Font or Typeface?

  • Type Tips
Type Tips, Typography Basics | Yves Peters | September 11, 2008

As we’re collaborating with multiple authors on the FontFeed, we compiled a list of guidelines for ourselves and guest contributors. One of our concerns is that we should attempt to “speak the same language” when using typographic and related terms. Because these terms evolved over a considerable period of time and saw several transitions in technology, they can sometimes be interpreted in varying ways. This resulted in a terminology that is often perceived as at best esoteric, at worst plain confusing.

The first terminology we agreed upon was in which situations we’d use font and when typeface. Mark Simonson once recapped it handsomely in this discussion on Typophile. The gist of it is that

the physical embodiment of a collection of letters, numbers, symbols, etc. (whether it’s a case of metal pieces or a computer file) is a font. When referring to the design of the collection (the way it looks) you call it a typeface.

Nick Sherman used an interesting analogy in a comment on Typographica’s Our Favorite Typefaces of 2007:

The way I relate the difference between typeface and font to my students is by comparing them to songs and MP3s, respectively (or songs and CDs, if you prefer a physical metaphor).

Stephen Coles agrees:

When you talk about how much you like a tune, you don’t say: “That’s a great MP3”. You say: “That’s a great song”. The MP3 is the delivery mechanism, not the creative work; just as in type a font is the delivery mechanism and a typeface is the creative work.

Update, Nov. 12 2008 – Norbert Florendo commented with this concise explanation:

font is what you use, and typeface is what you see.


The exact origin of the word font isn’t entirely clear. Type designer and SOTA Typography Award 2007 recipient David Berlow claimed that “it’s mostly believed to have originated in France, where the idea of a spring of water (fontaine) was close enough to the ideas that spring from words, I guess, to merit the additional definition of the word…” Jim Rimmer expounded a variation on that theory. “Font sprung fom the word fount (still used today in the UK) meaning a source from which words gushed.”

However another theory seems more plausible (please keep in mind I have no academic background in typography whatsoever; I’m just your average graphic designer). As Norbert Florendo explained in that same Typophile discussion:

The term font would be derived from fount and foundry going back to the manufacture of type using molten metal. The fount was the reservoir or pot of molten lead/tin/antimony which was used for casting individual type characters, and eventually complete lines of type (linecasters, Linotype contraction of ‘line-of-type’).

Originally – when type still were little blocks of metal or wood and thus only fit for a specific size – a font was a single point size of a complete set of characters for setting text, so for example Centaur Roman 16 point (according to living legend Matthew Carter the most beautiful size of Centaur). With the advent of film type and eventually scalable outlines the term font became size-independent.

Do you have a type-related question? Send it our way and we’ll answer it in a future episode of Typography Basics.

Header image: Letterpress wokshop at the London College of Communication © Jamie Pulley


  1. Font or Typeface | Defgrip referenced this article:

    […] Check out the post on the Font Shop Blog. […]

  2. I must have taken a dumb pill this evening. That didn’t clear things up for me one bit.

    Posted by hcabbos on Sep. 11, 2008
  3. there was a great post on an aiga message board a few years ago-
    in which someone said the following:

    “a font is a quantity, not an entity”

    Posted by julia on Sep. 11, 2008
  4. The way I remember it is that referring to, say, Helvetica as a nice font is like saying that my wife wore a nice wardrobe on our wedding day. I expect equal punishment should be meted out in response to either statement.

    Posted by Chris Dixon on Sep. 11, 2008
  5. according to living legend Matthew Carter the most beautiful size of Centaur

    According to to living legend Sir Matthew Carter the most beautiful size of every typeface! :)

    Posted by Christoph on Sep. 12, 2008
  6. A colleague of mine uses the term “type font” all the time. It sounds very wrong to me and bugs the hell out of me. Yes, I should get a life but until then does anyone know if the term has any history. Is it right in some way or just plain wrong, as I suspect?

