Font or Typeface?

“The way I relate the difference between typeface and font to my students is by comparing them to songs and MP3s, respectively (or songs and CDs, if you prefer a physical metaphor).”
– Nick Sherman

(via ISO50)

UPDATE 1: Just got an interesting tweet from my studio-mate @shiflett pointing me to a post by @jontangerine in which he distinguishes typefaces from fonts.

UPDATE 2: Jonathan Hoefler just sent over this link. A growing list of defintions and explanations. Nice!

7 Comments leave a comment below

  1. The MP3 is the electronic manifestation of a song, which was carefully written and prepared by other means. Variations on that same song will produce new MP3s, but the melody, chord changes, lyrics, etc. will remain attributes of the song.

  2. Hah, I was wondering about this yesterday. Am I glad you posted it!

    It makes sense when you think about it as well, as fonts typically include several variations of a typeface (italics, bold, etc.).

    Or did I misunderstand?

  3. When I was teaching type I always told my students that a typeface is a family and a font is a member of the family. Musically I suppose that would make the typeface the album and the font individual songs.

  4. I don’t think i agree with that metaphor.

    Surely a better one is to compare typefaces to species and fonts to animals in that species. Each evolved for a specific circumstance.

    I also like Kathleen’s Family/member metaphor.

  5. I agree with Prescott.
    To put it in a different way, a typeface is a collection of characters that share an emotional load (a meaning, other than that of the words). It is the equivalent of “Plato’s idea”. A font, on the other hand is a simple embodiment of a typeface. Bits & bytes on your computer.

  6. I wrote something about fonts and typefaces some time ago. Maybe it will help. It follows:

    Fonts and typefaces are very different things, even though people tend to use the terms interchangeably. Typefaces are designs like Bembo, Gill Sans or Papyrus. Type designers create typefaces, using software programs to shape the individual letters. A few still draw the letters by hand and then scan the drawings into a type-design application.

    Whether a set of metal letters or a set of electronic files, fonts are the things that enable the printing of typefaces. Type foundries produce fonts. Sometimes designers and foundries are one and the same, but creating a typeface and producing a font are two separate functions.

    From Design to Font
    The 16th-century French designer Claude Garamond created the typeface that now carries his name. Creating the design was a multistage process. First he cut a letter (backward) on the end of a steel rod. The completed letter was called a punch. Next he took the punch and hammered it into a flat piece of soft brass to make a mold of the letter. A combination of molten lead, zinc and antimony was poured into the mold, and the result was a piece of type whose face was an exact copy of the punch. After Garamond made punches for all the letters he would use and cast as many pieces of type as he thought he would need, he put the type into a typecase. The resulting collection of letters was a font of type.

    Many Fonts-One Typeface
    Over the years, there have been hand-set fonts, machine-set fonts, phototype fonts and now digital fonts of the Garamond typeface. Currently there are TrueType, PostScript Type1 and OpenType fonts of Garamond. There are Latin 1 fonts of Garamond, used to set most of the languages in Western Europe, and Greek and Cyrillic fonts, which enable the setting of these alphabets. All these fonts are of the Garamond typeface design.

  7. Amen to Nick and Allan. For those masochists who want to read further on the topic, we summarized our favorite definitions on the FontFeed last year.