typeface or font?

seml's picture

It's been a while since I first read the "Elements of Typographic Style". I recall that I found odd to associate the initials m, d, p to the typefaces throughout history, while Bringhurst was introducing them to me. And then I understood the term fo(u)nt : the source of the drawing, of the contour, the expression of a specific letter shape. However, we are only looking at physical part of it. It's true that typography has changed and that our computer screens are a "rough and bad quality paper", as Spiekermann answered a question of mine. But when we are thinking of typography these days, and quite for some time already the project, the faculty, the questions and problems related to drawing shapes of the letters leave its fount, and live beyond it. What I mean is that we need to distinguish the duality of typeface design. It's true that today we only speak in digital terms, but the quantic mechanics of typography remain the "leaded" ones.
It's hard for me to treat font and typeface as synonyms, because it removes the project and the art of the shapes and transform it into bezier curves and points. What about the personality? What about the character and carism? When we talk about Univers..., do we see the accomplishment of the purpose, or do we see a box of tiny volumes of lead?

What do you think about this? Shall we call it typeface, or font?

Comments

Koppa's picture

As far as I'm concerned, it's a typeface. A font, to me, is one point size of a typeface in a California job case.

Come to think of it, I'm going to add this to the recent pet peeves thread.

microspective's picture

I've only been in typography for a short time, so please forgive any misinformation...

In my readings, the general idea is that a typeface refers to a family, and a font specifies a point-size, roman, bold, italic, etc.

This said, someone using a bold italic form of "Times New Roman" should not really be including "Roman." Would it not then be "Times New Bold Italic?" Hopefully they'll come to their senses and just choose a different face altogether! ;)

Anyway, I think that digital faces have blurred the line between the two terms for the layman, but to me (us?) there's the fundamental difference mentioned above.

Norbert Florendo's picture

The confusion over correct nomenclature continues to muddy since even us "experts" blurr the definitions as time wears on.

Instead of getting too granular in definitions, let's consider the broader picture:

A type design is to a type designer like a song is to a composer.

A song can be sung at different octives, by various performers and cadence but essentially what you HEAR is the same song.

A type design (expressed in letterform or individual typeface) is what you SEE... printed in books, on the TV or computer screen, adhered on the sides of trucks, cut or sandblasted in stone.

A font is to a typeface like recorded media is to music or song.
You can listen to the same "performance" of Al Jolson singing Swanee from old films, shellac and vinyl records, audio tape, eight-track or cassette, video tape, CD, DVD, Blueray, online or downloadable digital, and whatever the future will bring.

Similar to the arguments by musicians and audiophiles -- designers, typophiles will debate the loss or gains of a type design when "rendered" by different font technologies.

But alas, I fear most people use the term "font" to everything type related.

Koppa's picture

Digging back in the other thread linked above, this is how it makes sense to me now:

When you go to MyFonts or whatever, you buy a font of a typeface.

Stephen Coles's picture

Norbert and Koppa: Yes!

It's true that the terms have become interchanged in modern usage, but I don't think they should be interchangeable. I've resolved to avoid improper use of the term "font". In fact, I've decided (beginning with the upcoming installment) to change the title of Typographica's annual review from "Our Favorite Fonts" to "Our Favorite Typefaces" which is more accurate.

Norbert Florendo's picture

May you live long and prosper, Stewf.
Like my momma used to say,
"Itsa mucho easy ta ID a typeface than da font!"

microspective's picture

Hmm. Yet another astute music:typography analogy. These comparisons are bountiful in these parts. Thanks!

seml's picture

I thank you all for your intervention. I'm not alone in typographic world. It seems that I have touched one of the main discussion topics of this microscopic area. Maybe it wasn´t clear enough, but I never used the terms as synonyms, and I DO NOT think they are the same.
Wonderful comparison Norberto. It was as clear to me as listening to the PNY album of Portishead without being able to be in the center of the orchestra :(.
I just find quite insulting to talk about typefaces as if they only existed in binary language... where is Jenson among all that? Or Griffo? Or Garamond?... and don't have to go that far... what about Akzidenz Grotesk or Helvetica, Univers? They were first made of metal. And apollo? Do not forget it was conceived to use with a film pelicule...
What I mean is... the font is only the means you materialize the original thinking, drawing... a good example? What about a Bodoni on a coated paper? A huge mistake... that I have to see in hundreds of female magazines...but that's only a radical position. I can accept that a typeface like Didot may funtion from 72pts on... So everything has its on context, artistic, historic, cultural, economical...
Anyway... thank you for your opinion. :)

Mark Simonson's picture

Norbert, I like your analogy. It's less abstract and more metaphorical than my explanation in the other thread. Easier for people to get, I think.

I try to say I "make fonts" or "develop fonts" and "design typefaces." Sort of like saying you "make records" and "write songs."

Norbert Florendo's picture

Thanks, Mark.
Though there might be better ways of explaining typeface/font relationship or co-dependence, I thought the current entertainment industry's issues with intellectual property and new media would be something the broader audience would relate to.

Once you get past the basic explaination, it can get pretty complex and messy.
Just ask a type designer, punchcutter or font wrangler who contributes most to the type design!

Quincunx's picture

> In fact, I’ve decided (beginning with the upcoming installment) to change the title of Typographica’s annual review from “Our Favorite Fonts” to “Our Favorite Typefaces” which is more accurate.

Unfortunately you will lose the catchy alliteration of 'favorite fonts'.

Spire's picture

Unfortunately you will lose the catchy alliteration of ’favorite fonts’.

How 'bout Favorite Faces?

Reed Reibstein's picture

I'm with all of you regarding the distinction between typeface and font, but I do get concerned that non-graphic designers I talk to won't know immediately what I mean when I say "typeface," whereas everyone nowadays knows what a "font" is. When I have to say "typeface" and then say "font" to clarify, I feel like I really sound pretentious. Do you use "typeface" with the typographically naive, or do you just suck it up and use "font"?

Quincunx's picture

> How ’bout Favorite Faces?

Yeah, that would work. But it wouldn't let me edit my post to add that.
But I don't know if it would be specific enough.

But enough with the thread-hijack. ;)

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