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Originally, the typeface is a particular design of type, while a font is a type in a particular size and weight. In short, a typeface usually gathers many fonts.

Nowadays, with digit design of documents, you often see those two words used rather interchangeably. It doesn't make much sense to refer to say that “Helvetica 12” and “Helvetica 14” are different fonts (they used to be different drawers with different blocks of lead, now they're all a single OTF file!).

So, my question is: Does the difference between a 'font' and a 'typeface' subside in the language? Or are font and typeface now used interchangeably even by pros?

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Technically, Helvetica 12 and 14 are the same font (file), since electronic fonts are stored as vectors which are scalable. This is quite different than hand-set typeface fonts where 12 and 14 are stored separately. –  horatio Nov 15 '12 at 18:29
I don't think there are hard and fast rules, but it's common for 'typeface' to refer to the family at large, and 'font' the particular files available for that family (extended, italics, etc.). –  DA01 Nov 15 '12 at 20:51
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5 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

They're almost interchangeable - it's more a difference of emphasis than a hard difference in meaning.

If you talk about the typeface, your focus is on the end result, the appearance and aesthetics in this particular case. If you talk about the font, your focus is more on the product, the item that can be bought or downloaded.

Here's an analogy I adapted from this Fontfeed article, "Font or Typeface?" which I used in a comment a while ago that seemed to go down well:

Use "typeface" when you'd use "song" (e.g. "I love that song/typeface..."), and "font" when you'd use "MP3" ("...so I'm going to buy the MP3/font for it").

If you say "I don't like this font" or "I don't like this MP3 (or "I don't like this track"), people will usually take it as the same as "I don't like this typeface" or "I don't like this song". But you could say, "I love this typeface but I don't like the font - it has no Cyrillic letters and a limited range of glyphs", like you could say "I love this song but I don't like this MP3 / track, the sound quality isn't high enough and the stereo balance doesn't feel right".

For example, some people might say that Arial is a poor typeface (derivative and uninspiring), but a valuable font (huge range of glyphs, great international script support, etc etc).

Or, if you say something is a great web font, you're probably talking about the practicalities of using it online - e.g. universality or how well it renders cross-browser and across operating systems. If you say something is a great web typeface, you probably mean its appearance is well suited for websites. There are plenty of Google web fonts that look like promising web typefaces, but render badly making them disappointing web fonts.

Most fonts have one or more typefaces (excluding unusual non-type fonts, like wingdings, chartwell, etc), but not all typefaces have fonts. For example:

"I love that typeface: what font is it?"

"It's the font [-name-], weight 300. Also, extra-tight kerning has been applied"

"And what font is that other typeface?"

"That typeface isn't a font, it's a scan of some handwriting".

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The difference is clear

The easiest way to remember the difference between the two is by using a metaphor.

A typeface is the cookie. A type font is the cookie-cutter.

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I don't think the metaphor is making it clear. –  DA01 Sep 7 '13 at 4:47
@DA01 The cookie cutter makes the cookie as a type font makes a typeface. Once upon a time the font was made of metal. A little while later the font was made with matrices. A short time after that the font was made with a lithographic mask. Today, the font is made from computer code. In all of those cases, the kind of font varied but produced the same type face—Bodoni, say. –  Stan Sep 7 '13 at 5:09
I think you have it slightly backwards (the metaphor, that is). You are correct that the origins of a font are a particular 'set' of glyphs in metal or wood. Several sets of these fonts, in turn, would make up the 'typeface'. (In other words, traditionally, a font is a subset of a larger typeface). With your analogy, the font is indeed the cookie cutter, but the cookie is the glyph itself. If you had a set of stylistically similar cookie cutters, that'd be the typeface. So, for example, "Futura" would be a typeface. "Futura Bold 12pt" would be a particular font set of Futura. –  DA01 Sep 7 '13 at 5:36
@DA01 I think we agree. I was striving for simplicity. Thanx for the more refined ('the glyph itself') detail that I didn't make better. In fact there would be a set of cookie cutters, one for making each glyph in the face. Good stuff. –  Stan Sep 7 '13 at 6:38
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A font is a file that generates a particular style of characters in a given typeface. The Roman (or "Regular"), Italic, Bold, Semibold, Regular Display/Subhead/Text/Caption, Extended, Condensed, etc., of a typeface are all fonts within the same typeface. "Typeface" is to type what "Hue" is to color: it's the recognizable characteristic that differentiates it and is given a name. "Bold Roman Garamond" could be considered analogous to "Dark Red". "Red" says what hue is being referred to, just as "Garamond" identifies a definite typeface.

Some classic typefaces, like Helvetica, Univers and Futura, have a huge number of variations. These variations are all properly called fonts, but they are all part of the same typeface. Some typefaces, especially novelty display faces, are only realized in one font.

Today you'll generally see these referred to as a "Font Family" by type foundries. "Font Family" is synonymous with "Typeface" today, and is possibly a more useful term now that the definitions of "font" and "typeface" have become so vague.

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So, my question is: Does the difference between a 'font' and a 'typeface' subside in the language? Or are font and typeface now used interchangeably even by pros?

Well, the two are still different.

The simplest possible way of describing the difference is thus:

You use a font to generate letters in a given typeface.

By "font" we usually now mean a digital file which "generates" text (usually containing infinitely-scalable vector representation of glyphs). And by typeface, we mean the design of the letters (or glyphs). The two are linked - a font must contain instructions for generating a typeface - in the same way that a recipe must contain instructions for creating a dish.

To a lot of the population in broad contexts, the difference between the two has no relevance to the context of what they are saying, so with no reason to specifically use one over the other, they may use the terms interchangeably.

However, someone wishing to be specific, particularly someone who deals with typefaces as their job, would specifically choose one over the other based on their meaning - the terms aren't exactly the same.

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There is also some value in referring to a collective typeface when referring to various optically optimized fonts. Adobe has several of these that deal with 'caption', standard, 'headline', etc. Same typeface, different fonts.

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Also, if you're talking about fonts where there's a 'pro' version with more scripts, glyphs etc, and a regular version: same typefaces, different fonts. (I was going to link to that question we had about 'pro' fonts as an example in my answer but I couldn't find it) –  user568458 Nov 15 '12 at 19:37
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