I'm currently taking a graphic design course on Coursera, and the instructor uses these words interchangeably. Therefore, does Typeface and Type Family mean the same thing?

  • 2
    I'd say that "type family" is the broader term as it may contain several type faces. When asked for a recommendation for, say, a cover design, I can either suggest a very specific font ("Berthold Akzidenz Bold") or be more general ("try Berthold Akzidenz"). One is a face and the other a family. – Jongware May 15 '16 at 22:23

Often slight differences between terms are missed when starting out. Some terms are mis-used, and some are misunderstood.

I like to use an analogy or a metaphor to help distinguish between similar terms. If I'm lucky, the analogy holds and the answer helps make things clearer

Type designers will sometimes make different weights (stroke thicknesses), style variations, and set (width) of a basic design for different uses.

For example: Some publications prefer to set body text in a serif face, heads and sub-heads with sans-serif, and italics for emphasis. That's three different typeface styles. That's three different typefaces.

If they share common design characteristics, they are said to be in the same type "family" as the specified plain face. The document has a coherent and harmonious organized appearance.

As in real life, some families are bigger with more family members than others. They tend to be more versatile and can be used in demanding situations such as reference works and fine typography.

We often use a word to express a whole family. "Smith" and "Times" are two examples of popular family names. To labour the analogy, Mr. Smith is a "Smith" family member and Times italics is a "Times" family member.

They're close; but, they're not the same, and not quite interchangeable.


A typeface is one specific style of lettering: Times, Helvetica, Poetica, Adobe Garamond.

Sometimes there is just one typeface to that name, period: Michelangelo, Caliban, Harrington.

Since in most programs you have the ability to add formatting to a typeface (like bold or italic), and in layout progams you want aesthetic flexibility, type designers have created different styles (formatting) and different weights (thicknesses) of many typefaces.

So instead of highlighting a word and clicking the Italic button (which may tell the program to just skew all the letters), you select the Italic style (which substitutes an entirely different font file, properly designed to look italic).

Helvetica has weights from 25 (ultra thin) to 95 (ultra heavy), plus italic versions, plus condensed versions, plus expanded versions. All those faces together are called the type family.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.