If you’re the type of person who loves learning about web design, then you’ve already learned how many odd details exist. There’s all sorts of hold overs from prior generations of design and programing, things that just don’t make as much sense unless you happen to know where they came from.
The words “font” and “typeface” are like that. People these days use the words almost interchangeably, but there is actually a difference between them. Yet unless you know the history of the printing press and typing, you likely have absolutely no clue that there even is a difference.
The History Of The Printing Press
Everyone knows the basic history of the printing press. It was a series of replaceable, movable blocks with a single letter carved into them. The blocks would be covered with ink, and the ink would be pressed against the paper. This allowed books to be published far more easily, which in turn made them more readily available to the peasant class.
However, people often don’t consider the fact that there wasn’t just one style of book. That is to say, they had fonts and typeface even back then. In fact, that’s specifically what the terms were made for! Typeface was the design of the letters. That is, “Helvetica” would be a typeface, not a font. So what is a font?
A font is the size and weight of the letter. This is why so many people use “font” when they mean “typeface”. No one asks for “Helvetica 14” any more, because they don’t have to. The size of the type is a separate question, dealt with by a different part of the word processor.
Does that mean there’s no reason to differentiate between the two these days? Not at all!
Why The Difference Between Font And Typeface Matters
In many, perhaps most cases, you can use font and typeface interchangeably. People will know what you mean either way, so it hardly matters.
In the world of web design, it can be far more important. This is because web design is as concerned with the aesthetics of the words and less about what those words actually say. It’s simply not important whether it’s an epic story or driving instructions, web design needs to know whether or not it’s going to look good.
To that end, if a web designer asked about the font and was told “Helvetica”, that would be useless information. They don’t need to know the shape of the letters. They need to know what size the letters should be. It might be important because of where the words are placed, or they may simply be trying to figure out how much room they have.
Either way, if you’re in web design then you need to know which word is which. By using the words interchangeably, you’re making it far more difficult on yourself and your fellow web designers. Luckily, it’s easy to remember. Typeface is the design, where as font is simply the size. It’s that simple!