    Posted by Richard Weston on Sep. 12, 2008
  7. Richard, I have never heard or read from any respected typographer who uses the word “type font”. Perhaps the term came out of the photocompositor era, maybe picked up in the ’70s and ’80s — like bad architecture and fashion — and then mercifully dropped by the majority.

    Posted by Stephen Coles on Sep. 12, 2008
  8. This reminds me of an old post on InspirationBit, about when it’s a typeface, when it’s a font:

    Posted by David Airey on Sep. 12, 2008
  9. I like Jon Tan’s explanation about this:–font

    Posted by diogo on Sep. 12, 2008
  10. There is a nice discussion about the issue on Jon Tan’s blog:–font

    Posted by Piotr on Sep. 12, 2008
  11. Thanks for linking to Jon Tan’s entry on the subject; very interesting explanation indeed. :)

    Posted by Yves Peters on Sep. 12, 2008
  12. a FINE blog » For the Record - Font vs Typeface referenced this article:

    […] May we never forget […]

  13. Jon Tan’s interpretation seems to be a little different than this one. He’s says that the typeface is (also?) the type family, and fonts are the individual members of the typeface/type family. I like your font definition better, the font is the carrier; either metal type, or the software. Would it be reasonable to say that the type family consists of all the individual typefaces? For example: Helvetica is the type family, Helvetica Bold Italic is the typeface.

    Posted by Kevin Hart on Sep. 12, 2008
  14. David, thanks for linking to my post re: font vs. typeface. I too liked Jon Tan’s interpretation the best.

    Posted by inspirationbit on Sep. 12, 2008
  15. Yes, you’ve got it, Kevin. Though for clarity I try to say “the Helvetica family” when referring to the various styles and weights.

    Posted by Stephen Coles on Sep. 12, 2008
  16. The distinction between typeface and type family is a classic grey area in type terminology, which I was going address in the next episode of Typography Basics. Basically there are people that say typeface and type family basically mean the same thing, while others insist that a typeface is a single variant or style within a type family. There is no clear consensus. If you have a little patience it will be rewarded very soon. 8)

    Posted by Yves Peters on Sep. 12, 2008
  17. Also, I have received a very nice sketch by Peter Bruhn which I will turn into a graph, showing visually which is which. I hope that will make it clear for hcabbos. ;)

    Posted by Yves Peters on Sep. 12, 2008
  18. Hot Pepper Blog » Font or Typeface? referenced this article:

    […] Font or Typeface? Kim Siever | 12 Sep 08 | Link | Categories: […]

  19. “fonte” is the french for “melted”

    Posted by joe on Sep. 12, 2008
  20. As I understand it, “fondre” is French for “melt” and “fondu” for “melted”.

    It’s entirely possible that “font” is the result of a non-French speaker hearing “fondre” and interpreting it as “font”.

    Posted by Justin on Sep. 13, 2008
  21. the great debate « a girl named fred referenced this article:

    […] have waded into the great “font or typeface” debate with some pretty definitive definitions. Their advice? Think of it terms of […]

  22. As a linguaphile as well as a typophile, I think this discussion could really use an injection of something that’s pretty well-established among linguists: that is, whether or not it’s necessary to try to be prescriptive about the differences in the definition of font vs. typeface when it’s in clear conflict with the descriptive reality of the situation.

    What I mean to say is whether we as typographers like it or not, font has become synonymous with typeface or type family in the common lexicon. And why shouldn’t it? What use is the distinction in most instances? How often do you really need to distinguish between the face itself and the file that carries it? And in the case of the physical font setting made of the individual lead characters, surely that usage is only needed for historical discussions.

    The fact is that when someone refers to a font, you know what they’re talking about. Correcting that person and telling them they really mean typeface is likely just a kind of snobbery, unless there’s a good reason to make the distinction.

