Which Word Wednesday: Font vs. Typeface

By November 28, 2012 language 6 Comments

My work as a writer and editor means that I regularly interact with talented graphic designers. It’s so nice to be able to phone-a-designer-friend for advice on important matters, such as which font to use and which fonts play nice together. If it weren’t for my designer friends, I wouldn’t know of the universal disdain for Comic Sans. It would be a shame if I used that one erroneously.

How giddy I was to receive this book from my dearest designer friend: Just My Type: A Book about Fonts written by Simon Garfield. The history of printing and font design is fascinating! It also offered the definitions of font and typeface—a perfect offering for Which Word Wednesday.

I use these terms interchangeably, to which Garfield says, “There are worse sins.”1 Perhaps. But I want to know the proper use, even if I can’t teach my old brain new tricks. Here are the definitions from The Oxford American Dictionary:

font :: noun
a set of type of one particular face and size

typeface :: noun
a particular design of type

Garfield expounds:

“A font refers usually to the digital, computerized form of a particular typeface. Each typeface may have a family of several fonts (bold, italic, condensed, semibold italic, etc.), each weight and style on the page a little different.”1

Whew! Perhaps my misuse isn’t so egregious after all! Sounds like font refers to all the sizes (6 point, 12 point, etc.) and styles (bold, italic, underline, etc.) of a particular typeface (NewsGoth, Arial, Comic Sans, etc.). If I use font as the term to describe the entire family, I’m technically correct. But if I want to ask about which lettering to use, typeface is the word I need.

What’s my WWW verdict? On the graphic design scale for sinful behavior, using Comic Sans is way worse than using the terms font and typeface interchangeably.

What’s your verdict? Do you know your font from your typeface? Do you want to Ban Comic Sans? Do share in the comments.


Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

1. Simon Garfield, Just My Type: A Book about Fonts (New York, NY: Gotham Books, 2012), 32.

  • http://goodokbad.com Seth T. Hahne

    Actually, each individual distinct instance of a typeface is a font. So there are lots of fonts within each typeface. According to the definitions used, font doesn’t refer to all the sizes and styles in a typeface; instead it refers to one particular one. Your typeface will include This Font and That Font and One Font and Another Font, each individual fonts within the family.

    As the picture shows, typeface is the umbrella under which many fonts exist. Just like Mammal is an umbrella under which many primates exist. A primate isn’t all the different primates that are mammals. It is just the one primate. Same with a font.

    • http://fillingmypatchofsky.com erinstraza

      Oh. my. Font and typeface to primates and mammals?! OK–I think I’ll just say pretty letters and still stay away from Comic Sans. Thanks for clarifying!

  • Melanie Shellito

    fun stuff, Erin! I confess to seeing more horrifying uses of Mistral than Comic Sans (if you can believe that!). Mistral is like nails on a chalkboard to me! the designer who gave you the book wasn’t Marko, by chance was it?? LOL.

    • http://fillingmypatchofsky.com erinstraza

      Nope! Miss Krista gave me the book. It’s a good read so far.

    • http://letseatgrandpa.com Cori

      Oh, Mistral. IT HURTS.

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