What’s the difference between a font and a typeface?

In today’s digital world, the words font and typeface are often treated similarly. In most instances when people refer to fonts, they really mean typefaces. However, they’re not the same thing.

When it comes to the sophisticated world of typography, some people are purists, while others have a more laid-back mentality. No matter what side you’re on, it’s important to learn the language of design, especially type.

The confusion between a font and a typeface began with the naming conventions found in operating systems; referring to fonts rather than typefaces. Even type foundries tend to refer to themselves as font foundries rather than type foundries. And as such, the confusion around of terms keep growing.

Fonts vs Typefaces

Back when Gutenberg rolled out his printed bible, every page had to be laboriously set out in frames with metal letters. That was rolled in ink, and then it was pressed down onto a clean piece of paper. Printers needed thousands of physical metal blocks, each with the character it was meant to represent set out in relief. This is the typeface: a set of characters of the same design. And by characters, I mean letters, numbers, symbols, and punctuation marks.

Let’s say that Garamond is the typeface that you’re using. If you were laying out your page like Gutenberg, you’d need different blocks for every different size (10 point, 12 point, 14 point, etc.) and weight (bold, light, medium). Those are the fonts: the variations and implementation of a particular point size and style, such as 12 pt Times New Roman or 10 pt Helvetica.

Adobe’s type glossary lists a font as “one weight, width and style of a typeface.”

The best metaphor I’ve heard to describe the difference between a font and a typeface is by comparing them to songs and MP3s. 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 typography a font is the delivery mechanism and a typeface is the creative work.

Does it anyone care about the differences between a font and a typeface?

Even among typography professionals, there’s a growing acceptance that for most people, the terms font and typeface can be used interchangeably. However, it will continue to piss of the experts when used incorrectly. If you come across one, just remember that a font is what you use, a typeface is what you see.

And if you’re looking to pick up some new typefaces, check out some of the bundles offered by Creative Market.

  1. An easy way to explain it is “You use a font, but you see a typeface.”

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