What is the difference between a typeface and a font?

1. When you buy a font you’re actually buying a license to use that font. For more info on licensing check out our EULA: https://fairetype.com/licensing

A font is the product of a typeface. One way to think about it is the font is the actual tool, and the typeface is the design. So most often when people ask “what font is that?,” they really mean “what typeface is that?” because they’re actually referring to the design of the letterforms not what file you are using.

A typeface is a set of designs for all the characters in an alphabet, including letters, numbers, punctuation marks and symbols. A typeface encompasses multiple styles including weights like regular, medium and bold, or italics. For example our typeface FAIRE Palme has weights ranging from hairline to super and matching italics. Each of those styles in isolation is a font. You choose a typeface, you purchase a font (license1).

2. Nerdy little language fact for you: the word font comes from the french word ‘fonte’ which means something that has been melted — referring back to the time when fonts were made cast in moulds and filled with melted lead metal alloys
When type was made out of metal, fonts2 were also constrained to size. So if FAIRE Palme was made out of lead the font of it would include the size it was cast. So for example one font could be FAIRE Palme Regular 12pt. Now that type is digital, type size is flexible so that’s no longer a consideration.
Type Drawer image courtesy of 4motions Werbeagentur on Unplash. A type drawer is a piece of furniture used in traditional letterpress printing to store individual metal type characters. Traditionally, each type drawer would hold a single font in a typeface. Here you can really visualize the difference between a typeface and a font, because a typeface might consist of let’s say 6 drawers, but each specific drawer is just one specific style and size of that typeface; a font.
Me holding a dollar sign type punch in the Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library. A type punch is a tool used in traditional letterpress printing to create metal typefaces. It is a steel rod with a letter or symbol carved into its end, which is then used to stamp the letter or symbol into a piece of copper or brass. The resulting metal block is then used as a template for casting individual type characters. Punches were designed and carved in reverse, so that it would print correctly when inked and pressed onto paper.
Image generated by Dall-E 2, via the promt: Generate an image of lead printing type sitting inside a letterpress type case. The lead type should feature the typeface FAIRE Palme from Faire Type Foundry and showcase letters A through Z. The image should feel like a realistic color photograph with sunlight coming in from a nearby window. The letters should be arranged neatly inside their traditional type case. AI systems currently have a really difficult time generating letterforms, as you can see here.

The terms “typeface” and “font” have been used interchangeably for many years, and there’s no denying that they’re closely related. However, understanding the difference between the two is important for designers who want to create effective typography. Choosing the right typeface can set the tone for a piece of design and create a sense of identity, while choosing the right font can ensure that the typography is legible and easy to read.


Written by Sabrina Nacmias
March 23, 2023

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