Terminology: typeface vs. font

Hello all!

I am a Year 1 Graphic Design student and I would like to clear out some terminology issues.

Is the word "typeface" synonymous to the word "font"?

I have heard some people arguing about this matter and now I am eager to know the truth.
Also, some people claim that the word "typeface" is technically incorrect as it is a legacy from the old typesetting times.

Opinions and knowledge are appreciated.

Regards.

P.S. Sorry if this topic has been discussed. I couldn't find it on search.

flooce's picture

As far as I know:

Different Weights (light, regular, bold), different optical sizes (Caption, Regular, Display), different cuts, they all make up the same Typeface. (Often all that carries the same "name")

A font is a data file.

Vagabond's picture

One thing is clear - too many opinions and no strict regulation. :)

oldnick's picture

One thing is clear - too many opinions and no strict regulation. :)

No: opinions have nothing to do with the matter, but there has been some corruption to the language.

A typeface is a particular design, with all its attendant weight and width variations, plus alternate renderings, such as swashes and small caps. A font USED to mean ONE PARTICULAR size, weight, width and variant of one particular typeface. A font has COME TO MEAN a computer data file which renders a particular weight, width or variant of a typeface which is infinitely scalable. Generally, the term font HAS BEEN CORRUPTED to mean what typeface USED to mean. However, you are correct about no strict regulation: we have the Thought Police working on that...

Stephen Coles's picture

Great summary, Nick.

Vagabond's picture

Since we're discussing terminology... Is there a difference between "logo" and "logotype"?

I have a book by Jack Gernsheimer named "Designing logos" and it makes a clear distinction:

While there are varying interpretations and uses of these words, within this book, I use the word logo to describe a symbol, mark, or icon. I use the term logotype to refer to a word or words that accompany or replace the logo as an identifier.

And how about the term "trademark"?

oldnick's picture

Jack Gernsheimer may make a distinction between the words logo and logotype, but he makes it clear that the distinction is of HIS making. What's the difference between a photo and a photograph?

Originally, a LIGATURE was a simple design element which tied two letters together, most commonly ct and st; a single cast piece of metal type containing the tied letters and the ligature--or simply tied letters like ff, fi fl, etc--was called a LOGOTYPE. However, with the passage of time and corruption of the language, what was called a logotype is now called a ligature, and the meaning of logotype has been reassigned.

Look up "trademark" on Wikipedia; the article is clear and concise.

Té Rowan's picture

Quip: "A font is a typeface with its hard hat on."

Long: On a computer, a font is a file with all the necessary data for a single instantiation of a typeface.

Foo Sans is a typeface. Foo Sans Semibold Oblique is a font.

eliason's picture

a single cast piece of metal type containing the tied letters and the ligature--or simply tied letters like ff, fi fl, etc--was called a LOGOTYPE

Or untied letters--a "th" sort, for example, would also have been called a logotype (cast as one sort not because the letters are connected, but instead with the thought of saving time in composition).

Vagabond's picture

Foo Sans is a typeface. Foo Sans Semibold Oblique is a font.

I thought that different weights (bold, condensed, oblique) are typefaces themselves.

Té Rowan's picture

So did I. But if I understood the bigwigs here correctly, it's all one big happy Weasley family.

ben_archer's picture

I am a Year 1 Graphic Design student – presumably one that has not yet discovered the university library... or the power of independent thought.

What is the difference between ‘logo’ and ‘logotype’? A logotype is a logo, but with the quality of type added. Think about it.

Vagabond's picture

I am a Year 1 Graphic Design student – presumably one that has not yet discovered the university library... or the power of independent thought.

You are wrong about that. I have plenty of books that were written in different periods. The thing is that books often contradict one another and I there is no way I can get to an objective conclusion.

As for "the power of independent thought" don't you think that we all should agree on commonly used terms rather than interpret them independently?

Té Rowan's picture

Would have thought so, even though we don't have a handy church door to nail them fast on. But it seems to be the best bet that it's a typeface in the abstract and a font in the concrete.

quadibloc's picture

A font USED TO MEAN a certain quantity of molded type slugs that you could order from a typefounder; it was usually sold by the number of copies of the lowercase "a" that it contained. So you could buy a 6-a font or a 20-a font.

Then, this meaning became applied to things like computer files that contained the vectors with which to draw the characters of a given typeface, or to the disks or squares that contained negative images of the characters for use in a phototypesetter.

Along the way to being corrupted to be a synonym with "typeface", which to computer users made a lot of sense, since "which font are you using", if uttered with the "old" meaning of font, also implied the "corrupt" meaning... the alternate distinction of using font to mean "this typeface, this weight, this size", since those attributes were tied to a font - at least when made out of lead, if not necessarily in the case of a computer file, and usually not in the case of a phototypesetter disk.

But that meaning of "font" loses what is usually regarded as the primary element of the font/typeface distinction - a typeface is a style of lettering, and a font is the means used to utter characters in that style.

So, ideally, one would like a more specific word. IBM, when selling typewriters, refered to "typestyle" instead of "typeface", presumably in order to be less pretentious - and a single Selectric type element could only handle one weight and size of character. So one could use "typestyle" as the new, missing word here.

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