A glyph is an individual letter, number, punctuation mark, or other symbol in a font. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with "character," although it is more accurate to say that a glyph is the graphic representation of a character.

Every font is made up of a set of glyphs that represent characters as defined by the Unicode standard. Not every font has a glyph for every possible character. Some fonts focus on a particular alphabet like Latin, Cyrillic, or Hebrew. Other fonts offer expanded mathematical symbols, while other fonts like Wingdings supply a series of decorative symbols instead of letters.

OpenType Features

Fonts that use the OpenType font file format may support a set of special features that can automatically replace certain glyphs with alternate versions, based on the context. Ligatures are special glyphs that can appear when two particular characters are next to each other, replacing the individual glyphs. For example, the letter pairing "fi" in a serif font is often replaced by a special ligature where the tittle (or dot) on the lowercase "i" is absent and replaced by the hood on the lowercase "f".

Other special glyphs, known as "contextual alternates," are similar to ligatures in that they can automatically appear when certain characters are next to each other, but differ by not combining two glyphs into one. Finally, some fonts also support multiple alternate number forms, special glyphs that represent fractions, and smaller versions of capital letters for use as small caps.

NOTE: Computer operating systems include ways for browse through a font's glyphs. In Windows, the Character Map can be found in the Start Menu in the Windows Accessories folder; in macOS, the Character Viewer panel can be opened by pressing control + command + space.

Updated November 18, 2022

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