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Old 02-25-2010, 03:19 AM   #1
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Question What's with ligatures?

Sorry about editing this post but I split this discussion off from another thread http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=74990 Please discuss ligatures in this thread.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cmdahler View Post
So far as I know, the answer is no. That's not because of the design of the particular file, it's because the epub renderers are not up to such professional-level typography. It'll probably get that way someday, but for now if you want to take your reading to the level of quality that includes things like ligatures, font alternates in professional-level fonts, optical margins, etc., you'll have to stick with PDFs.
So long as the font contains the ligatures, you should be able to use them in an ePub, but you'd have to do the find and replace yourself. Actually doesn't sound so hard, but it would depend on what format the source document is in. The trickiest thing if it's in HTML format, for example, would be avoiding replacing e.g., "fi" with the ligature when it's inside a tag.


InDesign might even have a command to do it. Not sure. Never used it.

But there would be costs: it would screw up, for example, using the dictionary functions of your reader.

I'd hope in the future things like this could be done by the displaying/rendering software, and would't have to be done by editing the source.

But the quotes issue... I haven't investigated it that thoroughly myself, but it doesn't sound as if it would be so hard as people say to autocorrect these. What are the rules?

It would seem to be almost as simple as (for both single and doubles):
  • After a space, a paragraph/linebreak, a slash, a dash, or a left parenthesis/bracket/brace, a quotation mark is an opening quotation mark.
  • Every where else, it's a closing quotation mark (or apostrophe, which is the same).
There are a couple exceptions, such as the word `Tis (which could be acommodated), and some other unusual contexts, where these rules are broken, but I think this would do so well that it would definitely be an improvement to implement this even at the risk of an occasional error, as opposed to leaving the quotes straight. (I hate straight quotes.)

But I might be missing something: what other important exceptions are there (for English texts)?

(In any case, I've actually done the above substitutions with regex in books, and usually I'll end up with at most one or two going the wrong way in an entire book.)

I guess there's the intended usage for feet/inches, but actually I think those look fine when not straight -- using it for "prime" in math might be a bigger issue, though I think that would be a rarity and a well-designed math book would already be using a different character there.
"
Anyway, I think I could probably write a sed script that would handle the above, and I'm no programmer.

Last edited by frabjous; 03-02-2010 at 01:30 AM. Reason: [Since I'm now apparently the thread owner, even though I didn't actually begin this thread or assign it a title, I still wanted the thread to end in a question mark rather than a period...]
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Old 02-25-2010, 09:13 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by frabjous View Post
So long as the font contains the ligatures, you should be able to use them in an ePub, but you'd have to do the find and replace yourself. Actually doesn't sound so hard, but it would depend on what format the source document is in. The trickiest thing if it's in HTML format, for example, would be avoiding replacing e.g., "fi" with the ligature when it's inside a tag.
Yes, that would work as a pretty kludgy workaround if one just really, really wanted or for some reason needed ligatures. But you're right, that would mess up a dictionary, so you'd probably only want to do that in really limited parts of the document that demanded it for some reason.

Quote:
InDesign might even have a command to do it. Not sure. Never used it.
There's no specific command that would do what you're saying aside from a simple find-and-replace. InDesign, of course, uses ligatures automatically if told to do so, but that formatting is all lost when the doc is exported as an epub.

Quote:
But the quotes issue... I haven't investigated it that thoroughly myself, but it doesn't sound as if it would be so hard as people say to autocorrect these.
It isn't hard at all, and that's the point: every time I see an ebook with straight quotes, that just screams LAZY to me and means by default that I'm going to find about a million other formatting errors and spelling and punctuation errors in the first 20 pages alone. It ruins the whole reading experience to me. Some people evidently don't mind.
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Old 02-25-2010, 05:50 PM   #3
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Well, you'll definitely want to embed fonts if you plan to try to use ligatures.

To test, I created a one-line text (utf8) file:

Code:
My affinity for fish offends floridians.
And converted with calibre to ePub. (The embedded HTML it creates includes the same characters, again with utf8 encoding.)

Calibre's viewer at least showed all the right characters, and the fi and fl ligatures look good, but the ff and ffi ligatures were rendered in a different font. Not exactly a step towards more professional output!



But that's better than what ADE did with it:



Here the ff and ffi ligatures were completely missing. (I'd imagine that ffl wouldn't work either. I should have made the floridians affluent, I guess.)

