Font or Typeface?

Often you will hear professionals within the design industry using ‘Font’ or ‘Typeface’ to describe text.  Nowadays these two terms are almost interchangeable, but if you’re interested in finding out the real difference a few quick definitions might help!

In a nutshell...

The typeface is the design; the font is how the design is delivered. 

Historically in terms of traditional typesetting, they’re very different.  The distinction between the two dates back to the original printmaking process. Back in the good old days of analogue printing, every page was laboriously set out in frames with metal letters which were then rolled in ink, and pressed down onto a clean piece of paper, creating the page layout.  Printers needed thousands of physical metal blocks, each with the character it was meant to represent set out in 'relief' (the type-face).  If you wanted to print a typeface, you needed different blocks for every different size (10 point, 12 point, 14 point, and so on) and weight (bold, light, medium) which is where the term 'Font' came into play.

Categories!

Fonts/Typefaces are also split into a number of different categories.  Some typographic aficionados would tell you that there are many many different classifications of type and its design, with a historical influence on why they look the way they do and technical definitions to describe each letter form... of course, they would be right, however, for the sake of this article, I'll just be going over four main types of type (pun intended!).

  1.  Serif: Fonts designed with a more classical look with 'Feet' or added lines attached to the end of letters are considered to be a "Serif" styled type.  They present a more traditional looking set of letters usually used in more serious publications.  Most designers will use serif styled fonts in large-bodied text, this is mainly because it is considered much easier to read fluently due to the accents of the feet making large sections much easier to navigate.
  2. San Serif: "Sans-serif" or simply "without serif".  These fonts are designed without extra lines or accents on the ends of the type forms.  These are usually considered more modern looking fonts, with a minimalist sleek look about them.
  3. Script: Scripted fonts are visually what we would consider 'Handwritten' or 'Cursive'.  Most scripted fonts will have connecting letters, coming in a set of different styles and can be applied to a wide range of design work.
  4. Decorative: Decorative styled fonts are literally what it says on the tin.  They can be referred to in a number of ways, Display, Novelty, Decorative etc.  They are usually more obscure looking fonts with limited practicality when it comes to using them over a large amount of text, however, they can be very effective in small doses for a specific purpose.

The unique styles or design of the alphabet which we identify by name for example- Calibri or Baskerville, would be considered to be the typeface.  It's only when you apply factors to each of these typefaces such as a particular size or weight (12 point bold, for example) that they would then be considered a particular font, derived from a certain typeface.

So to clarify, if we were to produce a document using the typeface ‘Times New Roman’, and it contained a heading with a size and weight of 24pt Bold, with the main body text at 10pt Regular, the document would contain two separate fonts from the same typeface.

All of that said and for the most part during modern-day design practice, the two terms are more or less interchangeable; fonts are the digital representation of typefaces.  We can alternate and manipulate different aspects of a typeface to create ‘fonts’ with a simple click of the computer mouse.  So unless you're talking to a typographical genius who you're keen to impress, don’t worry too much about getting your terminology mixed up.