As an offshoot of this interesting question, "Wire" (one dimensional) font, I'd like to ask, when does a Font become a Font?

What are the minimum requirements to call something a font? Can it exist without thickness? What about depth?

In Illustrator if I type the letter "A" it is certainly a font.

  • Is it still a font if I expand it to be a path?
  • Is it still a font if I expand it to be a path with no stroke or fill?
  • If I draw a shape that resembles the letter "A" only using the pen tool (no type tool) then is that A a font?
  • 1
    IMO anything that can be considered text is in some font. Whether or not it is a full alphabet, can be typed using a computer, and many other similar attributes are not part of the definition. And that's just why I voted to close this question - it's opinion based Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 5:10
  • It's not opinion-based, there's actually a definition for "font" although many of us use it improperly. Looks more like semantics, which is interesting and appropriate for this stack!
    – go-junta
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 5:55
  • It's a bit of both. Font does have definitions, but it has both dictionary as well as colloquial definitions.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 17:31

5 Answers 5


Out of curiosity, I looked up what Wikipedia has to say about fonts:

In metal typesetting, a font is a particular size, weight and style of a typeface. Each font was a matched set of type, one piece (called a "sort") for each glyph, and a typeface comprised a range of fonts that shared an overall design.

In modern usage, with the advent of digital typography, "font" is frequently synonymous with "typeface", although the two terms do not necessarily mean the same thing. In particular, the use of "vector" or "outline" fonts means that different sizes of a typeface can be dynamically generated from one design. Each style may still be in a separate "font file"—for instance, the typeface "Bulmer" may include the fonts "Bulmer roman", "Bulmer italic", "Bulmer bold" and "Bulmer extended"—but the term "font" might be applied either to one of these alone or to the whole typeface.


Now if we were talking about physical fonts from metal typesetting, obviously if the weight was so thin as to be non existent, then you just have a flat metal block and nothing would get printed. So kind of pointless. In this case, no thickness, no font.

The question of zero weight font only makes any sense in the digital realm. Then it would be effectively a vector path with no pixel width. I guess you could argue that it's a font if the vector path describes a family of glyphs, but it's still kinda pointless, because you still can't render it because there are zero pixels.

If you increase the weight (or pixel count, or whatever we are calling it) until the glyph becomes visible (min 1 pixel, I guess), then we are talking fonts.

But font's aren't just vector graphics, and you can't just scale them up and down as you like. Some web browsers will render an italic font simply by applying a skew effect to the base font. But that's not necessarily the same as the actual italic version of that font which a designer may have specifically developed. It's the same with font width. You can't just scale up the line thickness or stroke and expect it to look right. The light version of a font may be designed differently than the bold version.

For me, the key is that a font is designed to work as a family of glyphs. I don't think there is a minimum (or maximum) size for them. If it's too small to print (sub pixel), then it effectively doesn't exist.

  • Pixels only apply to monitors...
    – joojaa
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 10:31

A font is either:

  • a file format containing glyphs (such as opentype)
  • a set of physical glyphs that (typically) share the same style (such as a set of wood type, lead type, or photolettering)

As such:

In Illustrator if I type the letter "A" it is certainly a font.

Well, no. Not usually. In most cases, it would be typing a glyph from a font, but the individual glyph is just that...an individual glyph. The only exception I can think of would be if it was a font file that consisted of only one glyph.

Is it still a font if I expand it to be a path?

No. It was a set of glyphs of a font up until the point you separated them from the font file by expanding them to paths.

Is it still a font if I expand it to be a path with no stroke or fill?

No. See above.

If I draw a shape that resembles the letter "A" only using the pen tool (no type tool) then is that A a font?

No. See above.

Can a font exist without some sort of stroke/width/thickness whatever you want to refer to it as?

A digital file would need strokes, as that's essentially what the font file is. There are exceptions...such as a bit-map font format (which wouldn't have any strokes, but pixels).

A physical file would need a physical representation of a glyph (Whether you call those strokes or not is up to you)


The above is using a very specific and arguably narrow concept of a font--being a physical or digital tool to set type. But it should be noted that the term 'font' can mean all sorts of things. For example, if you're sketching glyphs on paper and hanging them on the wall as part of the type design process, one could call that a font (or a font in progress) and I don't think anyone would misunderstand you.

  • 1
    I am confused by your assertion that after converting to an outline/path a glyph is no longer a glyph. I don't really have a problem with the idea of the definition of a font having a sort of "essential toolness," but IMO a glyph is a psycological/perceptual concept.
    – Yorik
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 19:59
  • @Yorik it's still a glyph. I'm saying it's no longer a font. It's now just an individual glyph.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 20:05

It pretty much depends on how you define your font.

In the most abstract meaning, a font is a collection of glyphs that share a certain style. A glyph is a graphical representation of a character. A character is a mark or a symbol. We could go deeper, but at this point I think we may agree that anything can be a mark or a symbol, ie. can represent something else.

This assuming, a font may be a collection of anything, as long as it is graphical, shares the same visual style, and conveys a meaning.