And yeah, searchability broken. I was kind of hopeful that ADE would be smart about this, since Adobe Acrobat and Reader can "see through" ligatures when doing search (as can most PDF software, from what I've seen), ADE certainly can't. Hopefully that'll change.
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Old 02-25-2010, 07:27 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by frabjous View Post
And yeah, searchability broken. I was kind of hopeful that ADE would be smart about this, since Adobe Acrobat and Reader can "see through" ligatures when doing search (as can most PDF software, from what I've seen), ADE certainly can't. Hopefully that'll change.
Thanks for those examples. You'd sure think Adobe would have included things like ligatures and other font alternates in ADE right out of the gate. Somewhat esoteric things like optical margins and shaped text wrapping around drop caps I could understand as being left out of the first few revisions of ADE, but ligatures are pretty basic typography. And we are talking about software that's supposed to display book text, after all. Sigh. Sometimes it's difficult for me to understand how that company thinks...
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Old 02-26-2010, 10:27 AM   #5
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Lightbulb Dream world: if reader converts text to ligatures

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Originally Posted by Jellby View Post
Ligatures are a typesetting fancy which should be done by the rendering program, and not coded in the source, like kerning and paragraph breaking. Besides, ligatures whould mess text-search.
Yes, I understand. I guess the right question to ask is whether eBook readers (such as the Sony or Kindle) would convert text to ligatures on their own. I suppose the answer is no. I can't even get Safari, Firefox, or Opera to convert adjacent letters to ligatures. Camino, on the other hand, does this beautifully. Here is a screen shot from Camino, and I'll show the source code below.



Source code:

Code:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.1//EN"
        "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml11/DTD/xhtml11.dtd">
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en-us">
<head>
<meta http-equiv="content-type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" />
<title>Ligature Test Page</title>
</head>
<body>

<h1 style="font: 72pt 'Hoefler Text'">Afflictions of affluent office file systems</h1>

</body>
</html>
P.S. I realize that another reason this doesn't work for the majority of the Web is that most people don't have Hoefler text. I could suggest Times as an alternative, but most people probably don't have that either. None of the fonts Microsoft puts out, except for the newer OpenType fonts, have any ligatures in them, and none of Microsoft's Core fonts for the Web have ligatures. I don't suppose most eBook readers are preloaded with fonts that have ligatures, either. And even if I embedded a font that has ligatures, I don't know if there would be any way to force all ligatures to be used. Oh well!

P.P.S. I use the words "afflictions" and "systems" to test both the "ffl" ligature and the rarer "ct" and "st" ligatures. I can get these to show up in TextEdit by selecting the text and then selecting Format, Font, Ligatures, Show All. Here's what the HTML page above looks like in TextEdit when I select "Show All" ligatures:


Last edited by DGReader; 02-26-2010 at 10:33 AM. Reason: Added screenshot of HTML page rendering appears in TextEdit with ligatures
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Old 02-26-2010, 10:48 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DGReader View Post
Yes, I understand. I guess the right question to ask is whether eBook readers (such as the Sony or Kindle) would convert text to ligatures on their own.
This is the best solution - the text in the ebook should not normally contain explicit ligature characters. Instead, the rendering software should use ligatures when available in the font being used.
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Old 02-26-2010, 11:26 AM   #7
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For what is worth, the Unicode FAQ says (emphasis mine):

The existing ligatures exist basically for compatibility and round-tripping with non-Unicode character sets. Their use is discouraged.

What could be used is the zero-with no-joiner to avoid ligatures at specific places.
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Old 02-26-2010, 11:41 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pdurrant View Post
This is the best solution - the text in the ebook should not normally contain explicit ligature characters. Instead, the rendering software should use ligatures when available in the font being used.
Actually, in the end, the user should be able to decide. A well-designed ebook with a good typesetting engine for its reflowable format should present the user with many options. Simple things would be setting margins, default fonts, and setting up the various zoom font levels. Then there should be an advanced tab for people who care about such things to define things like using optical margins, hyphenation, kerning, use of ligatures, maximum and minimum word spacing, maximum and minimum letter spacing, and many other typographical options. In fact, an advanced settings section ought to even include the ability to turn on or off these various options for different zoom levels, since what looks good at a smaller point size might not look so good on large.
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Old 02-26-2010, 11:58 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DGReader View Post
I suppose the answer is no. I can't even get Safari, Firefox, or Opera to convert adjacent letters to ligatures.
Actually, for me this does work with Firefox (3.5.8 for linux). I switched from Hoefler Text (which I don't have) to Sorts Mill Goudy, but otherwise used your xhtml code. (This is a freely available font, as are all the ones on that site.)



I couldn't get it to work in Chromium or Opera, though. Safari doesn't exist for linux.

Is your version of Hoefler Text OpenType or AAT? I wonder if that makes a difference.

In any case, the fact that this already happens for any major browser (especially an Open Source one) leaves reading device manufacturers with no excuses for not implementing it on their end!

