Last week over at the ISO50 blog, Alex Cornell wrote a great post about narrowing your font list down to bare necessities. I myself am guilty of installing nonsensical fonts and I am in the process of cleaning out my font book. I bring this up because towards the end of the post Alex mentions the use of “font” and “typeface” interchangeably.
I believe that one of the biggest issues in talking with other designers is being able to speak the same language. Through time we’ve pushed around these two terms so loosely that I would say, the majority of young to middle-aged designers probably can’t tell the difference.
Hit the jump to read the differences.
Font (or previously, fount) is derived from a Middle French word, fonte, meaning something that has been melted. In type founding, metal was melted then poured into a hand mould with a matrix, to cast each individual piece of movable type, known as a sort. Font, fount and fonte have a common ancestor in the Latin word, fons, meaning spring or source (of water). They are all related to the word, fountain. So, now you might be able to see why “font” is a word that describes a variant of a typeface, and a container for casting water on Christian babies’ heads.
A font is one member of a type family. It designates a specific member of a type family such as roman, bold, italic. If it helps, try thinking of a font as being the sons and daughters of a typeface. “Helvetica Neue 65 Medium”, “Helvetica Neue 45 Light”, “Helvetica Neue 73 Bold Extended” are all fonts in the Helvetica Neue typeface.
A typeface is not a font, nor is a font a typeface. A typeface is a type family’s consistent visual appearance or design if you will. Much like we all have family names, type families have names. Take Helvetica Neue as an example. It’s type family name is “Helvetica Neue” and includes–as stated in the previous paragraph–light, thin, regular, medium, bold, heavy, extended and condensed fonts.
In the era of metal type, a font used a specific point size with it (ex. “8-point Caslon Italic” or “10-point Caslon Italic”). Being that we are in a digital age, it really isn’t necessary to include the point size because the fonts are now scalable.
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