A typeface is the same thing as a font, right? Not exactly. Although the words are often used interchangeably, there’s a difference between a typeface vs. font. And it’s a nuanced difference that can sometimes be confusing.
Typefaces and fonts are as important in design and branding as they’ve ever been, and understanding these terms’ historical meanings as well as current applications enables you to accurately articulate what you want in a design. In this article we’ll go over the differences between typeface vs. font and what the terms mean so you can use these terms effectively and look like a pro!
Typeface vs. font—what’s the difference?
While a typeface is a set of design features for letters and other characters, a font is the variation in weight and size of a typeface. A font family is a group of related fonts.
It can get a bit granular. So we’ll go over what each term means.
What is a typeface?
A typeface is a set of design features for letters and other characters, like the presence or lack of a serif, the letters’ weight and balance, spacing and the height difference between upper and lowercase letters.
Typefaces are categorized based on their style. Some of the most common types of typefaces are:
Serif typefaces are, as the name implies, typefaces that include serifs. Serif typefaces and fonts tend to have a sophisticated, classic feel.
Garamond is a common serif typeface for example.
Bodoni and Didot are two others.
Many serif typefaces have long histories, dating back hundreds of years. One of the oldest typefaces used in the Western world, Roman, was developed by Nicolas Jensen in 1470 as a way to make printed text easier to read because until that point, books printed in Europe used a Blackletter typeface based on the handwriting found in books.
Sans serif typefaces
Sans serif typefaces are, in contrast to serif typefaces, typefaces that don’t have serifs. They tend to communicate a more relaxed, informal presence.
Helvetica is a well-known sans serif typeface. Others include Verdana and Futura.
Decorative typefaces are fun, eye-catching typefaces that feel a bit more niche than standard serif and sans serif typefaces.
Outlaw and Morris Troy are two well-known decorative typefaces.
These typefaces typically aren’t great for body text, not just because they can be distracting, but because they can be difficult to read. This is especially true at smaller sizes. While a font in a decorative typeface can be a great attention-grabber for your headline or outdoor sign, it can be a turn-off for readers when you use it on a menu or in a brochure.
Script typefaces are typefaces that look like cursive handwriting. If you want to communicate that your brand is handcrafted and personalized, a script typeface can be a great way to do it.
Script typefaces can be simple or ornate. Popular script typefaces include Kuenstler Script, Kauffmann and Brush Script.
Like decorative typefaces, script typefaces can be difficult to read at small sizes. Keep these for your logo, headlines or signage and when you have denser text, let a serif or sans serif font do the heavy lifting.
What is a font?
A font is the variation in weight and size of a typeface. So when a typeface is roman, bold, italic, condensed, size or any other variable, that’s called a font.
Here’s an easy way to see the difference between typefaces and fonts. Open up Google Docs and hover over the drop-down font menu. See how certain options have a little arrow to their right? Hover over this arrow and you’ll see different options like “light,” “semi bold” and “bold.”
The main options are typefaces. The suboptions are fonts.
Meet the font family
A font family is a group of related fonts. For example, Garamond is a typeface, with its own set of design features for letters and other character. That typeface has many fonts. It could be italic or bold and size 14 or 16 point. The collection of all these fonts is a font family.
Typefaces and font: a very, very brief history
So why are fonts differentiated from typefaces?
It goes back to the days when pages of text were manually printed with block letters. Specific letter sets were created, each with its own unique look, and these sets became known as types. Each variation of a type, such as condensed and bold, had its own box. These variations became what we know today as fonts.
Beyond typeface and font
Once you start chatting away about text and design with your new or refreshed knowledge of typeface and font, you’ll probably run also into the term typography.
What is typography?
Typography is how text is arranged within a design. It’s the process of working out how to make the text fit in an aesthetically pleasing way that doesn’t compromise its legibility. With typography, the designer isn’t designing the actual letters, they’re working with existing typefaces and fonts.
To create a text-based design using typography, a designer chooses the right font in a size that will fit the piece, then make other tweaks like the spacing between the letters and the scale between capital and lowercase letters to create their piece.
Why does it matter? Know what you mean, mean what you say
Lots of people say “font” when they mean “typeface.” And plenty of people say “typeface” when they mean “font.”
If you understand what the person’s talking about based on the context, does it really matter which word they use? And does it matter which word you use, or would sticking to the dictionary definition for each be needlessly pedantic?
We don’t think it’s pedantic at all. In fact, we think it’s necessary, even in today’s world where most, if not all, of the writing you do is on a computer.
Being able to accurately tell a designer that you want to use a specific kind of typeface communicates the general style you want, but gives them room to be creative and find the perfect font for your project. In contrast, telling them you want a specific font makes your vision absolutely clear—which you need to have the vocabulary to do when you have a specific vision for your finished project.
Looking for a designer who can bring your project to life and express your unique brand through typefaces and fonts that work? Check out our community of designers to find the perfect designer for your brand.