Non-English Glyphs
Part 1 of 3

Now that I’m all finished with figures, I’m going to back track—as far as forms are concerned—to alphabetic glyphs. I’m going to tackle non-English glyphs. This does not include characters with diacritics, as most diacritics can be added to existing glyphs in the simple English alphabet. I’m refereing in this series to glyphs that are in addition to the basic Latin (English) alphabet, and which can’t be made by adding diacritics. I’ll begin with ligatures.

Typical ligatures included in many typefaces are fl, ff, fi, fj, and ffi ligatures. These are ligatures of convenience—they contain two or more distinct characters designed into a single glyph so that they can more elegantly and legibly sit next to each other. They aren’t characters themselves, but groups of characters. Because the f in my Protest font doesn’t intrude into the space of ajoining glyphs, there is no need to make ligatures with f.

The ligatures I’ll be focusing on in this post are Æ, æ, Œ, œ, and ß. This is part 1. I’ll take on a few more ligatures and a handful of other Latin-based glyphs in the remaining 2 parts of this 3 part series.

Æ and Œ

The Æ (called “aesc” or “ash”) is a fairly straightforward ligature. Unlike the fi and related ligatures, Æ is a grapheme representing a single linguistic entity for many languages.

The most pressing design issue for Æ is the counters in the A portion. Because this is a slightly condensed typeface, and because the left stroke of the A leans against the stem of the E, it makes the angle rather steep and the negative space rather small.

I try to turn the marker a bit so as to narrow the stroke on the left. I also arched it out to the left to enlarge the upper counter in the A, then straightened up the stroke on the outside with the marker so it didn’t look bowed.

The Π(called ethel) was a bit easier. It just involves overlapping the right side of the O sufficiently with the E. The counter should be a tad more narrow, and the strokes should overlap more than not.

æ and œ

The æ was a lot more challenging. The Protest typeface uses a single story a, so that’s what I started with for the æ. Unfortunately, it is far too easily confused with an œ. So I ended up using a two story a. instead.

Such a complex letterform requires decently sized counters in order to preserve the color of the font. Because it is condensed, that adds to the challenge. These challenges require thinner strokes in the design solution. It was a significant challenge to use such a wide marker to make something that requires thinner strokes.

The œ, like it’s uppercase counterpart, wasn’t so challenging. The only thing I had to get right was the angle of stress, as with both the o and the e. Unlike the o and e, which I can just rotate in the computer to look right if I need to, I can’t rotate the œ if both of the individual characters are both lined up incorrectly on the same baseline. So I just had to do a little work to make my hand do what it’s supposed to.


The ß (eszett) is a German double s (or sz) ligature. This is also a grapheme, so like æ it is its own letter. It can be written as a long s with a short s, or as a long s with a cursive z.

Even though ß is a letter, it doesn’t have a widely accepted uppercase version, only lowercase. This is because the ß does not occur at the beginning of a word. However, there are cases in which whole words are capitalized (for either emphasis or design reasons). For those cases type designers have come up with an “uppercase” ß, which is essentially the same but harmonizes visually with the uppercase letters.

Edit: a friend of mine pointed out that an accepted standard uppercase eszett has been added to Unicode in 2008. It was added to official German orthography in June 2017.

I’ve chosen to do this as well. The standard ß aligns with lowercase ascenders (matching the f), and the “uppercase” ß aligns with the O or S, having a bit of overshoot above the cap line. So in the case of Protest, the lowercase is shorter than the uppercase. (The opposite is true in many typefaces, it just depends on the ascender heights.) The uppercase has a diagonal connecting to the lower curve, as in a cursive z. This is the new standard uppercase eszett form.

Up Next

The remaining two parts of this series:

  • Part 2: Ð, ð, Þ, þ
  • Part 3: Ŋ, ŋ, Ɲ, ɲ, IJ, ij






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