Quote:
None of the fonts Microsoft puts out, except for the newer OpenType fonts, have any ligatures in them, and none of Microsoft's Core fonts for the Web have ligatures.
On my system, most of these have the fi and fl ligatures, but not the ff, ffl or ffi (or rarer) ligatures -- and this includes Times New Roman.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DGReader View Post
frabjous, I love the Century Gothic font. I set up my Safari preferences for this font, but I rarely see Web pages that are coded without font faces, so I rarely get to see it on the Web. But maybe I should consider adding my own style sheet. I used to have one merely to suppress hyperlink underlining, but maybe I should revise it to force my preferred font.
The font in the screenshot is URW Gothic L, which is similar to Century Gothic, though from what I've seen, not identical. I don't use Safari, so I don't know how easy it is to use custom stylesheets, but Stylish makes it very easy to do it for Firefox, and you can do it pretty easily in Chrome too. I kind of went nuts making stylesheets for all the sites I visit often when I first discovered Stylish, and I used a different font for each. Actually, Gothic is starting to annoy me, so I'll probably change it soon.

Last edited by frabjous; 02-26-2010 at 12:12 PM.
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Old 02-26-2010, 01:01 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by frabjous View Post
On my system, most of these have the fi and fl ligatures, but not the ff, ffl or ffi (or rarer) ligatures -- and this includes Times New Roman.
And I bet they don't have a fj ligature either (as in fjord)... Wait, the fj ligature is not defined in Unicode, though fi is
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Old 02-26-2010, 01:59 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jellby View Post
And I bet they don't have a fj ligature either (as in fjord)... Wait, the fj ligature is not defined in Unicode, though fi is
Glyphs don't need a unicode defintion to be included and used in fonts. Many OpenType 'Pro' fonts include the fj ligature.

Here's an example from Garamond Premier Pro, set using the bundled TextEdit on Mac OS X 10.5. The ligature is used automatically.
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Old 02-26-2010, 02:50 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pdurrant View Post
Glyphs don't need a unicode defintion to be included and used in fonts.
Indeed, another reason for not using ligatures in the text. They should be applied as needed by the rendering software.

Quote:
Many OpenType 'Pro' fonts include the fj ligature.
I'm a bit surprised by that
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Old 02-26-2010, 04:11 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pdurrant View Post
Glyphs don't need a unicode defintion to be included and used in fonts. Many OpenType 'Pro' fonts include the fj ligature.
Actually, even to my surprise, now that I look, there are quite a few Free (and hence freely ePub-embeddable) Open Source fonts that include the fj ligature, including some of my favorites (Linux Libertine, Sorts Mill Goudy, Baskervald ADF, Pali, Old Standard, etc.) and even some I wouldn't have expected (Diavlo, Fontin Sans, Gabriola, Vollkorn) .


Too bad ePub software won't really allow us to make the best use of these.
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Old 02-26-2010, 05:36 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by frabjous View Post
Actually, for me this does work with Firefox (3.5.8 for linux). I switched from Hoefler Text (which I don't have) to Sorts Mill Goudy, but otherwise used your xhtml code. (This is a freely available font, as are all the ones on that site.)



I couldn't get it to work in Chromium or Opera, though. Safari doesn't exist for linux.

Is your version of Hoefler Text OpenType or AAT? I wonder if that makes a difference.

In any case, the fact that this already happens for any major browser (especially an Open Source one) leaves reading device manufacturers with no excuses for not implementing it on their end!



On my system, most of these have the fi and fl ligatures, but not the ff, ffl or ffi (or rarer) ligatures -- and this includes Times New Roman.



The font in the screenshot is URW Gothic L, which is similar to Century Gothic, though from what I've seen, not identical. I don't use Safari, so I don't know how easy it is to use custom stylesheets, but Stylish makes it very easy to do it for Firefox, and you can do it pretty easily in Chrome too. I kind of went nuts making stylesheets for all the sites I visit often when I first discovered Stylish, and I used a different font for each. Actually, Gothic is starting to annoy me, so I'll probably change it soon.
The biggest problem with ligatures - in general - is that their use presumes: a) the reader's eyes are not SHOT! (Mine are and I have eyeglass prescriptions to prove it.) b) the lighting is suitable for their use. (Again, NOT a smart presumption for these tired eyes.) c) the device can handle large enough font size to compensate for the two former. (Well, yes, I *can* always confine my e-reader use to my desktop computer or my Cybook Gen3, but doing so requires me to stuff a 36pt or larger font onto the screen in some lighting situations - and I get SO tired of reading two words, pressing 'next page', reading two more words, pressing 'next page', reading another two words, pressing 'next page'...)

So, for me, ligatures are a non-starter. Period. They may work well for you, but not for me. And outside of textbooks and technical manuals where the lack of competing literature force me to put up with them, I tend to avoid printed works that rely on them. Thus, I really don't care whether the applications on my ereaders do an adequate job of displaying them as I tend to filter them out when format-shifting.

Derek
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Old 02-26-2010, 05:38 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by frabjous View Post
Too bad ePub software won't really allow us to make the best use of these.
Yes. The rendering engines could do with a lot of improvements, especially as displays get to be higher resolution. The Mirasol display is going to be about 225 dpi or so. We can't be many years off a high quality 300dpi paper-like display.
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