Typefaces and Fonts: What's the difference?

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In our modern age of digital text, many people talk about typefaces and fonts as if the terms were interchangeable. Do you know the difference?

In order to understand the distinction between typefaces and fonts, let's take a look back to how type was printed before computers. Letterpress printing still holds a fascination for artists and is gaining popularity as a means of printing wedding invitations and other stationary, but was once a major commercial industry. In traditional letterpress, type (basically lead or wooden stamps in the shape of letters, numbers, and punctuation) was organized into cases (flat, segmented drawers with a space for each character).

For ease of use, cases of type follow a standard layout. One of the most common is the California Job Case, in which the compartments are arranged to make the most commonly used letters (t, n, e, i, o, and r) easily accessible to the typesetter, the same idea behind the keyboard on your computer.

Each case contains only one font, meaning that all the type in a given type case matches in both typeface and point size, allowing the typesetter to quickly pull from the appropriate compartment knowing the letters will go together without having to check each one. This means bold and italics have their own separate cases, too, even though they are often used in combination to create a block of text.

Typeface refers to the style of the letters, and can be found in a variety of sizes. Font refers to both the typeface and the size. So, Garamond 12pt and Garamond 10pt are, by strict definitions, the same typeface but different fonts.

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