Typography is the practice of designing, arranging and modifying type. Type is defined as simply alphanumeric characters. You can arrange and modify type by changing the width, height, or basically any other characteristic associated with that type.
What are fonts?
A typeface is generally defined as the specific letter form design of an alphabet. Typeface talks about the style of the letters. A font is a collection of all these letters of a typeface. A font generally means a bold, italic or roman type, while a typeface means a consistent visual appearance or style. When you say I’m using Times New Roman, you’re talking about the font – the collection of that style of typeface.
Typefaces versus fonts
Many people use these words interchangeably, to the chagrin of many designers and type enthusiasts. It’s easy to forget what the words mean because they are so intricately related. Mark Simsonson on Typophile has a great, somewhat clear definition: “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.”
Nick Sherman offers this insight from a comment on Typographica’s Our Favorite Typefaces of 2007: “The way I relate the difference between typeface and font to my students is by comparing them to songs and MP3s, respectively (or songs and CDs, if you prefer a physical metaphor).” In other words, the MP3 is the way the song is delivered (the font); the song is the actual creative (the typeface).
Norbert Florendo finally made it really, really simple with a comment on The FontFeed: “…font is what you use, and typeface is what you see.”
Typefaces have 5 main classifications: serif, sans-serif, script, symbol and display. Each of these gives off a different feeling and that feeling affects your design. For brevity’s sake, we’ll focus on the most common classifications: serif and sans-serif.
Serif typefaces have “feet” (finishing strokes) at the ends of the letters. Some examples are Garamond, Times New Roman and Georgia. Serif typefaces give off a traditional, serious appeal and are mostly used in businesses. Serif typefaces are generally easier to read in a smaller size, so serif typefaces are used in body text. So, Garamond is a typeface, and all the specific styles, such as Semibold Subhead, are fonts.
Sans-serif typefaces don’t have “feet” (“sans” means “without” in French). Examples are Arial, Verdana (often used on Web sites) and Century Gothic. Sans-serif typefaces are seen as more modern and clean. These are best for billboards or when you need a bigger typeface because they’re more legible at a bigger size than serifs. Plus, the serifs take up more room with their feet so you can’t fit as many letters in the same amount of space without sacrificing size.
As you can see, each classification of font gives off a certain feeling. The Garamond fonts look classy and formal while the Century Gothic fonts look modern and clean. A designer’s choice of fonts and typefaces is crucial to the feeling of the designed piece, so it’s something to be carefully considered and thought through before committing to a choice.