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What is a font?

Do you know what a font is? And do you know the difference between a font and a typeface? We explain it to you in this article!

Fonts are, in graphics, typography and publishing, the foundation of any graphic design. A set of characters designed in a consistent manner and according to the same formal principles forms a typeface, the file of which is called a font.

Fonts, typefaces and glyphs

A typeface is a letter, punctuation mark or symbol. The font in turn can be made up of several glyphs, such as A, a or a, which will then be glyphs of the same font and typeface.

The set of all characters and glyphs of the Latin alphabet designed according to the same visual coherence and meaning is called a typeface. In English the designations make everything clearer: typeface (understood as letter) is character, glyph is glyph and the coherent whole of all this, the typeface, is typeface.

The typeface styles thus include bold, also known as bold, characterised by the thickening of the letters, regular, i.e. the one normally used, italic or cursive, elegant and almost calligraphic, and oblique or oblique, a slanted variant, without any aesthetic change.

The font

Font is another thing: font is the means by which a character is applied.

To explain this we can make the comparison with music: if a typeface is a song, the font is the .mp3 file that allows us to listen to it.

Many think that font is a term of English origin but, in reality, its origin is French. It is in fact the English transposition of the term ‘font‘.

The correct application of fonts is fundamental for both writers and those involved in graphic design and typography. In fact, every typeface has a precise communicative intent: installing an incorrect file means having to work with fonts and glyphs that are either excessively decorative or all too sterile.

The variants of a font

Let us now see what terms are used to identify the various files that make up a font family on the one hand, and the main types of typefaces on the other.

The main variants are:

  • The ‘normal’ versions, generally called Roman or Regular;
  • All weight variants (i.e. the thickness of the typeface), which can range from thinner (Light, Thin, Extra-Light, etc.) to thicker (Bold, Black, Extra-Bold, Ultra, etc.);
  • Italic, or italic, which is really a different font, designed with different optical and aesthetic choices. Italic fonts also have their weight variants (Bold Italic, Light Italic, etc.);
  • Oblique, or oblique, on the other hand, is the slanted variant, without any aesthetic or functional changes, of the normal font. To give you a better understanding of the difference with italics (such as Garamond, Garamond Italic and Garamond oblique);
  • The compressed (Condensed) and enlarged (Extended) versions. Again, this is not just a normal ‘stretched’ font but a different font, designed to be either wider or narrower.

So, summarising what has been explained in this article, the word font does not indicate Times New Roman, Verdana, Comic Sans, Helvetica and so on, but the files that allow them to be applied.

What is erroneously called ‘font’, however, is correctly called a typeface and is a set of letters, numbers and punctuation marks called characters, which in turn have internal variables (accents, upper and lower case), called glyphs.

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