Graphic Design Terms 3-4: Typeface vs Font

Do you know the difference between a typeface and a font? These are two terms many people mix up all the time. It doesn’t help that font is used a lot in web design and for the most part, when searching online, most people use the search term “font” instead of typeface. I used both terms in my previous post when comparing typesetting and typography. It’s no wonder they are muddled since it is hard to define one without using the other term.

Typeface, the term given to a set of fonts in teh same "font family"Typeface is the term given to a set of fonts in the same “font family” while a font is a particular size, weight and style of a typeface.

Still confused? Here’s a way that may help. If you think of faces on the same side of your family (your mom, big brother, you and your baby sister), you all have similar features because you’re in the same family, but you each have your own style and probably differ in weight and size. Think of a typeface as being the family, with the same traits, and a font as being each family member, with their own style, weight or size. Fonts within the same typeface (in the same “font family”) all look similar because they have the same design features, but they may be a different size, weight or style.

For example, in a Word document, you tend to use the same typeface (such as Calibri) throughout, but you use a different font for your title (large, thick and bold), heading (big and bold), sub-headings (bold) and emphasis (italic), so they stand out from your paragraphs. In a more creative design, where you’re being more artistic, you may use a second typeface or “font family” to create a different “look”.

Font, a particular size, weight and style of a typefaceIn most designs, it’s best to stick to just two typefaces or “font families” to avoid confusion but it’s generally acceptable to use a variety of font sizes, weights and styles within those families.

The following definitions may help to differentiate between the two terms.

A typeface is a set of fonts that share common design features and usually include a variety of weights and styles. For this reason, a typeface is also referred to as a “font family” and its designer will give it a specific name by which it can be recognized. The design of a typeface is often classified as serif, sans serif, script or decorative, but there are also various sub-groups such as old style, slab, humanistic, formal, calligraphic and grunge.

Often people will use “font” instead of “typeface” or “font family” when in actual fact, a font is a particular size, weight and style of a typeface. The font used will depend on a number of factors, including the size of the finished material, the purpose of the communication and the audience. For example, a font used for body copy in a newspaper or magazine would generally be 10 pt regular or 12 pt regular, whereas the font for a headline would be 36 pt bold or 48 pt bold condensed. The font used on a banner sign might be 120 pt bold while the font for a footnote in a printed document might be 8 pt italic.

So, as an example, Arial is the name of the typeface or font family, whereas Arial Regular, Arial Italic, Arial Bold, Arial Bold Italic, Arial Black, Arial Narrow and so on are the fonts available in the font family. Some typefaces may only include a couple of weights or styles, while others may have several to choose from. In graphic design, font size is expressed in point size (e.g. 12 pt, 14 pt, 18 pt).

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