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Typeface vs. Font: Terminology Smackdown (nerdplusart.com)
45 points by bbx on Nov 18, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 24 comments

Here's a pretty good explanation from The Complete Manual of Typography, by James Felici:

"No two words in typography are as commonly misused as font and typeface. A typeface is a collection of characters—letters, numbers, symbols, punctuation marks, etc.—that are designed to work together like the parts of a coordinated outfit. A typeface is an alphabet with a certain design. A font, in contrast, is a physical thing, the description of a typeface—in computer code, photographic film, or metal—used to image the type. The font is the cookie cutter, and the typeface is the cookie (see Figure 3 1).† When you look at a page of type, you can say, “What typeface is that? ” or “What font was used to set that? ” But you can’t say, “What font is that? ” because you’re not looking at a font; you’re looking at the product of a font. The confusion between the terms arises largely from the ambiguous use of the term font in computer programs, most of which have a Font menu. Although that menu lists what fonts are available for use by the program, it could just as easily be called the Typeface menu, as it also lists the typefaces available for your pages. In fact, since some fonts contain data for more than one typeface, it would be more accurate to call it the Typeface menu."

† Figure 3.1 shows an example font (the computer code) and its corresponding typeface.

Except that your computer is actually reading from a bunch of font files, not typeface files. It is called a font menu, because they are fonts. The vast majority of software doesn't deal with typefaces, they deal with individual font files. Which are often company specific implementations of typefaces.

The article seems to get it wrong. It claims, for example, that Garamond 3, Adobe Garamond, and ITC Garamond are "all the same typeface, but each is a different font." They are actually different typefaces, each based on Garamond's (or Jannon's) earlier designs. The key is that they are different designs. That's why they have different names and also why nobody who specified Garamond 3 for a project would be happy to have some misguided printer swap it out for Adobe Garamond under the impression that they were "the same typeface."

Exactly. Amazing how even the article gets it wrong. Sheesh. Never in my life have I heard "Garamond" called a single typeface.

They are all different Garamond typefaces.

While the bold, italic, display, caption, etc. versions of each are the different fonts.

wouldn't bold, italic, etc., be variants of a typeface, with a corresponding font?

UPDATE: I descended into the basement to retrieve my copy of Cleeton, Pitkin, and Cornwell's General Printing, 3rd edition, 1963. (Back then Glen U. Cleeton was the Dean of the School of Printing Management at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, better known today as Carnegie Mellon University's College of Engineering.) Anyway, one sentence from the book makes it clear:

"A font is an assortment of one size and face of type."

In other words, most faces came in multiple sizes, and each face-size pairing (that you could buy) was called a font. A.T.F. Goudy Bold, to use an example from the book, came in the following sizes: 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 18, 24, 30, 36, 42, 48, 60, 72, and 96 (all units given in typographer's points). Complicating the matter was that each font had a slight variation of the face design to accommodate the way that ink behaved on the type differently and was interpreted by the human eye differently at different sizes.

The distinction was easier before digital type. Today we have no physical object to represent a font. The font file itself might be the closest analog to pre-digital fonts but that seems to be an even more extreme view than I took in the post.

The files we have today on the computer contain font programs. These programs can be interpreted in software to yield the needed fonts (= face-size combinations) on demand.

Edited to add: But none of this changes the fact that Adobe Garamond and Garamond 3 and ITC Garamond are not the same typeface. If you wrote the original article, you should probably update it to fix this mistake before readers start getting the wrong idea.

>Wikipedia even says they’re synonymous. I disagree.

This raises my level of scrutiny.

>Even if you might ask someone about a favorite CD, Rolling Stone wouldn’t. They would call those albums.

When CDs were the dominant music medium, this difference was anachronistically pedantic. With the analogy of technology sanding down a previously meaningful difference in mind, re-reading this line was telling:

>In traditional print, the distinction is easy: a font was a typeface set at a certain size, weight and style and cast in metal...In its digital form, fonts are more flexible and the moment when a typeface becomes a font is way more nuanced.

∴ In traditional print typeface != font. But today, the difference is so nuanced, the point of delineation so subjective, that the gradient, while interesting to talk about, can be safely ignored.

The term ‘album’ comes from the pre-LP practice of selling or storing related records in a bound set of sleeves, analogous to a photo album (which was also once a physical object, OK?).

While I appreciate the desire for fastidiousness, I don't entirely agree with Mr. Ingebretsen.

I prefer Jon Tan's perspective: http://v1.jontangerine.com/log/2008/08/typeface--font

A typeface is a family of fonts (very often by the same designer). Within a typeface there will be fonts of varying weights or other variations. E.g., light, bold, semi-bold, condensed, italic, etc. Each such variation is a different font. The only evolution in terminology that results from the transition from metal-cast to digital fonts is that (point) size is no longer fixed.

The Garamond fonts he lists are not members of a "Garamond" typeface. Rather, those fonts are each members of their own respective typefaces which happen to be different interpretations of a theme.

To revise his analogy with music: Garamond would be the genre, but the analogy falls apart from there. Adobe Garamond Pro is a typeface, so maybe that could be likened to an album? Adobe Garamond Pro Regular is a font, as is Adobe Garamond Pro Bold Italic.

That's a fantastic quote and I'll update the post with that. The only corner case that I don't think it covers is type that has been digitally converted from an analog form to its digital equivalent. Lots of favorite typefaces fall into this category: Futura, Helvetica, Rockwell, etc.

How are those examples the same typeface, as the author claims? The details in the shapes of the glyphs are strikingly different. Wouldn't it be more correct to say they are distinct typefaces of a particular family (Garamond)?

That's a totally fair point. They're really visually distinct, especially to someone with any eye for type. Garamond is confusing because it's so old and so influential. Maybe it would have been better to choose something like Futura which, I think, most people would agree is a single typeface but can be purchased digitally from multiple foundries as a distinct font.

I understand that argument that the author is making, however why does that make what Microsoft tweeted incorrect? Why is it incorrect of them to ask people what their favourite font is? Perhaps they intended for the people to respond to the question with a font choice, not typeface...

This reminds me of the conflation of tag and element in discussions about HTML/XML markup.

There's a meaningful difference. but you still end up dealing with Web frameworks that have a method for script_tag that inserts an element that has two tags. And when developers start talking about doing something with tags you have to mentally parse or just ask if they really mean tags or elements.


This would be a good example for that 4chan list. [Mundane x] vs [Mundane Y], Let me tell you how little you know (and I didn't know either until yesterday)

The matter gets even muddier when you start thinking of different weights, sizes and styles (eg italics). Are 12pt and 14pt Helveticas different fonts?

Even muddier, for some OpenType fonts, you might even get different glyphs depending on what point size you choose (apparently called "opticals" [1]).

[1] http://www.adobe.com/products/type/opentype.html

Depends, did you use unique font files to set your 12pt and 14pt type? Or did your computer scale them algorithmically from one file?

Most font files have hand-hinted letterforms/glyphs for multiple sizes, that is pretty much the cornerstone of modern type rendering. So while the glyphs are contained in a singular file, they are not necessarily rendered from the exactly same curves.

shitty analogy for developers:

    Typeface : a standard.
    Font : an implementation.

This is a nice, fat, red flag for human interaction.

If you find someone mentioning distinctions of this sort, you can be reasonably sure you're dealing with a pedant who enjoys 'educating' or correcting more than producing or doing.

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