    Posted by Miles on Sep. 13, 2008
  23. Fair enough, but for example when foundries advertize they have that many thousand fonts in their library, you mustn’t complain there are considerably less typefaces or type families, as every type family consists of several fonts.
    It’s not like we’re going to go about correcting everyone who may use those terms incorrectly. I think the least we ourselves as FontFeed editors can do is use the proper words. That’s why the list are guidelines for contributors. :)

    Posted by Yves Peters on Sep. 14, 2008
  24. What use is the distinction in most instances?

    Like any trade, typedesigners and typographers use terms that have specific meaning. I design a typeface and then i make (or someone else makes) a font out of that. Those can be two very separate activities, different skills, fee structures, processes and even have different clients. A carpenter and a joiner make different things from wood, as do mechanics or fitters from metal.

    To me, this distinction is as important as the difference between woodwind and brass instruments to a tuba player. To the layman it’s all type or music, respectively. That is, however, no reason to use fuzzy terms when precise ones exist.

    Posted by erik spiekermann on Sep. 14, 2008
  25. For the record, I knew the difference between the two. It’s just that the quotes referenced in this post were more eloquent than helpful. In contrast, Tan’s article was refreshing. Thanks to all for posting.

    Yves, thanks in advance. I’d love to see the graph :)

    Posted by hcabbos on Sep. 15, 2008
  26. Link Love: 9.18.08 | referenced this article:

    […] Once and for all, is it a font or typeface?! (via […]

  27. Font or Typeface? | TypeNeu. Typography News. referenced this article:

    […] or Typeface? Articles Fontfeed clarifies the difference between a font and a typeface. Tags FontFontfeedTypeface → […]

  28. A typeface is like a work of art, a creation. A font is like this work of art, when it becomes mass produced into prints and gets framed on the wall of peoples homes to become named -a painting. I see the names being used by the public interchangably but maybe a more sophisticated, educated, art and design savvy individual would use ‘typeface’ instead because this represents the creation of the design or the work of art.

    Posted by anne on Nov. 7, 2008
  29. It’s really not that difficult to keep the two terms clearly defined — font is what you use, and typeface is what you see.

    Someone can design a typeface that might never become a font (in fact, most don’t). A hand-painted sign might display letter-forms strikingly similar to Garamond, though no font was used to create the sign.

    It can also be argued that the inventing of new font technologies (metal to film to vector to outline and beyond) is an astounding engineering feat in itself, and not to be confused with the creation of new letterforms or glyph systems.

    Posted by Norbert Florendo on Nov. 12, 2008
  30. font is what you use, and typeface is what you see.

    Brilliantly concise, Norbert. Thank you!

    I do have a quibble with your hand-painted sign example, though. I don’t think that qualifies as a typeface either. It’s lettering. A letter design is a typeface when the intended end result is a font.

    Posted by Stephen Coles on Nov. 12, 2008
  31. I completely agree, Stephen, regarding the difference between lettering and typeface. I was just pointing out from the viewer’s perspective that “seeing” letterforms in practical use does not always mean fonts were involved in the production.

    Posted by Norbert Florendo on Nov. 12, 2008
  32. In Norway they use the word font and in Sweden they say typsnitt (typeface) nomatter if you see it or not:-)

    Posted by Grete R. on Jan. 2, 2009
  33. Very interesting Yves, something I’ve never actually thought about before. I like the song & mp3 analogy

    Posted by Lee Munroe on Jan. 3, 2009
  34. These distinctions are very nice but nonetheless it’s not possible to impose definitions like this onto language. Computer users who are not typographers already use the word ‘font’ when we might prefer ‘typeface’ – and will no doubt do so more and more in the future.

    When I hear someone say (about letterforms in print, or on the screen) “that’s a nice font” I can understand perfectly clearly what they mean. Which makes me wonder if there is really any point in making this distinction: there are plenty of other things where terms are used with similar imprecision, yet this doesn’t cause us any problems with comprehension.

    We (typographers) can often come across as pedants when we think we are acting as protectors of ‘standards’. To paraphrase the old terrorist/freedom fighter dichotomy, we might even say that ‘one man’s font is another man’s typeface’.

