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At first glance there’s an unspoken debate on whether the distinction between a typeface and a font is even relevant in today’s digital age. Some people think that it started becoming a redundancy when we stopped using blocks of lead and wood to form sentences. For my fellow typography nerds, however, the difference is not only important, but a useful – if seldom used – tool in the designer’s tool box.
For someone who is new to design or hasn’t had the opportunity to spend time studying type, it could be easily overlooked that there is a distinction between the two.
So, what is the difference?
The difference between the two lies in (possibly) the most “designery” word in the design dictionary – Hierarchy.
- Typeface refers to the overall set or family of font styles.
- Font refers to a particular style of glyph or character within the typeface.
Think of a tree. The typeface is the main support and/or structure – the tree. The fonts, in this case, would be the branches. The typeface (tree) provides the structure where all of the fonts (branches) exist and inherit their form. While the individual branches share similar characteristics, they are all slightly unique in size and structure. Some are bold, some are italic, some are condensed, and some are a combination of other variations, but they all belong to the same typeface.
As a real-world example, take the typeface Gotham. Gotham is the structure that holds all of the fonts within it together. A font within that typeface would be italic bold.
Typeface = Gotham
Font = Gotham Italic Bold
A practical application.
It’s easy to get caught up in concepts and theoreticals, but you might be asking yourself, “how does this fit into a real project?”
One area we often use this distinction is in brand initiatives. Have you ever built a brand book? Generally, the brand should be able to “live and breathe” – in other words, having versatility within its system. Ideally, there will be a diverse set of font styles utilized. This requires considering what typeface(s) will represent the new brand.
“If a logo is a molecular view of a brand, a font is a molecular view of a typeface.”
When creating a new logo for a brand, more often than not, the logo will use a single character style out of the typeface selected. When doing this, you’re selecting the font. In short - and for purposes of this article- typefaces are used in brands and/or brand books. Fonts are used in logos.
Whether someone is new in the design world, or is just eager to learn more about design, understanding the difference between typeface and font can aid in success for future design projects.
While it might be true that the more digitally driven design becomes, the more the terms “typeface” and “font” can be used interchangeably, the distinction between the two will always be relevant in specific cases. For other type nerds, understanding the difference between font and typeface will be a useful tool in future projects.