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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

5 Answers 5

up vote 15 down vote accepted

They're almost interchangeable - but there's a difference of emphasis that can be useful.

If you talk about the typeface, your focus is on the end result, some type's appearance and aesthetics in use. It might have come from a font, or it might not: hand-painted signs, graffiti art, comic lettering, calligraphy, logos etc can all have distinctive typefaces without fonts.

If you talk about the font, your focus is more on the product, the item or package that can be bought, downloaded or stored in a box, etc. That font is usually a package for a typeface, but not always: Wingdings, Chartwell and icon fonts like Font Awesome are fonts without typefaces.

Here's an analogy I adapted from this Fontfeed article, "Font or Typeface?":

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

Most of the time, people use "font" and "typeface" interchangeably, but occasionally you need to focus on one or the other, like how sometimes musicians write great songs, but release bad recordings of those songs or never record them.

Lots of type foundries produce amazing typefaces that make for frustrating fonts because they lack important glyphs e.g. for international use or their hinting is flakey at certain sizes or their default kerning tables are inconsistent, etc etc.

People might say that Arial is a poor typeface (derivative and uninspiring), but a valuable font (huge range of glyphs, great international support, reliable at all sizes and on all devices, etc etc).

It's a subtle difference, but often a useful one.

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This is a bit late, but I'm a bit confused by the MP3/Font comparison. MP3 and WMA are both audio formats, just as WOFF and TTF are font formats. But Arial.woff and Arial.ttf aren't different fonts, they are just different font formats. –  AndyM Dec 31 '14 at 16:51
@AndyM - and just as you can store the same song -- say, "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin -- in both MP3 and WMA format, you can store the same typeface -- say, Arial -- in both TTF and WOFF formats. –  Ross Presser Jul 14 at 22:51
Fair points, I said "track" in an earlier version, can't remember why I changed it - I'll change it back –  user568458 Jul 14 at 23:14

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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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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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

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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