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“What font is used on the Absolut Vodka bottles”?
“Can you identify the font used in the new Star Wars movie”?
“Do you recognize the font in the attached PDF”?
I get questions like these daily. I don't mind them. Fact is, I
enjoy the challenge. What I don't like, however, is the
nomenclature. It seems that just about everyone is using the word
“font” when they are referring to a typeface. “Fonts” and
“typefaces” are different things. Graphic designers choose
typefaces for their projects but use fonts to create the finished
Typefaces are designs like Baskerville, Gill Sans or Papyrus.
Type designers create typefaces. Today they use software programs
like Fontographer or Font Lab to create the individual letters. A
few still draw the letters by hand and then scan them into a type
Fonts are the things that enable the printing of typefaces. Type
foundries produce fonts. Sometimes designers and foundries are one
and the same, but creating a typeface and producing a font are two
A little history may help. John Baskerville created the typeface
design that bears his name. Creating the design was a multi-stage
process. First, he cut the letters (backwards) on the end of a
steel rod. The completed letter is called a “punch.” Next,
Baskerville took the punch and hammered it into a flat piece of
soft brass to make a mold of the letter. A combination of molten
lead, zinc and antimony was then poured into the mold and the
result was a piece of type the face of which was an exact copy of
the punch. After Baskerville made punches for all the letters he
would use and cast as many pieces of type as he thought he would
need, he put the type into a typecase. The resulting collection of
letters was a font of Baskerville type.
Over the years, there have been hand-set fonts of Baskerville
type, machine-set fonts, phototype fonts, and now digital fonts.
Currently, there are TrueType and PostScript Type1 fonts of the
Baskerville typeface. There are Latin 1 fonts of Baskerville used
to set most of the languages in Western Europe and Greek and
Cyrillic fonts that enable the setting of these languages. All
these fonts are of the Baskerville typeface design.
Maybe it's OK for the folks that set the neighborhood church's
newsletter to call them fonts; but those of us who claim to be
typographers and graphic designers should refer to our tools by the
correct name. So, what font is used on the Absolut Vodka bottles? I
don't know. But I can tell you that the name “Absolut” is set in
the typeface Futura Extra Bold Condensed.
When graphic design references other graphic design, are its makers using irony as a fig leaf for critiques of power, or an expression of self-doubt? Currie suggests four possible masochistic tendencies in today's design.
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