Better term for "Virtual Typefaces"? Wikipedia category

Hey guys,

So, somebody on Wikipedia has been fairly successfully propagating the label "virtual typefaces" for what I would call digital typefaces or digital fonts. That category has been getting applied to many typefaces, apparently the distinction being that they are *only* available in digital form, and were not phototype or metal typefaces.

So, two related questions:

1) I might argue that every typeface that is available in digital form should also get the same label (whatever that label is). Agree or disagree?

2) I think the label "virtual typeface" is silly. Nobody uses that term that I am aware of, except this one person. The actual link redirects to "computer font." Some possible labels:

  • Computer typeface
  • Digital typeface
  • Virtual typeface

For the category label, "font" does not work so well because we are indeed talking about "typefaces" (the entire family).

What do you prefer?

Personally, I prefer "digital" over "computer" because these fonts are used on many devices that are not thought of as computers, even if they do have computer chips inside them.

John Hudson's picture

And from Adobe's glossary entry for Typeface:

The letters, numbers, and symbols that make up a design of type. A typeface is often part of a type family of coordinated designs. The individual typefaces are named after the family and are also specified with a designation, such as italic, bold or condensed.

Thomas Phinney's picture

I think I am going to have to start using “family” for where I used “typeface” before. Sigh.

But at least we are all pretty much agreed that a “font” is a single style, not the same as a “family,” right?


Nick Shinn's picture

I will continue to use Typeface to describe what I design, which is the coherent set of design ideas which are implemented in a font family, even if that family only has one member.

Richler, for instance, is a typeface, not five typefaces.

A symphony, in comparison, is not a movement family.
A novel is not a chapter family.
A tennis match is not a set family.
A dinner is not a course family.
And so on.

And for good measure, a font is not a glyph family.

John Hudson's picture

Thomas: at least we are all pretty much agreed that a “font” is a single style

Because a font is an instantiation of a typeface in a particular technology, the relationship of font to typeface is determined by the nature of that technology. It is very often the case that typesetting technologies have instantiated typeface designs such that each font corresponds to a single typeface style. But that isn't a terminological determination. If you bought a set of Linotype matrices in which the roman and italic designs were duplexed, you were buying a single font that instantiated two styles. If you bought a license for a Type 1 roman Western European ANSI set, a CE roman, and an expert set for roman ligatures and oldstyle figures, you were getting three fonts that instantiated a single typeface style (and to further confuse the matter, each font consisted of multiple computer files and may have included both a printer font and a screen font).

dezcom's picture

It was much easier to keep track of in the old days--each font was about 30 Lbs of lead in a big flat wooden box :-)

Richard Fink's picture

>"apparently the distinction being that they are *only* available in digital form, and were not phototype or metal typefaces."

At Kernest, Garrick Van Buren uses the term "Web Native" for such.
I was unfamiliar with the term, but became comfortable with it.

Core0's picture

The word virtual has been abused often in context with what people describe as the digital world. If there is anything virtual about something digital, it is our boundaries of imagination.

Virtual refers to something unreal, emulated, because it isn’t physical. If only physical things are real, every imagination would be consequently unreal, so I think we can safely say this is not the case with digital fonts or typefaces. Not to mention every computer operation, every mathematical description and every logical explanation, they all would need to be called virtual reality.

I also suspect that digital in itself is an artificial construct. We use the terms digital and analog in this transitional phase for orientation, because we want to distinguish, we want to differentiate. But in reality, the virtualization of products began thousands of years ago, throughout the entire course of the development of civilization.

Good examples are currencies and associated values.

You hear virtual reality, cyberspace and digital all in the same context, when politicians, journalists, book authors and media refer to everything that was made with the help of computers. It appears to me like a new age of mystery label, where everything that breaks out of rational explanations based on products of the past gets a magical label. It is a new dimension, unlike our vintage objects of the past, therefore it must be virtual.

But I doubt that typefaces are any more virtual today, than they ever were in the age of Gutenberg or the Linotype letterpress. If virtual applies, it should be used for the combinations of letters forming words that tell a story. The thoughts they evoke are virtual in every sense of reality perception.

Virtual is a superfluous, artificial construct that fails to describe the difference of a digital glyph in comparison to, say, one made of metal or wood.

Thomas Phinney's picture

Rich: Urm, no. Web Native suggests the typeface was specifically designed or at least optimized for screen use, and is available as a web font. For most digital-only fonts the first part is not true, and I imagine for some the first is true but not the second.

hrant's picture

Hmmm, I was reading up on Python and ran into this perplexing bit of history:


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