    Posted by james souttar on Jan. 3, 2009
  35. As a graphic designer, I know what most of my clients mean when they use the word “font.” And, seeing as the client is always right (even when they’re wrong), I give them a pass. However, I would expect a vendor in the industry to use the term correctly. If I ask a vendor what font they used in a section of a particular project, I do not want to hear, “Garamond” — I want to hear, “Berthold Garamond italic, 12 point.”

    The correct hierarchy of typographic terminology, as I learned it, is broken down into the four Fs.

    FOUNDRY: The designer and/or manufacturer of sets of type. Berthold Direct Corporation is a type foundry.

    FAMILY: Related typefaces from the same foundry. Berthold Garamond is a type family.

    FACE: The style of the type (regular, medium, bold, etc.). Berthold Garamond regular is one typeface while Berthold Garamond italic is a different typeface.

    FONT: A typeface at a specific size. Berthold Garamond italic, 10 point is one font while Berthold Garamond italic, 12 point is a different font.

    Posted by Paul on Jan. 12, 2009
  36. Excellent article. Gives me something to think about. Personally, I use the word… ::hangs head:: …font.

    Posted by Mada on Jan. 13, 2009
  37. As I know and I think I know this thing well, as I read a lot on this subject, a font comes from the old days of metal typesetting, when
    all the metal pieces that shared the same characteristics: type size,
    and type style(roman or italic, light or bold or heavy or black, condensed or normal or extended), where put toghether by means of having them together for practice. So they formed a FONT. So a font is a type face in specific size and specific typestyle!
    Jacci Howard Bear is very clear about this:
    “Back in the days when all typefaces were made of little pieces of metal that had to be arranged one character at a time in a big tray for use in a printing press, the word font referred to one specific style of type in a single size. 12-point Times New Roman and 72-point Times New Roman were two completely different fonts, one small, one large.”
    I am very unhappy that a lot of good authors are ambiguos about this, when a hundred years ago or not even so long things very clear.

    Posted by razvan on Jan. 22, 2009
  38. My definition is this: The type or typeface is the design of the letters in a font. A font is the sum total collection of glyphs hewn in the type’s design and assembled in one source, or font. Check the etymology of Font in a decent dictionary such as the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, and it turns out the origin of “font” is “source”. So a font is a source of letter or type sorts crafted in accordance with a particular typeface design.

    Posted by James Arboghast on Jan. 23, 2009
  39. > That is, however, no reason to use fuzzy terms when precise ones exist.

    Erik, you have completely ignored the very sound and sensible reasoning Miles offered, and without good reason. Clear definitions and precision of reference are all very well, but relevance and context count too.

    Most of the font snobs on this thread seem oblivious to context and relevance, as if they cannot deal with reality and refuse to play with a full deck of unmarked cards, like bad children.

    Posted by James Arboghast on Jan. 23, 2009
  40. James, what does relevance and context have to do with what we explain in this post? I don’t see why anyone would be against us FontFeed authors adhering to a certain terminology and explaining why, especially since we are in no way forcing anyone else to do the same. This post is meant to be educational, not dictatorial. Call them fonts or glyph sets or alphanumeric thingamagogs or whatever you feel like for all I care. We certainly won’t lose sleep over it.

    And it’s typeface snobs, not font snobs.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jan. 24, 2009
  41. Read Miles’ post again. He explains why context matters and should be the determinant of which term is used, depending on the setting. It’s simply common sense.

    …what does relevance and context have to do with what we explain in this post?

    That is so dismissive. Once again you’re conveniently trying to limit the range of this discussion to this discussion thread only. Such a black & white view. A flaw has been found in Erik’s rationale and to cover that up you change the range of the discussion topic.

    And it’s typeface snobs, not font snobs.

    Heh! At least you’ve got a sense of humor.

    Posted by James Arboghast on Jan. 26, 2009
  42. Relevance: yes!

