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In typography, a typeface is a co-ordinated set of letter designs, making a complete alphabet, and generally intended to be made into a font for printing or use on a computer display.

The art of designing typefaces is called type design, being the occupation of a type designer.

A font is a set of glyphs (images) representing the characters from a particular character set in a particular typeface. In digital fonts, the image of each character may be encoded either as a bitmap (in a bitmap font) or by a higher-level description in terms of lines and curves enclosing space (an outline font, also called "vector font").

The term "font" has been used for centuries to refer to the contemporary technological device used to print in a particular size and typeface (though in phototype and digital type, it no longer refers to a specific size). Virtually all fonts were cast in various lead alloys from the 1450s until the middle of the 20th century. A few large fonts were made of wood, especially in the USA. This is known as wood type. There was a relatively brief overlapping period (ca. 1950s-1990s) where photographic technology, known as phototypesetting, was used; fonts came on rolls or discs of film. From the mid-1980s the move to digital typography has been relentless and the term font nowadays almost always refers to a computer file containing scalable, outline letterforms, usually in one of several common formats. Some fonts, such as Microsoft's Verdana are intended primarily for use on computer screens.

Categorization criteria

Sans-serif font
Serif font
(Serifs highlighted)
Fonts can be divided in the categories of
serif and sans-serif fonts. Serifs are the small features at the end of strokes within letters. A typeface without serifs is called sans-serif (from French sans: "without"), also referred to as grotesque (or, in German, grotesk). See serif for etymological notes.

There is great variety among both serif and sans-serif fonts; both groups contain faces designed for setting large amounts of body text, and others intended primarily as decorative. The presence or absence of serifs is only one of many factors to consider when choosing a font.

Typefaces with serifs are often considered easier to read in long passages than those without. Studies on the matter are ambiguous, suggesting that most of this effect is due to the greater familiarity of serif typefaces. As a general rule, printed works such as newspapers and books almost always use serif fonts, at least for the text body. Web sites do not have to specify a font, they can simply respect the browser settings of the user, but of those that do, most use modern sans-serif fonts such as Verdana, because it is commonly believed that, in contrast to the case for printed material, sans-serif fonts are easier than serif fonts to read on computer screens.


A font where its glyphs are displayed using varying widths is a proportional font while one with fixed width is a non-proportional (or monospace or fixed-width) font.

Proportional fonts are generally considered nicer-looking and easier to read, and thus are the most commonly used type of font in professionally published printed material. For the same reason, they are typically used in GUI computer applications, such as word processors and web browsers. However, many proportional fonts contain fixed-width figures so that columns of numbers are aligned.

Non-proportional fonts are better than proportional fonts for some purposes, because their characters line up in nice, neat columns. Most non-electronic typewriters and text-only computer displays use only non-proportional fonts. Most computer programs which have a text-based interface, such as terminal emulators, are configured to use only non-proportional fonts. Most computer programmers prefer to use monospace fonts.

ASCII art requires a non-proportional font for proper viewing. In a web page, non-proportional fonts are most commonly encountered as a result of the <pre> </pre> HTML tag. In LaTeX, non-proportional fonts are used by the verbatim environment.

The two lines of text in non-proportional font (should) display as equal width, while the two lines in proportional font are radically different widths. This is because wide characters' glyphs (WQZMDOHU) get more screen width and narrow characters' glyphs (itl[]1|I) get less when using a proportional font.

Font families

Since a plethora of typefaces has been created over the centuries, they are commonly categorized into families according to their appearance. Interestingly, this categorization corresponds vaguely with the historic evolution of typefaces.

At the highest level, one can differentiate between blackletter, serif, sans-serif, and decorational fonts.

Note: The following font samples print a sentence of patent nonsense, whose only purpose is to contain all letters of the alphabet (pangram).

1. Blackletter typefaces

Blackletter fonts were the earliest fonts used with the invention of the printing press. They resemble the artistic handwritings of cloisters in the Middle Ages and fall into three groups:

Of all the blackletter typefaces, the Gothic ones most closely resemble the Textura calligraphy used with manual copying of books. A Gothic typeface was thus also carved by Johannes Gutenberg when he printed his 42-line Bible, including a large number of ligatures and common abbreviations. While in Germany, Gothic fonts were quickly displaced, they remained in use in great variance and are frequently referred to as Old English typefaces.
Schwabacher typefaces were predominant in Germany from about 1480 to 1530. Most importantly, all of the works of Martin Luther, leading to the Protestant Reformation, as well as the Apocalypse of Albrecht Dürer (1498) were printed in this typeface. It was probably first used by Johannes Bämler, a printer from Augsburg, in 1472. The origins of the name are unclear; some assume that the typeface was designed by a typeface carver from the village of Schwabach who worked externally and was thus refererred to as the Schwabacher.
Most commonly known among the blackletter typefaces are those of the Fraktur family, which started when Emperor Maximilian I (1493-1519) established a series of books and had a new typeface created specifically for this purpose. Fraktur faces were in wide use in Germany until the end of World War II; see the Fraktur article for details.

2. Serif fonts

Serif fonts are in turn divided into four major groups:

Renaissance, with only slight difference in thickness within each glyph; this category includes the Garamond and Palatino typefaces.
Baroque, where the thickness within each glyph has greater variety; this category includes Baskerville and Times Roman.
Classicist, with the most variance of thickness within each glyph. This includes the Bodoni and Century Schoolbook typefaces.
Modern fonts, especially those designed primarily for decorative purposes, frequently fall out of these categories. For example, slab serif fonts such as Rockwell look artificial on purpose, with almost rectangular shapes.

3. Sans-serif fonts

Sans serif designs are a relatively recent typographical phenomenon in the history of type design. The first specimen appears to be the two-line English so-called "Egyptian" font released in 1816 by William Caslon's foundry, England. They are commonly, but not exclusively used for display typography applications such as signage, headings and other situations where clear meaning is imperative but continuous reading is not required.

Sans serif designs are broadly divided into 4 major groups for the purposes of type classification:

Grotesques, early sans serif designs, such as Grotesque or Royal Gothic.
Neo-grotesques, modern designs such as Standard, Helvetica (Arial) and Univers.
Humanist (Edward Johnston's Railway type, Gill Sans or Frutiger).
Geometric (Futura or Spartan).

Other commonly used sans serif fonts include Lucida, Arial, Optima, Tahoma and Verdana.

The phrase "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog", seen in the font illustrations, is an example of a pangram, i. e., a sentence containing every letter of the alphabet, thus displaying every letter of each font.

Related articles

To do:
decorational fonts
Sample image for Grotesques