What is the current day difference between a typeface and a font?

Vasil StanevVasil Stanev Posts: 125
edited March 28 in Type Business
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EzmLTElAYQ

This short video attempts to explain the issue. I would like some professional opinion on how true or full the explanation is.
Thank you in advance!
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Comments

  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 916
    edited March 28
    I think I know what he is trying to say, but his initial explanation of the difference is not very clear. His summary of the legal issues is good and accurate, though.

    (BTW, I wouldn't characterize this video as an attempt to explain the difference. He just mentions it briefly as a preface to explaining the legal issues around fonts and typefaces.)
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,074
    Back in the metal type days, a font was one weight of one size of one typeface, basically, what you could set using only one job case.  A typeface was the family of all weights, styles, and sizes.  Font became the name of everything during the Desk Top Publishing era of the 1980's because that is what they called the drop-down menu.
  • Vasil StanevVasil Stanev Posts: 125
    I have updated the title according to your feedback.
  • A typeface is the unique design of the letters. The font is the software that delivers those letters.
  • From Stephen’s Clear Definitions for Font Bureau:
    Typeface: the design of a set of characters.
    Font: the vessel for a set of characters.


  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,273
    Definitions involving “family” are no good, because of typefaces that are a “family” of just one font. 
  • Wes AdamsWes Adams Posts: 58
    edited March 29

    I use the exact opposite definition as Stephen and this fellow in the video. Their usage is both crude and technical. As someone who does a fair bit of type design, typography, lettering, calligraphy and carving in stone, I'm really content to call any old set of letters what my customers do: a font.

    The reason is that regardless of the format there's usually some ideal model you're trying to achieve. I like the counter of an R to be a certain size, I like the stroke to be balanced in a certain way and I like it to hit the stem just south of the midline. Every attempt regardless of media is a finely calibrated approximation of this ideal.

    Often in the process of a single piece, I'll switch between techniques. First I might write out an inscription with a nib, and next use a type I've made to iterate through designs, then paint them onto stone. After that I'll carve and then, occasionally more paint. The resulting letter is a combination of things. I call the style a font like every layperson.

    You might consider this ideal a sort of design and one that simply exists in various instances. Here Stephen suggests a clear definition. But to call this ideal a typeface is preposterous. 'Typeface' refers literally to a technology of production, the face of a piece or pieces of type. To call my Roman hand a typeface would be silly, but a font, fine.

    And so, knowing full well the terminology of the type shop and practicing many crafts even older, I think a font is any set of letters, and a typeface is a set in which those letters repeat.

  • Nick CookeNick Cooke Posts: 34
    What James Montalbano said. Wes, you're not talking about typefaces or fonts, you mean lettering. 
  • Wes AdamsWes Adams Posts: 58
    Hi Nick, I think you mean fonts?
  • Katy MawhoodKaty Mawhood Posts: 188
    To echo @Mark Simonson, the video covers the legal issues.  

    There is a lengthy historical background to both terms, but the legal issues are determined by the license and its governing jurisdiction.
    Keystone Law, A simple introduction to Font Licensing, said:

    In fact, it is very easy to confuse typefaces with fonts. A typeface is a collection of letters, numbers, punctuation marks, symbols and the like, all of which have a common and distinctive design. This is what you see on the screen of your computer/mobile device or in written material like a magazine or advertisement. So what we are really choosing when we are typing a letter in a word processor is the typeface that we want to use.

    A font, on the other hand, is what is used to create the typeface. Once upon a time, a font would have been the lead alloy or wooden block used to create each of the characters, but today fonts exist as small software programs that create and display typefaces.

    For each license (or EULA), there are some interchangeable terms that may be used. The font may be referred to as the "font software" or even just "software". Whereas, the typeface may be referred to as the "design", "typographic design", or "ornament". 

    Some examples, to define the meaning of terms:

    • Process Type Foundry: In this Agreement, “Font”, “Fonts” or “Font Software” have identical meanings and are defined as the designs of the Fonts and the Software identified on your sales receipt that produces a typeface design(s) together with any other artworks that may be associated with the Font.
    • Dalton Maag: “Font Software” shall mean the software provided by Dalton Maag which, when used on an appropriate Device or Devices, generates typeface and typographic designs and ornaments. Font Software shall include all bitmap representations of typeface and typographic designs and ornaments created by or derived from the Font Software.

    Some further examples, defining the terms of the agreement:

    • Monotype: Use of the Font Software… and Representations of Typeface and Typographic Designs and Ornaments.
    • Hoefler & Co: Licensed Software, the Typefaces, the Trademarks, and all of Licensor’s fonts, designs, software, trademarks, copyrights, or other intellectual property…
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 169
    edited March 29
    My understanding is that the distinction is not just technical but also legal.  I say this because the first person to explain the difference to me was not in fonts, exactly, but a lawyer (a very long time ago).  I could be wrong but my understanding is that would mean that you don't have to take the time to define the difference in a EULA for it to be enforceable - though of course in practice if you want lay people to understand you everything needs to be explained.  

