Clarksville, TN – First of all, I must admit that I am guilty of this. Yes, I realize that I knew the difference between these in college, but I hear “font” and “typeface” used interchangeably every day. Sometimes people do not even understand what a “typeface” is, and I quickly change over to the more well-known “font” term.
But the bigger question I keep asking myself is “Does it really matter?” Does it really matter if people universally use the same term for something, even if it’s incorrect? Terminology changes all the time. I am no longer a “typesetter”, I am a graphic designer. I do not sit for hours, setting lead type onto printable plates. Even the occupation of typographer has actually been morphing into more of a “fontographer”.
Ok, but does it matter? After doing a little bit of research and realizing the history behind the terminology, I think it does matter. My role as a graphic designer is not just to design, but to inform. Correct terminology is part of this, and I take pride in the history behind my profession. So to clear things up, here are the differences between “font” and “typeface”.
Here are the definitions of the two terms, courtesy of Wikipedia:
Typeface – A set of fonts in the same style. Or, in other words, a font family. Ex: Times New Roman, Helvetica, or Arial.
Font– A single kind of typeface. Ex: Times New Roman in 10 point size is a font, and Times New Roman in 14 point size is also a font. Times New Roman in Bold is also a font. (Basically designating a specific type inside of a typeface is a font.)
So, here are some correct ways to use these terms. If you are looking at the typography of a layout: “What font is that sentence set to?” or if there are different point sizes and treatments, you could ask “What typeface did you use for this ad?” Typeface is a broader term that describes the whole set and Font is the specific variation of a typeface. Another acceptable way to refer to a typeface can be a “font-family”. This may be easier to use when talking with clients since it still uses the more well-known term, “font”.
It helps when you think that the word font comes from “fount” or “foundry”. This is where a variation of a typeface was actually made. Things were not quite as simple as typing out a sentence on your computer and changing it to “Times New Roman, 12 pt”. Each different point size was a different font. It had to be cast into individual metal letters in order to be used.
For further clarification, here is some history, courtesy of AIGA.org
“John Baskerville created the typeface design that bears his name. Creating the design was a multi-stage process. First, he cut the letters (backwards) on the end of a steel rod. The completed letter is called a “punch.” Next, Baskerville took the punch and hammered it into a flat piece of soft brass to make a mold of the letter. A combination of molten lead, zinc and antimony was then poured into the mold and the result was a piece of type the face of which was an exact copy of the punch. After Baskerville made punches for all the letters he would use and cast as many pieces of type as he thought he would need, he put the type into a typecase. The resulting collection of letters was a font of Baskerville type.”
I hope this clears things up. I still want to know though: As a client or a designer, do you think it matters? Why or why not?