Fonts and Typefaces

I don't usually do this, but it's time to air a little pet peave of mine.  It has to do with the use of the term 'font' when what is meant is 'typeface'.  In art school I studied graphic design which required quite a bit of focus on typography.  I'm not the best at handling type, but I did learn enough to recognize awkward kerning, poor leading, the fact that a quotation mark should sit outside of the paragraph line, and the fact that Garamond is a beautiful typeface - but not a font!  This mix-up never really bothered me much, as I don't expect people who never took a typography course to fully understand the difference. However, I do expect those who are in the business to get it right.  When I use software on either a PC or Mac product, it bothers me that in the menus I'm asked to select a font, that I need to choose a font-size, and that the term typeface is nonexistent. Really?  The people who write the software used to handle type ARE in the business, and they should know better. What is the difference?  I found an old article from AIGA way back in 2002 that gives one of the easiest explanations to understand. Here it is in full:

They're not fonts!

Filed Under: Inspiration, typography

What font is used on the Absolut Vodka bottles?

Can you identify the font used in the new Star Wars movie?

Do you recognize the font in the attached PDF?

I get questions like these daily. I don't mind them. Fact is, I enjoy the challenge. What I don't like, however, is the nomenclature. It seems that just about everyone is using the wordfont when they are referring to a typeface. Fonts andtypefaces are different things. Graphic designers choose typefaces for their projects but use fonts to create the finished art.

Typefaces are designs like Baskerville, Gill Sans or Papyrus. Type designers create typefaces. Today they use software programs like Fontographer or Font Lab to create the individual letters. A few still draw the letters by hand and then scan them into a type design application.

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.

A little history may help. John Baskerville created the typeface design that bears his name. Creating the design was a multi-stage process. First, he cut the letters (backwards) on the end of a steel rod. The completed letter is called a punch. Next, Baskerville 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 then poured into the mold and the result was a piece of type the face of which was an exact copy of the punch. After Baskerville 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 Baskerville type.

Over the years, there have been hand-set fonts of Baskerville type, machine-set fonts, phototype fonts, and now digital fonts. Currently, there are TrueType and PostScript Type1 fonts of the Baskerville typeface. There are Latin 1 fonts of Baskerville used to set most of the languages in Western Europe and Greek and Cyrillic fonts that enable the setting of these languages. All these fonts are of the Baskerville typeface design.

Maybe it's OK for the folks that set the neighborhood church's newsletter to call them fonts; but those of us who claim to be typographers and graphic designers should refer to our tools by the correct name. So, what font is used on the Absolut Vodka bottles? I don't know. But I can tell you that the name Absolut is set in the typeface Futura Extra Bold Condensed.

About the Author: Allan Haley is the director of words and letters at Monotype Imaging, where he is responsible for the strategic planning and creative implementation of just about everything related to typeface designs and editorial content for the companys type libraries and websites. Prior to Monotype, Haley was the principal of Resolution, a consulting firm with expertise in fonts, font technology, type and typographic communication. He was also executive vice president of International Typeface Corporation. He is an ex-officio chairman of the board of the Society of Typographic Aficionados and past president of the New York Type Directors Club.
So there you have it.  Please, people at Microsoft, Apple, and even BlogEngine (where I'm about to select the 'font' for this post) remember that people who use your products will use the terms you give them.  And I'll say again, you ARE in the business, and you should know better...  So please excuse me if I select a typeface instead.