    I think the reason people use the word font loosely and typeface more accurately is just simply the complexity of the words.  "Font" is short and easy to say... it feels like a nickname that can be use loosely.  "Typeface" feels like a technical term.  If you haven't taken the time to look them up but you are a comfortable speaker of English you're likely to assume that there isn't much distinction at all and that it's like "upset tummy" versus "gastrointestinal distress".


  • Wes AdamsWes Adams Posts: 58
    edited March 29
    If you notice, even in the instances above, the term is defined for the context to have legal bearing, which is to say 'font' and 'typeface' do not bear de facto legal denotations.
    John Hudson said:
    but a font was originally all the pieces of type available to a typesetter to set text in a specific size: not a 'set of letters', but a set of repeated letters (and other characters) implementing a typeface.
    The difference is that 'font', referring to a set of letters, is to start with sufficiently abstract to be used elsewhere, whereas the term typeface literally and anatomically refers to images on metal squares. To continue your example, I might say the font is 'Times New Roman Bold' and 'Monotype Times New Roman Bold', an instance, is a typeface.

    The point I'm making is that the facile understanding people have of these terms is really more apt than the jargony specifics.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,377
    The difference is that 'font', referring to a set of letters, is to start with sufficiently abstract to be used elsewhere...
    Only if its precise meaning within the context of typographic technology is ignored and reversed. I don't think this is useful, and I've never found a need to abstract the term font to use it elsewhere. If I want to discuss styles of handwritten, carved, or otherwise inscribed letters, I use that word, 'style', which is indeed sufficiently abstract and independent of any specific technology of production of either the letters themselves or of text.

  • Wes AdamsWes Adams Posts: 58
    I use that word, 'style', which is indeed sufficiently abstract and independent of any specific technology of production of either the letters themselves or of text.
    In my opinion, style is slightly too expansive, and would say, for instance, that italian humanist minuscule is a 'style', whereas San Vito's specific italian humanist minuscule is his 'font'. And Slimbach's Sanvito Pro Light Caption, a 'typeface'.  Style > Font > Typeface, with perhaps other shades of gray. 


  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,377
    edited March 29
    I would say that San Vito's italian humanist miniscule is just that: his personal interpretation of that style.

    And Slimbach's Sanvito Pro Light Caption, a 'typeface'.

    It is a typeface, and I have a copy of an implementation of it as an .otf, an OpenType Font. I also have the tools with which to make, if I wish, a .ttf version, which would be a different, TrueType, font.

  • Ben BlomBen Blom Posts: 228
    edited March 29

    I’m afraid there will never be consensus about this. I agree with Chris Lozos.

    For me, a typeface (= font family) is a family of fonts (= family of styles). A font is a single style. A style is a specific weight, width, slant, etc. On a computer, a font usually coincides with a single file. In the future, with a “variable font”, a typeface may coincide with a single file.

    A typeface can be called a “family”, because all members of that family show a family resemblance: they are all variations of the same general design. (This general design, which can only exist in someone’s mind, can also be called “typeface”.) There is one weird exception to this: It is customary to consider italic styles which are not variations of the general design of a typeface, to be part of this typeface.

    I think that in real life, a family can consist of one person. With a typeface, it’s the same: a typeface can consist of just one font. So I disagree with Nick’s suggestion that “family” cannot be used to define a typeface. (However, it’s smart to call a typeface that consists of one font—a “font”.)

    Only in my font license, a font is defined as software (intended to generate the characters of a ‘font face’). The reason for this is that only when a font is defined as software, it is licensable. Other than in this special legal definition, a font is not software for me.

    I’m afraid that sometimes in practice—I use “font” and “typeface” interchangeably.

  • Wes AdamsWes Adams Posts: 58
    Synecdoche is certainly allowed, John. Would never fault you for that. Dropping the mic now.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,377
    Ben, I don't find it useful to refer to a whole family as a typeface, because in fact it is possible for a nominal family to be comprised of quite disparate family members, that don't in fact share many characteristics other than a name. I deliberately chose Times New Roman Bold as my example of a typeface, because it is in notable ways a distinct design from Times New Roman (Regular). Typeface families are families of typefaces, and they may include both closely related typefaces and also adoptees.

    In another current thread, there's a discussion about PANOSE, a system that at least in part was predicated on the idea that one could use it to mix and match different typefaces in ways that would constitute families in the sense you propose of showing a resemblance between the members.
  • Ben BlomBen Blom Posts: 228
    edited March 30

    John, just after I edited my last post—by adding “one weird exception”—I saw your post appear. There may be more exceptions than that “weird exception”—so indeed, in practice, not all members of a font family may be variations of the same general design. However, I still believe that the idea of a “general design”, is helpful to define what a font family or typeface is. Without such an idea, the only reason left to explain why members of a font family are members of that family, may be that it is customary, or that it is just the choice of the designer or foundry.

    To me, “Times New Roman Bold” and “Times New Roman Regular”, are both variations of the same general design. There may be some glyphs with differences, and many details may be different, but that doesn’t lead to the conclusion that they belong to different general designs. I would say that a “general design” is general—not about details, and not about individual glyphs. I would really be surprised, if many people would agree that “Times New Roman Bold” and “Times New Roman Regular” have a different general design. But this may be—as with beauty—in the eye of the beholder.

    My sister really looks different than me—but she still belongs to the same family.

  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,377
    However, I still believe that the idea of a “general design”, is helpful to define what a font family or typeface is. Without such an idea, the only reason left to explain why members of a font family are members of that family, may be that it is customary, or that it is just the choice of the designer or foundry.

    I don't disagree with the ideas you are describing, only with your labelling. If typeface means family, then we don't need one or other of the words. I use family to mean a typeface family, i.e.a family of typefaces. I really don't see a reason to have a word that means both an individual typeface and a typeface family.
  • Alex VisiAlex Visi Posts: 39
    edited March 30

    I don't disagree with the ideas you are describing, only with your labelling. If typeface means family, then we don't need one or other of the words. I use family to mean a typeface family, i.e.a family of typefaces. I really don't see a reason to have a word that means both an individual typeface and a typeface family.
    Seems like the word “typeface” refers to the design of letters (“let’s use this typeface for the project!”), and font family refers to files (“please, send me that font family”). So they mean kind of the same thing, but the context is different.

    I don’t know about the history of those words, but this is the system I agree with:

    Typeface – the idea; design of letters (Helvetica);
    Typeface Family – a group of similar typefaces, designed to work together (Roboto, Roboto Mono, Roboto Slab).
    Super [Typeface] Family – similar to Typeface Family, but the difference between the typefaces is more radical (Tabac).

    Font – a physical representation of the typeface (Helvetica.otf);
    Font Family – a group of fonts (Helvetica.zip ;) )

    Lettering – a unique group of letters which you can’t rearrange (Coca Cola logo).
    Calligraphy – writing;
  • Ben BlomBen Blom Posts: 228
    Font – a physical representation of the typeface (Helvetica.otf)

    A font file like “Helvetica.otf” can be used to create a physical representation of a design, but is not a bunch of physical letters (etc.) itself.

  • Vasil StanevVasil Stanev Posts: 125
    My initial question related to legal matters (which can be protected by copyright law, and which can not - explained in the video), but the answers throw a broader and better light on it. Excellent thread! 

    Alex I always thought of a Typeface family in matter of expanding the design of a single Typeface, itself based on some idea, revival, or something else. Then there is the Type System, in which various typefaces are harmonized with one or more non-letter typedfaces, like Panton, which was designed in our company to incorporate web icons and letter typedfaces. There are Super Familes, but I have not yet heard of a Super System.

  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 916
    Typeface – the idea; design of letters (Helvetica);
    Typeface Family – a group of similar typefaces, designed to work together (Roboto, Roboto Mono, Roboto Slab). 
    Super [Typeface] Family – similar to Typeface Family, but the difference between the typefaces is more radical (Tabac).

    Font – a physical representation of the typeface (Helvetica.otf);
    Font Family – a group of fonts (Helvetica.zip  )

    Lettering – a unique group of letters which you can’t rearrange (Coca Cola logo).
    Calligraphy – writing;

    I would general agree with all this, except that I think "Font Family" is not really a proper term, although it is sometimes used as synonym of "Typeface Family" in general (not careful) usage, the same way "Font" has become a synonym of "Typeface".

  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 916
    edited March 30
    It might be useful to remember where these words came from.

    The word "type" originally meant something that created an impression in some material, usually metal, like a stamp. "Face" in the word "typeface" is the surface of the type, the design or image that gets impressed on something else. So "typeface" is the design that appears on the type.

    The word "font" originally meant a spring or fountain, a source of something. In typography, it means a collection (source) of type, originally a single typeface and point size.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 916
    Also, a "Super Family" is a family of typeface families.
  • Alex VisiAlex Visi Posts: 39

    Alex I always thought of a Typeface family in matter of expanding the design of a single Typeface, itself based on some idea, revival, or something else. Then there is the Type System, in which various typefaces are harmonized with one or more non-letter typedfaces, like Panton, which was designed in our company to incorporate web icons and letter typedfaces. There are Super Familes, but I have not yet heard of a Super System.

    Interesting point! Does that mean that you would include Garamond and Cormorant (a Garamond revival from Google Fonts) into a Typeface Family?
  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 702

    The word "font" originally meant a spring or fountain, a source of something. In typography, it means a collection (source) of type, originally a single typeface and point size.
    Font in this sense derives from the French fondre which means to cast or melt (same ancestor of foundry). Etymologically different from the font (e.g. a baptismal font) that comes from the Latin for fountain. (Source: OED)
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