February 18, 2009

Are you a "Font" or a "Typeface"?

My buddy Thomas Phinney has posted an interesting survey on his blog about the use of the word font and typeface. The question is, are they synonymous? Are they two different things? Thomas also has several other interesting questions on his survey, and he promises to share his findings after his analysis is complete. I look forward to seeing the results.

In Thomas' own words:

I’ve noticed over the years that there isn’t a perfect consensus on the use of certain terms, such as “font” and “typeface.” I am of the opinion that there is a strong majority usage, and historical precedent, but I’m curious to understand better current usage, and how it differs by degree of font expertise (a.k.a “geekiness”) and/or geographic location.


- Thomas' blog post.
- Direct link to the survey.

3 comments:

Vince maggio said...

When I was going to School for Graphic Design we had to read the below article:


They’re not fonts!
by Allan HaleyOctober 21, 2002

“What font is used on the Absolut Vodka bottles”?

“Can you identify the font used in the new Star Wars movie”?

“Do you recognize the font in the attached PDF“?

I get questions like these daily. I don’t mind them. Fact is, I enjoy the challenge. What I don’t like, however, is the nomenclature. It seems that just about everyone is using the word “font” when they are referring to a typeface. “Fonts” and “typefaces” are different things. Graphic designers choose typefaces for their projects but use fonts to create the finished art.

Typefaces are designs like Baskerville, Gill Sans or Papyrus. Type designers create typefaces. Today they use software programs like Fontographer or Font Lab to create the individual letters. A few still draw the letters by hand and then scan them into a type design application.

Fonts are the things that enable the printing of typefaces. Type foundries produce fonts. Sometimes designers and foundries are one and the same, but creating a typeface and producing a font are two separate functions.

A little history may help. John Baskerville created the typeface design that bears his name. Creating the design was a multi-stage process. First, he cut the letters (backwards) on the end of a steel rod. The completed letter is called a “punch.” Next, Baskerville took the punch and hammered it into a flat piece of soft brass to make a mold of the letter. A combination of molten lead, zinc and antimony was then poured into the mold and the result was a piece of type the face of which was an exact copy of the punch. After Baskerville made punches for all the letters he would use and cast as many pieces of type as he thought he would need, he put the type into a typecase. The resulting collection of letters was a font of Baskerville type.

Over the years, there have been hand-set fonts of Baskerville type, machine-set fonts, phototype fonts, and now digital fonts. Currently, there are TrueType and PostScript Type1 fonts of the Baskerville typeface. There are Latin 1 fonts of Baskerville used to set most of the languages in Western Europe and Greek and Cyrillic fonts that enable the setting of these languages. All these fonts are of the Baskerville typeface design.

Maybe it's OK for the folks that set the neighborhood church's newsletter to call them fonts; but those of us who claim to be typographers and graphic designers should refer to our tools by the correct name. So, what font is used on the Absolut Vodka bottles? I don't know. But I can tell you that the name “Absolute” is set in the typeface Futura Extra Bold Condensed."

I felt this article clear most of my questions, but in a short recap I took from this is:

A Typeface is the design of the letters and a font is the the way and variation of how we produce them.

Alan said...

Yes, a computer font is a program and a typeface is the type design.

I saw this in Wikipedia though:

"In typography, a font (also fount) is traditionally defined as a complete character set of a single size and style of a particular typeface."

"...the term font is also often used as a metonym for typeface."

Obviously there are various definitions so the context of the term's use and audience are important.

Alan said...

Yes, a computer font is a program and a typeface is the design.

Another definition on Wikipedia:

"In typography, a font (also fount) is traditionally defined as a complete character set of a single size and style of a particular typeface."

"...the term font is also often used as a metonym for typeface."

Obviously there are different definitions and usages, so context and audience of the terms use are important.