Font or typeface, what’s the difference? Even in the design world, these two words are used almost interchangeably. Most of the time, this doesn’t make a difference, but on the technical level, there is a distinction between the two. As with language, terminology evolves over time even within industries. With relation to typography and graphic design, let’s get to the heart of the debate between the usage of “font” and “typeface.”

The best way to think of it is that a font is a subset of a typeface. Times New Roman is an example of a typeface – a complete set of serif characters with common characteristics. Typefaces exist as a collection of fonts, each in a specific weight, style, and size, with different levels of condensation as well as italic versions. 

We typically see typefaces referred to as fonts on computers, where we install them and select them from the font menu, so the word “font” has come to encompass both typeface and font in colloquial use. If a senior designer were to approach you and ask about what font you used in your project, they may mean more specific details. Helvetica might be the typeface, but the font could be Helvetica Regular 9 point, including information about the weight and size. A typeface is selected for its common aesthetic qualities, and then a font refines it by setting its size, weight, style, and sometimes the character set. A designer may choose Futura for its modernist appearance, and thus the captions used for a certain project may be Futura Condensed Extra Bold 8 point. Creative Bloq uses this handy analogy to help those that are less design-literate to understand the distinction: “If the font is the song, the typeface is the artist.”  

Many typography terms have their origins in the history of printing. Etymologically, “font” comes from the Middle French word “fonte,” which means cast in metal. Printers set type from complete sets of metal letters, which comprised a font. Fonts with a common design then comprised a typeface. This context has been mostly lost with the introduction of digital typesetting, even though the terminology remained. Thanks to desktop publishing and word processors, which have a Font menu, we’ve grown to focus more on fonts and less on typefaces. 

So, does the distinction matter? It definitely serves a purpose for those who are trained in graphics, typography, or type design, but on the whole, the differences between the two terms are irrelevant to most people. 

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