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Font vs typeface: the ultimate guide

Font vs typeface
At online outlets like FontShop you can test out fonts belonging to typefaces such as Helvetica (Image credit: FontShop)

Font vs typeface is a debate that reminds us how gradually industry terminology can change over time. Often, the two words are used interchangeably and there isn't any confusion. But, technically, the words 'font' and 'typeface' actually have distinct meanings and muddling them up could leave you red-faced.

To clear up any confusion, we examine the history of the words font and typeface in relation to graphic design and typography. Hopefully, we will settle the debate once and for all. Of course, if you're not bothered about the nuances, you could just head over to our post on the best free fonts to begin using them.

Font vs typeface: What's the difference?

Studio DBD asked font foundry F37 to create a bespoke typeface for its Foilco rebrand (Image credit: Studio DBD)
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The main difference between a ‘font’ and a ‘typeface’ is that the former exists as part of the latter. Helvetica is a typeface – a complete set of sans serif characters with a common design ethos. However, it is made up of a whole collection of fonts, each in a specific weight, style and size, with different levels of condensation as well as italic versions.

Because most designers are used to working on Macs, where you install fonts and then select them from the Font menu, we tend to use the word font in daily discourse, but if you are asked by an executive creative director what font you’ve used in a project, it’s possible they want to know the precise details. Helvetica would be the typeface chosen for the project, but the font might be Helvetica Regular 9 point.

In certain contexts – not just when you’re talking to a typographer who is a stickler for accuracy – knowing the exact font is critical. When coding an app for a specific type of display, adhering to a particular font selection may lead to optimum legibility. 

For most people these days, the terms ‘font’ and ‘typeface’ are often used interchangeably

Dave Sedgwick

Brand guidelines (see our favourite example style guides) are another case in point with identity designers choosing typefaces in certain sizes and weights to support the brand aesthetic they want to portray. In the world of packaging, there are consumer protection regulations to adhere to. For example, EU law stipulates a minimum size for the text in the nutrition declaration.

However, in most circumstances even experienced designers alternate between the two and we’re not ashamed to admit that it even happens right here on Creative Bloq. 

“It’s probably sacrilege but I’m not sure I’ve ever known the difference,” says Dave Sedgwick, founder of in Manchester. “For most people these days, the terms ‘font’ and ‘typeface’ are often used interchangeably and most clients probably don’t know the difference either so when we’re presenting directly to them we use simple, straightforward terminology that doesn’t suggest we’re attempting to overcomplicate things.”

And he’s right. Usually it doesn’t matter, but when the distinction is important it might help to look at it like this. We choose a typeface because of its common aesthetic qualities. Then we refine it down to a specific font by setting its size, weight, style and sometimes the character set such as Roman, Cyrillic or Greek when we use it. For example, you might love the typeface Futura because of its modernist look, and so the font you used for the captions on your site is Futura Condensed Extra Bold 8 point. If the font is the song, the typeface is the artist.

Font vs typeface: A history

avoided using the word ‘font’ to describe anything before the digital era. “Instead I referred to the embodiment of type in metal with the word ‘fount’ in order to be accurate,” he says. “The book’s editors would not accept this word, probably correctly: typographers can be too myopic.”

Ironically, although it irks typographers that people mix up the terms font and typeface, people today actually know far more about type than ever before thanks to their computers.

Font vs typeface: Does it matter?

has a multinational team that includes Germans, Austrians, Danes and Dutch creatives. When we asked them about the distinction between ‘font’ and ‘typeface’, it sparked a wider linguistic discussion. “The terminology in our native languages is a bit different, maybe even more finely nuanced than in English,” says Brini Fetz, co-founder and creative director. 

If you want to express yourself precisely it is important to distinguish between the two terms

Brini Fetz

“If you want to express yourself precisely it is important to distinguish between the two terms, but we still tend to use the word ‘font’ in daily office language. The term ‘font’ in Dutch and German often refers only to the digital version of a typeface, so it gets even more complicated when you look into what the terms mean in different languages.”

Whether someone says ‘font’ or ‘typeface’ isn’t as important as how they actually work, according to Sedgwick. “I’m more interested in how designers think than I am in about whether they are entirely clued up on all the relevant terminology. I believe a good attitude and a genuine desire to learn or find things out is more important, and I’m not even sure design students are being taught the fundamentals of type in the correct language these days anyway.”

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Garrick Webster is a freelance copywriter and branding specialist. He’s worked with major renewable energy companies such as Ecotricity and the Green Britain Group, and has helped develop award-winning branding and packaging for several distilleries in the UK, the US and Australia. He’s a former editor of Computer Arts magazine and has been writing about design, creativity and technology since 1995.

With contributions from