The Nuances of Typography: Ligatures, Diphthongs, Swash Characters & Variables Fonts

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Typefaces are designed keeping the tiniest details in mind. It is also the emotive quality of these individualistic typefaces that help us express and communicate ideas with clarity. Our fascination with letterforms and typography and using it as a tool for expression has evolved with time. So has the typefaces and how we use them today. Here are some examples of typographic elements and nuances that are quite often overlooked by designers but their relevance and importance haven’t changed.

1.  Ligatures

Ligatures are two or more intersecting characters fused to form a single character. Here is an example to illustrate this idea. Here, by combining e and t, we form a Latin word “et” meaning “and”


Ligatures are a response to a design problem. Colliding characters may find relevance in certain aspects of design but does not support in communicating a brands message with clarity. When working with serif types, it might make sense to turn on ligatures. When using Photoshop, they can be turned on from the control panel or in the basic character formats.

2.  Diphthongs

Diphthongs are ligatures in their decorative form. They visually represent the pronunciation of a combined vowel. They can be applied through the Glyphs panel.

3.  Swash characters

Intended for use at the end of a word or a line, when used sparingly they can add a flourish to headlines, titles and chapter headings. Some italic styles have swashes and can be checked opening the glyphs panel, under the show menu.

In the world of typographic experimentation, we come across a variety of styles of form and function. Here are a few font styles that have made an impact in the world of web type.

4.Variable fonts



Variations in weight, width, and height and its ability to act as multiple font styles has helped improved page load times and the reading experience of the visitor. Variable fonts such as the one above by D-stype foundry, which lets you control the size of its Serifs. By playing with serif and sans serif styles like the gif below, you are able to create a unique reading experience.

Typography Examples:


This is a futuristic typeface by Emerson Richard. He adds visual interest to his forms by playing with the idea of the law of closure. Set against this backdrop this font is able to instantly take us on a futuristic ride.

Click here to download Anurati


Blanka is another font type designed by Emerson Richard. The form follows a similar theme with its structural geometry and bits of missing pieces.

Click here to download Blanka


Elixia is a typeface built using hexagons. It’s a decorative display font that comes in both upper and lower case. The style creates a futuristic feel without losing touch with its archaic form.

Click here to download Elixia


This is a monospaced font with light strokes coupled with a set of swashes to give it a feminine and dynamic feel.

Click here to download Luciana


The versatility of this font makes it one of my favorites. By pairing it with the right type and treatment you are able to change its look and feel dramatical.

Click here to download Stellar


This font features letterforms with wavelike curves. This creates a sense of movement and visual interest to this typeface.

Click here to download Arkhip

Tuesday Night

This font by Font Forestry is perfect for designing invitations. With its extra large, flowing capitals, this beautifully handcrafted font is a great addition the script typeface category.

Click here to download Tueday night


This beautiful and elegant font has a calligraphic feel to it. This typeface can be used for more than just invitations and would work great when designing custom postcards with a hand-lettered feel.

Click here to download Mindfully


This structured typeface comes in both all caps and small caps. With an industrial feel to it, this futuristic font style is often used in designs that need to stand out.

Click here to download Halogen


An easy font choice for web design, branding and social media banners. Rustico is the go to typeface for when you are looking for something bold with a hand-lettered feel.

Click here to download Rustico


Another bold sans serif typeface with a great vintage feel to it. Comes in two different styles — regular and rough. If you like texture, you’ll like this font. This is a versatile font and when paired with a complimentary style is makes the design pop.

Click here to download Hansief 

In addition to these futuristic fonts, Adobe just added 665 classic faces from 41 font families to its type kit library. ITV Avant- grade gothic, ITV Benguit, gill sans, Nova, plantain, Rockwell nova, trade gothic next and Sabin to name a few.

Not all typefaces are created equal. You can find thousands of typefaces on the internet. Finding the perfect typeface that both deliver in aesthetics and function is not an easy task. Text being one of the primary ways for communication, designers often devote their entire careers to type. With well documented online resources for typography, exploring fonts and font combinations have never been easier.  Before choosing a font style, it’s important to identify the purpose of your design. As typography is key to setting the mood, tone, and the style of a design, it would have to align with the purpose of the project.

Information about your user’s interests and cultural upbringing could influence decisions you make for your type. Identifying your audience is important as their attributes will influence your font options. Understanding the motivations behind each font and pairing it with well-researched design elements will help you create designs that are engaging, meaningful and relevant.

Iggy is a designer who loves experimenting with new web design techniques, collating creative website designs, and writing about the latest design trends, inspiration, design freebies, and more. You can follow him on Twitter

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