  • The collection can be of any size: There are fonts that cover half the Unicode table and consist of thousands of glyphs, there are fonts that cover the mere latin alphabet without diacritics, there are demo fonts with even less glyphs.
  • The glyphs can be of any nature: They can represent the latin (Times, Futura), chinese (Sim Sun) or any other alphabet. It does not even have to be an alphabet, it can be any character system, such as sheet music notation or a set of math symbols. The Webdings font is not even that, it is just a collection of pictograms, and I would not even call their style unified.
  • It may be stored in any medium: metal blocks, wood blocks, sheets of paper, single SVG files, a TTF file, or a MS Paint file. A newspaper page can be a font as well, since the letters used share the same style and they can be cut out and used to express a meaning.

Back to your question,

  1. a single typed "A" can be considered a font, a collection of one glyph, quite an extreme case. If you convert it to path, outline or bitmap, it is still a font, still contains one glyph: the letter A. Strictly speaking, it is still the same typeface, but not the same font because we changed the medium, the way it is stored.

  2. The case with no stroke and no fill concerns just the way the font file is rendered. As long as you have the possibility to render it as a graphical representation, it is a font. Analogically, if you have an OTF file and a tool to open/display/edit it as a font, you have a font. If you had the file on a computer that does neither support nor recognize the Opentype format, it would be just a binary file to you, no font.

  3. If you draw the letter A using a pen tool, a physical pen, or a ketchup bottle, it is still a font, a collection of graphical representations, but it is in no way the same as neither (1.) nor (2.).

Conclusion (albeit a pragmatic one): If you can use it as a font, that is, as a set of graphic symbols that can be arranged to convey meaning, it is a font.

  • And meaning can be very open - I've seen a font for a sci-fi wargame where it didn't convey any real "letters" but rather a feeling of alien culture.
    – bemdesign
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 20:51

As others have already noted, a font is a combined system of glyphs or symbols. It doesn't matter if the symbols are stylistically different from each other as long as the glyphs/symbols are combined into the same "system" to be used together. Size doesn't matter. Shape doesn't matter. x-height doesn't matter. A single glyph, not combined into a system, is not a font. It is only when glyphs/symbols are combined into a system that it becomes a font.


Font (noun) : an assortment or set of type or characters all of one style and sometimes one size.

A font is a set of printable or displayable text characters in a specific style and size. The type design for a set of fonts is the typeface and variations of this design form the typeface family. Thus, Helvetica is a typeface family, Helvetica italic is a typeface, and Helvetica italic 10-point is a font.source

It's also used to define the name of the digital file used to render the style of a text on computers. In that case it should be called font files.

Is it still a font if I expand it to be a path?


But it's a vectorized text built on the font you used. If you vectorize Futura bold 10pts, it's still Futura bold 10pts, the same way as it would still be it once printed; it can be measured and identified. Printed fonts are technically not active or editable but they don't lose their name or family because of this.

If they would stop being "font" then we would have no need of caring about all the terms of use when buying them; we could simply vectorize them and use them as we wish, commercially or not.

You could always call the Futura Bold 10 pts letter "A" vectorized "the A glyph from the Futural bold font" or simply cut it short to a "Futura Bold letter A". The term glyph is more commonly used by typographers to specify each set of character to build the font but in design and to be understood by clients (and 99% of the population), it's usually simply called a letter/character. The term glyph refers more often to the construction of the font, the term letter to its usage and both should be right since it is still a glyph and a letter/character with a specific style.

Is it still a font if I expand it to be a path with no stroke or fill?

This is relative.

As long as the shape of the font is visible, it's still the same font, used with a different visual and artistic style.

If it's just a path that makes the text lose its characteristics that can make it identifiable with a precise font or typeface then it's just a vector with a letter shape.

If I draw a shape that resembles the letter "A" only using the pen tool (no type tool) then is that A a font?


The letter "A" became a vector graphic with the shape of a letter! Technically not a font unless you decide to create a font file with that style. It's like handwriting in that case.


Basket of granny Smith apples

Are these Granny Smith apples?

Yes. It's a basket of apples named Granny Smith.

If I take one apple out of the basket or off the tree it grew in, is it still a Granny Smith apple?


If I turn them into jam, will they still be Granny Smith apples?

Yes. Simply not "fresh" apples anymore but still easy to identify from other jams.

If I peel it and cut it into quarters, is it still a Granny Smith apple?

Yes. They're pieces of apples but you could still call them Granny Smith. Or you could call them 1/4 slices of hybrid fruit from Malus domestica × M. sylvestris, that works too...

If I add chemical to change their property and they become blue, magically change their molecular structure and DNA, and become not comestible, are they still Granny Smith apples?

No. It's your creation and you can name it as you want.

  • Fonts (at least most) are vector files. So you're not vectorizing them. You're merely separating them from the font file. As you stated, however, this is very much just a matter of semantics, so your answer is by no means wrong. Just a different interpretation of the terms. In my opinion, once you print something, it's not a font. It's something that was printed using a font, but the printed piece itself, is not a font in the mechanical or digital sense of it being a tool.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 20:09
  • 2
    @DA01 A font doesn't need to be "active" to be a font, and it doesn't need to be a file either. The tool you are referring to is a font file.
    – go-junta
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 20:11

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