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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 the digital design of documents, you often see those two words used rather interchangeably. It doesn't make much sense 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
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    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
  • Historically a "font" was a wooden case full of all the lead letters ("sorts") of a particular point size, usually with a physical "lower case" drawer containing romans, and the "upper case" containing the capitals. Each font was for a particular size and contained each sort several times, e.g. so that a page with 30 e's on it could be set. The term typeface then refers to the look of the design across point sizes, where in lead type smaller and larger sorts received "optical sizes" that adjusted the shape of the typeface to that particular size. – kontur Jun 11 '17 at 16:20
  • @horatio I’m not an expert, and I do not doubt your words, but: won’t mere scaling keep the proportions exactly the same, while (I assume) they should change with varying font size? E. g., a font that looks fine in 10pt might look too thin in 16pt, so it should be adapted, without changing it into a bold font. edit: sry I just saw this post is five years old. – Philipp Sep 13 '17 at 6:42
  • In the end credits of Resident Evil 6, font creation and typeface creation are credited separately. I’m curious to know the difference as well. – Holly Oct 26 '18 at 5:42
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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.

  • 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. – Andy Mercer Dec 31 '14 at 16:51
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    @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 '15 at 22:51
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    Fair points, I said "track" in an earlier version, can't remember why I changed it - I'll change it back – user56reinstatemonica8 Jul 14 '15 at 23:14
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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.

A font creates letters in a given typeface using a certain size and style.

Typeface refers to the overall design of the letter shapes, and not to any specific style or method of reproducing them.

By font we usually now mean a digital file which "generates" text (usually containing infinitely-scalable vector representation of glyphs). Modern fonts typically represent a single style of a typeface (weight, slant, variation etc) but contain scalable vector information that can be rendered at any size (though, different styles may be optimised for use at different sizes).

The term "font" does however pre-date digital typography. For example in metal typesetting a font was the collection of metal letters (sorts) for printing a typeface in a certain size and style.

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.

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    Corrections: A typeface is a set of glyphs, usually expressed as scalable vector outlines accompanied by metadata that includes rendering hints. A font is a typeface rendered in a particular treatment in a particular weight at a particular size. On every platform, the font-picker dialog requires you to specify typeface, treatment, weight and size. Usually the list of available typefaces is mislabelled as fonts. "Times New Roman" is a typeface. "Bold" is 700 weight. "Italic" is a treatment. "12pt" is a size. "Times New Roman italic bold 12pt" is a font. – Peter Wone Dec 27 '15 at 7:01
  • @PeterWone thanks for your answer, how would you define a typographic's treatment please? Also how is differ from typographic emphasis? I have seen bold and italic and other variations are called typographic emphasis – Webwoman Jun 29 at 21:51
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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.

  • 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) – user56reinstatemonica8 Nov 15 '12 at 19:37
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The two terms are very differents, it would like say that a movie and its projector (in our case, with specific parameters to render a particular visual aesthetic) are the same entities. More specifically:

  • typeface is about the distinctive design and style of a set of characters °letter _ number _ punctuation mark _ symbol _ etc.° available among the typographic's market.
  • font is about the medium conveying a specific visual semantic from a typeface -width, weight, etc.

here the idea is that the medium -the font as a device- reproduces faithfully the distinctive design and style -the typeface, the object of the font-, and in a specific visual semantic -the function of the font.

We could think about fonts that could alter the distinctive style and design, or the visual semantic of the typeface beyond the classical categories. Maybe the distinction would be more explicit to those who are wondering about this subject.

And maybe it is the very point here, most of the time the font reproduce so faithfully the typeface that we could end confusing the two terms. At the old times when the font was physical the distinction would be literally more concrete. Imagine: the metal cast on one side that convey a semantic variation of a typeface, on another side, the schemas/drawing/anything that would succeed to express the distinctive design and style of a set of the characters °letter _ number _ punctuation mark _ symbol _ etc.°. Concrete.

Now concerning the digital technologies you can think of font as the file that allows to convey semantic variations of a typeface to the screen, instead of metal cast we have now a digital's program -you can think of it as concrete writings on your Hard Disk Drive- that allow to express the typefaces on digital supports.

edit, some additional informations: I would add some details. The Cambridge, Collins, Macmillan and Merriam-Webster dictionaries affirm that a font is "a set of letters and symbols in a particular design and size". Hence fontawesome and the other websites that follow the line to put their products other than typography in package called fonts seem to extends the original's definition. Hence originally font was about the typography but nowadays the term seems to be use as an umbrella term for all medium conveying some graphical elements

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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
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    @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
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    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 typeface is an idea — an original creative thought that carries with it descriptors and traits. It can only be described, though, until you find a way to manifest it. Draw it on paper, render it in wood or metal, and nowadays, create a digital version. Now it's a font.

A typeface is the creative idea. A font is the manifestation thereof. (Same with a "song" vs. "an MP3" (or record or tape or sheet music.))

But in practice, they're the same thing. Font Family is also becoming a popular term to encompass the alternate weights and styles, but for the sake of argument, you can use them interchangeably.

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