Ever wonder what the difference is between a typeface and a font? Today, most people use the terms interchangeably; yet, historically, the terms have had very different meanings.
Before digital printing, confusing the two could lead to costly mistakes. Now, the distinction between the terms is recognized mostly by design professionals. If you’re working with designers to create marketing materials, it helps to know the difference. This article will make sure you’re up to speed on:
- What is a typeface?
- What is a font?
- Typeface vs. font: main differences
- Does the difference actually matter?
- Choose the right typefaces and fonts for your projects
What is a typeface?
A typeface is a set of glyphs or sorts—letters and accessories, like numbers and punctuation—that have common design features. These features include the weight and balance of the letters, the difference in height between uppercase and lowercase letters, and the presence or absence of serifs. Arial is an example of a widely used typeface.
What is a font?
The term font refers to the specific weight, size, and width of a typeface. For example, Arial is a typeface, but Arial Regular 14 point is a font. Arial Bold 20 point is another font. Every variation of a typeface—indicating a different size, weight, or style—is a different font. The Arial fonts above are a type family or related fonts. They share the same design but are different weights or sizes.
Typeface vs. font: Main difference
A typeface is defined by a particular set of characteristics. A font is one size and weight within that style. A typeface encompasses all the fonts in a type family. Most modern typefaces fall under one of two categories: serif or sans-serif.
Serif typefaces have a small stroke at the end of the vertical and horizontal lines of the letters. There is often contrast between the thickness of the strokes of the letters. Some parts of the letter might be thick while other areas are thin.
Examples of serif typefaces include:
In the first line, Garamond is the typeface. The font is Garamond Bold 20 point. If you used a different size or weight of Garamond, that would be another font even though it’s the same typeface.
Serif typefaces date back hundreds of years. Some old-style serif typefaces, like Garamond, were used before the mid-18th century. In contrast, sans-serif typefaces are modern and informal. As the name implies, there are no extra strokes at the end of the letters. The simple, clean design features letters that are the same width throughout.
Examples of sans-serif typefaces include:
In the example above, Arial, Calibri, and Helvetica Neue are typefaces. The fonts shown are Arial 20 point, Calibri Bold 18 point, and Helvetica Neue Italic 16 point.
Does the difference actually matter?
Most people use the word font and typeface interchangeably, but the difference is important for professionals trained in typography, type design, or graphic design.
The terms typeface and font date back to the early days of printing. Historically, a type foundry manufactured solid metal letters. A typesetter would set each page of metal type letter by letter. These metal letters were stored in shallow wooden drawers, called job cases. The cases had a compartment for each letter, numeral, and symbol. Older job cases stored capital letters in the drawer above the small letters, hence the terms uppercase and lowercase.
Each specific font, or version of type, such as bold or condensed, had its own case. So, indicating the font let the typesetter know precisely which size type to place on the page. Keeping the fonts organized in the job cases was essential. Placing the wrong fonts on a page could lead to time-consuming mistakes.
The rise of desktop publishing blurred the distinction between the terms due to the naming convention in operating systems. When creating a document in software, you’re asked to choose a font, not a typeface. If you’re working with a computer file, there’s no distinction between a font and a typeface. For example, if you’ve installed the Futura font data on your computer, you can design with the entire typeface.
Designers and typographers use more precise terminology when creating written materials. Most designers work on Macs or PCs and install the fonts to use, then select them from the font menu. To create attractive business materials, designers apply the principles of design and adhere to brand guidelines regarding fonts and colors.
If you’re working with design professionals, it helps to use the right terminology to communicate what you want. See how easy Upwork makes it to connect with the top talent when it comes to bringing your design vision to life.
Choose the right typefaces and fonts for your projects
Typeface sets the tone for printed material. Sometimes described as word art, type can instantly give the reader an impression of your business. A bold, decorative type makes a statement as a logo or heading. A clean, modern type sets a casual tone.
Whether your business image is serious, traditional, modern, or playful, the choice of typeface sets the tone. Here are examples of the design stories told by different typefaces.
Serif type projects history, tradition, authority, and integrity. Historic newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post use serif type. It’s a good choice for professional businesses like insurance companies, law practices, and newspapers.
There are several categories of serif type. Garamond is an example of an old-style typeface. This font, named after 16th-century engraver Claude Garamond, has high contrast between the thick and thin strokes in its letters and has scooped serifs.
Transitional serif type, like Times New Roman, evolved next. This type is frequently used for large blocks of text because the letterforms don’t use as much space as some other typefaces. Wider bracketed serifs and contrast between stroke thickness characterize transitional serif type.
Slab serif fonts, like Rockwell, have serifs that might be as thick as the letters.
In printed materials, the added strokes on serif type make the letterforms easier to distinguish. That makes it easier for the eye to quickly recognize words. That’s why serif typefaces are commonly used for materials with lengthy body text, such as books or magazines.
Companies that use serif fonts for their logos include Coach, J.P. Morgan, and T-Mobile.
With their simple clean lines, sans-serif typefaces set a contemporary tone. If your brand is casual, friendly, approachable, or youthful, sans-serif fonts help communicate that image. Sans-serif fonts are often used where there is minimal space for text, such as in apps or signs. Because it’s more legible on small screens, sans-serif type is preferred for web design.
Typographers also divide sans-serif typefaces into categories. Grotesque fonts, like Franklin Gothic, have even stroke widths and relatively uniform uppercase letters.
Neo-grotesque fonts are designed for legibility. Popular fonts like Arial and Helvetica are in this category.
The humanist category of sans-serif fonts includes letterforms inspired by traditional typefaces. Calibri has rounder styles and larger lowercase letters, making it easier to read in small fonts.
Companies whose logos have sans-serif fonts include Google, HubSpot, and Target.
Eye-catching, decorative typefaces like Wild Mango make a strong statement as a logo, in headings, or as T-shirt art, but they’re usually not readable enough to use as body copy.
Script typefaces like Pacifico resemble cursive handwriting. Use script to add elegance and a handcrafted, personalized image to your material. Just remember that script is harder to read, so limit it to headlines.
The New York Times has one of the most famous logos using a script-style font. Its gothic style resembles a blackletter font that originated in Europe and was designed to resemble calligraphy.
Find design talent on Upwork
With a new understanding of typefaces and fonts, it’s time to design material to promote your business. If you’re looking for new marketing materials, tap into the expertise of independent professionals. Whether your project requires font developers, typography designers, or graphic designers, Upwork is the place to go for finding professionals with the expertise you need.
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