    That is precisely why I insist on the difference. When somebody calls me a fontdesigner or asks me to design a font, I have to contradict, as this is not what I do. I design a typeface, and then other people get involved in making this into a font, eg running routines that combine flying diacritics into fully accented characters, re-arranging the character set to allow for different code pages, applying hints, kerning, etc. The result is a font, the carrier of the typeface I designed. As a client will have to pay for the whole process, it helps if he understands it, the ensuing time constraints and technical issues.

    I wrote my comment not in response to anybody else’s, so I did not intend to contradict Miles. Having worked in this business for 40 years now has made me more pragmatic than you can imagine. Which does not mean that I do not appreciate clear definitions for their own sake.

    Posted by erik spiekermann on Feb. 6, 2009
  43. The one definition I make sure my graphic students get is that typeface is the look of the font – what makes it recognisable – made obvious because we all recognise each other by looking at each other’s face mainly. I used to struggle with the definition of font but now I’m clear. I do think it is the delivery of the typeface the designer designed. I agree with erik and appreciate the work that goes into a well designed typeface. My graphic design students in their ignorance think that it’s just the look of the type characters alone. I try to set them straight.

    Posted by Alan Scott on Feb. 21, 2009
  44. Thomas Phinney just completed an extensive survey on these definitions. Nice to see there is some general agreement.

    Posted by Stephen Coles on Apr. 4, 2009
  45. Things are generally simpler than we make them. A font in ancient times [as now] was a vessel made for the holding of liquids, the remnant of which is to be found in churches. My information is that the typeface when produced in whatever material, however small, was kept in a ‘font’ [or watertight vessel] until required by the printer when the typeface was removed from the appropriately labelled ‘font’ and placed in what became the printers tray. QED

    Posted by B. Johnson on Apr. 25, 2009
  46. great thread—i really like what erik, and everyone actually, has had to say on the subject. my wonderful professor, Dina V. at RISD described it this way: font is the cookie-cutter, typeface is the cookie. i think of it as font=typewriter key, typeface=what it types. but… back in the OLD days (of metal type)?! letterpress is alive and well! it’s not the worst thing in the world to be called a font, er a typeface snob—it implies a passion for one’s craft. consider how many people who happen to know a certain software call themselves “designers” or how many frustrated marketing professionals wish they could “play”.

    Posted by julie h on Jun. 7, 2009
  47. since i am still familiarazing myself with the topic i realoy font this helpful but the thing is i wanted to know the procaution necessary for video production

    Posted by berth basalion on Sep. 18, 2009
  48. I think of fountain pens..original fonts?

    Posted by Hank e on Apr. 13, 2010
  49. Originally – when type still were little blocks of metal or wood and thus only fit for a specific size – a font was a single point size of a complete set of characters for setting text, so for example Centaur Roman 16 point (according to living legend Matthew Carter the most beautiful size of Centaur).

    That “complete set of characters” would not just be one each of a, b, c, and so on. When you ordered a font of, say, 16pt Centaur from the foundry, you would receive a lot more 16pt Centaur e’s than x’s. If you were ordering type for a different language, with a different average frequency of some letters, you would get different numbers of those particular letters. A font, in practice, was a package of metal sorts (individual pieces of type), sufficient to set an average page of text in that size.

    This was all from the days when “type is something you can hold in your hand.”

    Posted by John D. Berry on Jun. 25, 2010
  50. In a remembrance about his designer father Jef Raskin in FastCompany’s Design Weekly today (2/8/11), Aza Raskin says his father was the Macintosh designer who “…misnamed what should be “typefaces” as the “fonts” menu. He never forgave himself for his incorrect usage of English.” But I’d say Jef should rest easy.

    Regardless of the original and largely obscure usage of the word “Font” in pre-computer days, Jef’s so-called error promoted “font” into meaning “discrete family of typefaces,” and that’s a far more elegant and efficient use of the term… as a gazillion artists and designers who’ve used and loved the Macs since the mid ’80’s will attest.

    Posted by BillB on Feb. 8, 2011
  51. That’s how languages evolve.

