Oftentimes, “Typeface” and “Font” is incorrectly used interchangeably. However, there is a difference, non-designers! I decided to ask Michael Tussey, our talented art director, this simple (or is it?) question, “What is the difference between typeface and font?”


Starting with a little bit of a history lesson, Michael explained that around the fifteenth century, when printers hand-set type, they had to pull actual metal letters, numbers, and symbols out of a giant box.

Like this:

Figure 1

Figure 1

This collection of characters was called a “font.”



Figure 2

Figure 2

Typefaces describe the overall look of the characters contained within the font. If you see in Fig. 2, you’ll see a font of News Gothic – News Gothic is the typeface. Michael explains further:

“You might have a box containing all the letters of News Gothic, box font of News Gothic Bold, and box font of News Gothic Light. Each box contains a font of News Gothic.”

You’ll also notice that the thickness of the letterforms (the weight) in each font varies, but the defining characteristics remain the same.

“Typeface” is actually interchangeable with the term, “font family.” Confused yet? This may help. Michael came up with an illustration that may help better understand this “font” vs “typeface” issue. Here’s the fun illustration (Fig. 3).

Figure 3

Figure 3

Here, you see a family of three twins: John Smith, Jack Smith, and Tom Smith. Each brother shares the same face, but their weights vary – read: one is slim, the other is rather rotund.

Together, the brothers make up the Smith family.

Typographically, John, Jack, and Tom are each fonts and together they make up the Smith typeface.

Mark Simonson, designer of Proxima Nova (check out our client’s website, MDVIP.com, to see it in action), explains the difference quite eloquently:

“The physical embodiment of a collection of letters, numbers, symbols, etc. (whether it’s a case of metal pieces or a computer file) is a font. When referring to the design of the collection (the way it looks) you call it a typeface.” – Mark Simonson, designer


Present: The Digital Age

Presently, fonts refer to a digital file containing various letterforms rather than a box of metal types (can you imagine shuffling through those every time you wanted to pick a new font for your pretty design?).

Refer back to Fig. 2 and you’ll see this “box” of the font News Gothic.

Oh how far we’ve come.

Thanks to Michael for taking the time to explain this difference to a non-designer, like me!