companies that are known mainly by their initials.
Ligatures are fun to design. They require no special drawing talents, just an ordinary sense of rhythm and an interest in putting puzzles together. Some letters, you’ll find, link naturally while others do not. Some link in one typestyle but not another. Others link in lower case but not upper. Some can be doctored to link, others cannot. And some can be fooled into linking.
As children we got acquainted with our own initials. As designers, we must get acquainted with different letters. What follows are techniques, ideas, and advice to help you line up as many different letters in the most expressive ways you can.
1 Start with Letters That Share Strokes
Many letter pairs form natural links. By natural we mean that the letters have identical parts or complementary shapes that fit hand in glove. Let’s begin with the easiest letters to link—those that have adjacent matching strokes, like NR, AV, and HK, and similar strokes, like UR and AB. These are linked by using the matching stroke for both characters.
Lowercase Uppercase An uppercase I can’t merge with anything—its body just disappears. But a lowercase i has the advantage of its distinctive dot and can merge with many letters. Here, a lowercase i has been doctored to link with an uppercase M.
A few letter pairs share top crossbars. These link so obviously they can appear to be merely kerned tightly. The way to avoid this impression is to add an outline (above left) or pattern, or alternately, use a serif typeface and share the serif (above right).
Curved to vertical
The more decorative the typeface, the more easily dissimilar strokes can be linked. Even a curving stroke can replace a vertical. You need gentle curves for this to work, though—circles won’t do.
Mid-letter crossbars Uppercase ABEFHPR all have mid-letter crossbars that can be connected with a little help: Just cut the letter apart and s-t-r-e-t-c-h the bar. Key is to keep the letterforms distinct and not deform them, either. You can do this by separating the letters with two colors, or for a one-color ligature by making a gap in the intersecting stroke.
2 Many Ways to Link!
Letters can be linked in many other ways. They can be looped, overlapped, bridged, filled, outlined, and more. Every letter pair is special and can usually be made to link in more than one way. Try these:
Remove a stroke Here, a phantom stroke hints at what’s not there. This is particularly effective with Modern typestyles such as Bodoni that have extremely thin strokes: Just remove one leg and move the letters together.
Remove part of a stroke Letters with angled and overhanging arms—FKTVWXYZ—benefit from this technique, which is especially good in serif typestyles. The illusion is that of a stencil; the line is interrupted, yet our eyes “fill in” the missing part.
Crop! Your intrigued reader will linger for valuable moments on this design. Crop away the bottoms of your letters, and the viewer’s eye must complete the image. Add the company name or other horizontal graphic to span the gap.
Interlocked Not a ligature in the strictest sense because its letters remain whole, interlocking nevertheless unites letters so tightly they function as one graphical unit. Excellent with circles, particularly effective with beautiful, cursive script.
Reverse the field Attach a matching color box to your letter, then reverse the second letter out of the box. This is especially effective with three-character acronyms (top right). White is most vivid but is sometimes too stark; a tinted reverse is softer.
Replace a space with a letter Some letters are big enough to hold others inside. Replace the enclosed space (called the counters) of one letter with another letter. You can mix font, case, style, and size. The byword is readability. Use a background font that’s clear in silhouette and a foreground font that doesn’t compete.
Color the negative spaces Some stubborn letters just won’t link. So link their background instead. Put letters in a box and color the negative spaces; the result can be a fun, harlequin-like pattern with a lighthearted energy.