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GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual

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38.11.5 Merging Faces for Display

Here are the ways to specify which faces to use for display of text:

If these various sources together specify more than one face for a particular character, Emacs merges the attributes of the various faces specified. The attributes of the faces of special glyphs come first; then comes the face for region highlighting, if appropriate; then come attributes of faces from overlays, followed by those from text properties, and last the default face.

When multiple overlays cover one character, an overlay with higher priority overrides those with lower priority. See section 38.9 Overlays.

In Emacs 20, if an attribute such as the font or a color is not specified in any of the above ways, the frame's own font or color is used. In newer Emacs versions, this cannot happen, because the default face specifies all attributes--in fact, the frame's own font and colors are synonymous with those of the default face.

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