    Posted by BillB on Feb. 8, 2011
  52. In digital terms the term ‘font’ still makes sense to me. The bits and bytes (the .otf or .ttf) that are the instructions for rendering a typeface is a font seeing as (at it’s simplest) there is a single description for each character, and characters can be duplicated from that single source limitlessly.

    Posted by Robert O'Rourke on Feb. 10, 2011
  53. What seems to be missing from this conversation is the origin or usefulness of the word font as opposed to typeface. Go to any letterpress studio that still has fonts(lead or wood)of type and you will get it immediately. The typeface is what is impressed on the paper and the font, a box with all the characters of that typeface family (usually wood or lead pieces) are divided alphabetically and numerically. Font is the box that holds all those pieces of lead or wood of that a particular typeface being impressed on paper. So, on your computer, those folders that hold your “Typefaces” with names like Helvetica and ugh!, Arial, are actual fonts. But with the advent of the computer, I think a font/folder can hold a whole type family! Where-in the old school physical world of letterpress the shear physical weight of lead type would make it impossible to put the entire helvetica family for example in one font!

    Posted by Steven Kelly on Feb. 26, 2011
  54. 1) a particular punchcutter, usually the designer of the style of the letters, weighting, etc. filed the letterforms of all the characters, punctuation, and diacritical marks onto the end of a steel punch.

    2) about eight families of faces existed in the 14-17th centuries: rotunda, gothic, italic, roman, bastarda blackletter (“English letter” in England until the 1620) etc.), which were derived from scribal letterforms stretching back through manuscript history to about the 8th century A.D. when a particular script/style was developed, used and then replaced, but only to emerge in the later 15th century as the model for the “roman” family with the capital copied directly from roman temple and public building inscriptions and other sculptured images. The “italic” face evolved from letterforms that leaned right rather than standing erect, but quite similar to “roman” letterforms. Both were “perfected” and adopted in Italy, France by 1500, followed in England by 1554 and the arrival of the Geneva Bible from Switzerland in 1560 or so. Before the 1554 introduction, the romans and italics seen in English prinnting were crudely cut, poorly proportionated, and generally ugly. The major manuscript letterforms characterised by thick vertical strokes, very thin diagonal strokes (i.e., joining the left vertical of an “n” with the right vertical. The “gothic” and other related faces in his family spread primarly through the the Low Countries (Holland etc.) and Germany.

    3) a set of punches transferred the letterforms onto brass matrices; the molten composite of lead + tin + antimony was poured into a mold (Gutenberg’s design of mold is not known; the earliest description of a handmold is from 1547 which uses the names of the parts of the mold that are found later in Joseph Moxon’s 1683 precise “as good as CAD” drawings of the parts of his mold, which then are repeated in 18th and 19th century descriptions and drawings.

    4) The punchcutter’s name was attached to the set of punches, and contemporary type specimens describe the main characteristics: italic family, designed and cut by Garamond, in sizes such pariel, pica, auguste, Double canon etc. etc. sizes. Although eight sizes of roman type could carry Garamond’s name, unlike TruType scalable fonts, each size was an independent design generated from another set of punches and matrices. So, a Garamond pica roman was usually an attempt by Garamond to produce the exact same characteristics of the next sizes up and below, but there were never any exact duplicate designs across the range of sizes even though they all bear the same punchcutters’ name. Another twist is that in the apprenticeship system, the master Garamond contracted teach the “mystery” (i.e., the secret tricks of the trade) of letterform design and proportions to the apprentice. An early 16th century comment indicates that it took the typical apprentice four years to master the technique of cutting a pica “g” on the end of a punch.

