With today's word processors and digital media platforms, it can be hard to distinguish between a typeface and a font. The average user may not know the difference, but before the age of computers, these terms meant a lot more to our written culture. Below, we've outlined what is typeface, how it differs from a font, and why the anatomy of typography can be so complex.
What is typeface?
Before you could choose from hundreds of fonts on Microsoft Word, every page was printed using metal letters arranged in rows, and then rolled in ink. During this age, each set of characters with the same design features was known as a typeface, and designers still use the term today. For example, Times New Roman is one of the most popular typefaces for word processing. It doesn't matter if you're writing bold, italic, 8 point, or 72 point Times New Roman — it's still the same typeface.
Okay, then what is a font?
Think of fonts like a subset of typefaces, as they refer to size and weight within a larger family. For instance, if you're using the Arial typeface in 12-point italic, we would say that the font is 12-point italic. Each size and weight combination refers to a different font. This is why Microsoft Word and other programs use the word "font" instead of typeface, because technically, you are working with different fonts every time. However, the broader stylistic choices behind a font should actually be ascribed to the typeface. Today, experts seem to be okay with the terms being used interchangeably, just as long as you're not a designer.
How are typefaces designed?
Behind every typeface, there is a detailed anatomy of design. Here are some of the basic distinctions between font families: