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Typeface vs. Font - What's the Difference Between Them?

written by: Daniel P. McGoldrick•edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick•updated: 1/9/2011

Typefaces and fonts are two terms that can frequently cause some confusion to those unfamiliar with the difference. In this article I will briefly discuss the definitions of each so that you will clearly understand the distinction and be able to use each term correctly.

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    Understanding the Terms

    Typeface vs. font: there is some confusion regarding these terms that we intend to clear up here. In a previous article I defined typography as the arrangement of text on a page; meaning the selection of type, fonts, point size, typesetting, glyphs, line and letter spacing, color, and line length. All of these choices are made by the typographer in order to produce a finished digital or printed piece of work. Therefore, the terms typeface and font are necessarily subsets of the typography and their roles are so tightly intertwined that they are sometimes confused or misrepresented. The rapid advancements in technology have also contributed to the evolvement of these terms which have been around for a long time. If you'd like some good visual representations regarding a particular type of typeface, may I direct you to examples of Serif typefaces so you can see for yourself.

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    Typefaces

    Typeface is a set of characters of the same design. By characters I mean letters, numbers, symbols, and punctuation marks. It’s the shapes, sizes, and overall design of all those elements you see on anything you read that constitute typeface. Think of it as the primary design of the alphabet and everything else on the page. Popular typefaces which you are undoubtedly familiar with include Times, Arial, and Calibri. You will find all of these options under your Font directory in Microsoft Word which would understandably lead anyone to believe that they are just fonts so refer to the following definition to see the difference.

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    Fonts

    Fonts are the digital representations of typefaces. Font is the variation and implementation of particular point size and style such as 12 point Times New Roman or 10 point Helvetica. A font is like a software program that instructs the computer or printer on how to present or print the typeface. Adobe’s type glossary lists a font as “one weight, width and style of a typeface." The American Heritage should clear things up even further with this simple definition: “A complete set of type of one size and face."

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    So What's the Difference between Typeface and Font?

    A simple analogy would be that typeface is like the jukebox while font is the tunes inside. The font is the mechanism to arrive at what you see; the typeface. Another way of looking at it is that the font is a black Helvetia spaghetti string dress while the typeface is the whole Helvetia wardrobe. So in summary Helvetia is a typeface family and Helvetia 10 point is a font.