    5) The thousands of individual pieces of type consisting of the long vertical “shank” topped by the letterform on the shoulder of the shank all together formed a typefont. Each casting operation with a set of matrices to fill a “full bill” or “half-bill” order (the proportion of letterforms were determined by the frequency of each letter in the target language) of a complete alphabet, numerals punctuation, and diacritical marks produced another typefont. Usually a sequence of typefonts cast in the same set of matrices turned out pretty nearly identical except that the technology could not produce perfectly duplicated type “sorts”. As soon as the new type was set and pounded level with a mallet, that typefont began to be distguishable from every typefont produced by the same set of matrices.
    cheers, A

    Posted by Adrian Weiss on Oct. 30, 2011
  55. boom Bap Bada Bop Boom POW

    Type face : what you see
    Font :what you type

    Posted by Kris Kelly on Jan. 30, 2012
  56. Font is the variation of type in styles (bold, italic) and sizes (12pt, 1in).

    Typeface describes the shape of characters, created by typographers.

    The blueprint for the font is the typeface.

    Posted by Jim Stratos on Feb. 3, 2012
  57. OK, so a font is like a technical term of the thing that designers call a type face? Did I get it right? Please advise.

    Posted by Kenneth on Feb. 19, 2012
  58. my understanding:

    font – collection or “family” of typefaces (ie. helvetica)
    typeface – specific style within the font family (ie. neue)

    Posted by gp on May. 9, 2012
  59. On Typography « Revelry Reverie referenced this article:

    […] simply by number; 500 or 700, for example. A font is the variation in style, so Helvetica Roman. See the discussion on FontFeed here. The comments are especially interesting. That said, most people use these […]

  60. This etymology links the word “font” to “foundry” as a cognate:

    Posted by Joel Mielke on Oct. 1, 2012
  61. As a cartographer and typographer, (and old enough to remember lead type) may I point out that to a typesetter the typeface is the design of the type and the font is the typeface and size. Printers and typesetters would purchase a range of fonts depending on the publications they produced; very rarely would they purchase a complete typeface.

    So a typeface is Clarendon Bold, a font is 14point Clarendon Bold.

    Posted by Dave Perkins on Oct. 8, 2012
  62. To echo others here, the distinction between typeface and font is probably easiest to consider in terms of hierarchy. Type Family – ‘Helvetica’. Typeface – ‘Helvetica Bold’. Font – ‘Helvetica Bold 12pt’. With that in mind, understanding the practical distinction in modern everyday usage is fairly intuitive. Obviously it isn’t possible to instruct InDesign merely to set a subhead in ‘Helvetica’. You haven’t provided enough information to perform the task as you have only told InDesign which type family to go to and no more. You also cannot instruct InDesign to set the subhead in just ‘Helvetica Bold’. You have given InDesign more information in terms of the particular cut/design of the Helvetica type family you wish to use, but it still doesn’t have sufficient information to render your subhead. To do this, you must also specify the point size that you wish to reproduce the typeface at. As soon as you do this, you are specifying a particular font (the typeface Helvetica Bold at x point size). A font in essence contains the minimal amount of information required to render your subhead.

    Posted by Simon Burdett on Oct. 20, 2012
  63. In that everyday practical example I’m obviously ignoring default font settings in applications such as InDesign. In actual practice you can of course initially render text without selecting anything other than the type tool, but whether provided manually or by default, information right down to font level still needs to be provided in order to produce the text.

    Posted by Simon Burdett on Oct. 20, 2012
  64. The way I learned to use these correctly is simple:

    In my head I thought: font = ‘font’, Typeface = ‘font design’.

    In any circumstance, if it would be suitably appropriate to say ‘font design’ then I use the word ‘typeface’.
    After a bit it becomes ingrained and hey-presto, no more smarmy corrections from LaTeX snobs. :D

    Posted by Paul on Nov. 15, 2012
  65. This discussion is quaint and it’s perfectly acceptable to use them interchangeably – no one will be confused. The differences were so subtle that only imbeciles still point them out. It’s like making a distinction between “sneaker” and “tennis shoe.” Carry on.

    Posted by Simon LeMonde on Jan. 8, 2013
  66. You are fighting a completely lost cause.

    And, even amid your pedantic sumpsimus, you’re wrong.

    To be completely proper, one would need to discuss typeface families where normal English has already gotten on with it’s business using font. That’s never going to happen:
    (a) because it’s much too cumbersome and
    (b) because it’s confusing.
    An olde-time printer would need many piles of fonts to adjust his text the way we can today and readily understand discussing a “typeface family”. Someone adjusting text on a computer is clicking on a single file and then making other adjustments as a secondary matter.

    “Font” has added this definition to its meaning. Move on.

    Posted by Jj on Feb. 10, 2013
  67. Apologies for the poor layout of the above comment. Your page should mention that HTML tags within the comments won’t work.

    Posted by Jj on Feb. 10, 2013
  68. I’m a little confused. I teach Typography and I have always taught pretty much the opposite. The comment above mine, JJ, has it right. You should take note and maybe reconsider your post as to not misinform.

    Posted by Stephanie on Jul. 19, 2013
  69. Before getting to my point, I just want to let Simon know that if you wear sneakers on, say, a squash court, you are liable to be thrown out, whereas you will not if you wear tennis shoes. Who’s the imbecile now?

    1. When I buy a set of characters of a particular design, I do not buy a typeface: I buy a piece of software — a font — that generates the glyphs on my screen or my printer.

    2. When a type designer creates a typeface, s/he typically draws AT LEAST a Roman and an Italic, and typically also bold variants of these. When I buy a complete set of such variants, once again I am buying a font, or if you prefer a family of fonts, not a typeface.

    3. Presume, for a moment, that there were no restrictions on what foundry could legally sell a font implementing the design of, say, Optima. In that case, it would be clear that font and typeface are not the same thing: a font is a means of generating glyphs whose shapes are intended to reproduce the characters in the typeface design called Optima. It’s only a matter of law that there aren’t a dozen different Optima fonts, one from vendor X, one from vendor Y, etc. If a vendor other than Linotype wants to sell a font that reproduces the design of Optima, that vendor has — for legal reasons — to call it something other than Optima, but they’re not fooling anyone: Optimum is Opus is Optima. So for all practical purposes, they’re all implementations of the typeface Optima, i.e. different fonts that generate via different code the forms in the design of Optima.

    The moderators were not saying that all people must use a particular nomenclature, just that — for the sake of precision and clarity — a common set of terms should be used IN THIS FORUM. Anyone who objects to this should probably go elsewhere, because a set of common definitions is a sine qua non for rational discussion among members of any profession.

    Posted by Jon Pastor on Aug. 30, 2013
  70. So a type face is basically a technical term that designers call a font?? Jon Tan’s interpretation is great!

    Posted by Jason on Apr. 25, 2014
  71. A font, as I came to understand it working in an ancient print shop some 65 years ago, is a distribution of letters of a single size of a single typeface, the distribution representing the typical use of the letters in the alphabet in a given language, much as the uneven distribution of letters in a Scrabble game. The more fonts you have of a given typeface size, the larger a project you can take on before having to toss the individual pieces of type you have already set back into the case and set some more. A printer can then tell a client, “Yes, I can typeset your book. I have 20 fonts of 10pt Caslon Roman.

    Posted by Tom Parker on Jun. 15, 2014
  72. As a brazilian I am quite skeptical of the french origin of the word “font” from “fondre”, melted.

    For a start, the latin fons means spring of water, but the word has long ago been modified and used in all romance languages to mean “SOURCE”/”ORIGIN”. Fonte in portuguese and italian. Fuente in spanish.

    Considering the translation for Font is Fonte in portuguese and Fuente in spanish…

    Considering that typography is much older than the medieval movable typeface printing system by Gutenberg…

    Considering that “source” makes much more sense for a set of types with same size and typeface than the “spring of water” as an analogy for literature…

    … it seems to me there is really a chance that the origin of the word is the latin fons, maybe through the italian fonte, rather then french fondre.

    Posted by Roger Penna on Dec. 9, 2014
  73. font ~ element

    typeface ~ gestalt

    Posted by Mark Reeves on Feb. 10, 2015

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