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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In typography, a font (also fount) is traditionally defined as a complete character set of a single size and style of a particular typeface. For example, the set of all characters for 9-point Bulmer italic is a font, and the 10-point size would be a separate font, as would the 9-point upright.

After the introduction of computer fonts based on fully scalable outlines, a broader definition evolved. Font is no longer size-specific, but still refers to a single style. Bulmer regular, Bulmer italic, Bulmer bold and Bulmer bold italic are four fonts, but one typeface.

However, the term font is also often used as a metonym for typeface.



The term font, a cognate of the word fondue, derives from Middle French fonte, meaning "(something that has been) melt(ed)", referring to type produced by casting molten metal at a type foundry. English-speaking printers have used the term fount for centuries to refer to the multi-part metal type used to assemble and print in a particular size and typeface.[1]

Metal type

In a traditional manual printing (letterpress) house the font would refer to a complete set of metal type that would be used to typeset an entire page. Unlike a digital typeface it would not include a single definition of each character, but commonly used characters (such as vowels and periods) would have more physical type-pieces included. A font when bought new would often be sold as (for example in a roman alphabet) 12pt 14A 34a, meaning that it would be a size 12-point font containing 14 uppercase 'A's, and 34 lowercase 'A's. The rest of the characters would be provided in quantities appropriate for the distribution of letters in that language. Some metal type required in typesetting, such as dashes, spaces and line-height spacers, were not part of a specific font, but were generic pieces which could be used with any font.[2] Line spacing is still often called "leading," because the strips used for line spacing were made of lead (rather than the harder alloy used for other pieces).

In the 1880s–90s, "hot lead" typesetting was invented, in which type was cast as it was set, either piece by piece (as in the Monotype technology) or entire lines of type at a time (as in the Linotype technology).

Font characteristics

In addition to the character height, when using the mechanical sense of the term, there are several characteristics which may distinguish fonts, though they would also depend on the script(s) that the typeface supports. In European alphabetic scripts, i.e. Latin, Cyrillic and Greek, the main such properties are the stroke width, called weight, the style or angle and the character width.

The regular or standard font is often labeled roman, both to distinguish it from bold or thin and from italic or oblique. The keyword for the default, regular case is often omitted for variants and never repeated, otherwise it would be Bulmer regular italic, Bulmer bold regular and even Bulmer regular regular.

Different fonts of the same face may be used in the same work for various degrees and types of emphasis.


The weight of a particular font is the thickness of the character outlines relative to their height.

Helvetica weights

A typeface may come in fonts of many weights, from ultra-light to extra-bold or black; four to six weights are not unusual, and a few typefaces have as many as a dozen. Many typefaces for office, Web and non-professional use come with just a normal and a bold weight. If no bold weight is provided, many renderers (browsers, word processors, graphic and DTP programs) support faking a bolder font by rendering the outline a second time at an offset, or just smearing it slightly at a diagonal angle.

The base weight differs among typefaces; that means one normal font may appear bolder than some other normal font. For example, fonts intended to be used in posters are often quite bold by default while fonts for long runs of text are rather light. Therefore weight designations in font names may differ in regard to the actual absolute stroke weight or density of glyphs in the font.

Attempts to systematize a range of weights led to a numerical classification first used by Adrian Frutiger with the Univers typeface, although therein only ranging from 3 to 8. The TrueType font format introduced a scale from 100 through 900, also used in CSS and OpenType. The first algorithmic description of fonts was perhaps made by Donald Knuth in his Metafont and TeX system of programs.

There are many names used to describe the weight of a font in its name, differing among type foundries and designers, but their relative order is usually fixed, something like this:

  • Hairline
  • Thin
  • Ultra-light
  • Extra-light
  • Light
  • Book
  • Normal / regular / Roman / plain
  • Medium
  • Demi-bold / semi-bold
  • Bold
  • Extra-bold / extra
  • Heavy
  • Black
  • Extra-black
  • Ultra-black / ultra

The terms normal, regular and plain, sometimes also book, are being used for the standard weight font of a typeface. Whether book is lighter or heavier than regular is not entirely consistent across typefaces, though "lighter" seems to be more common.


In today’s European typefaces, especially roman ones, the font style is usually connected to the angle. When the normal, roman or upright font is slanted – usually to the right in left-to-right scripts – the lowercase character shapes change slightly as well, approaching a more handwritten, cursive style. In this italic type, character edges may even connect and ligatures are more common. Although rarely encountered, a typographic face may be accompanied by a matching calligraphic face, which might be considered a further font style of one typeface.

Cyrillic italics

In many sans-serif and some serif typefaces the characters of the italic fonts are only slanted (oblique), which is often done algorithmically, without otherwise changing their appearance. On the other hand there are typefaces with upright characters that take a more cursive form without a change in angle. For example the Cyrillic minuscule ‘т’ may look like a smaller form of its majuscule ‘Т’ or more like a roman small ‘m’ as in its standard italic appearance; in this case the distinction between styles is also a matter of local preference.

In Frutiger’s nomenclature the second digit for upright fonts is a 5, for italic fonts a 6.

The two Japanese syllabaries, katakana and hiragana, could be seen as two styles or typographic variants of each other, but usually are considered separate character sets.

Cursive-only scripts such as Arabic also have different styles, in this case for example Naskh and Kufic, although these often depend on application, area or era.

There are other aspects that can differ among font styles, but more often these are considered immanent features of the typeface. These include the look of the minuscules, which may be smaller versions of the capital letters (small caps) although the script has developed characteristic shapes for them. Some typefaces do not include separate glyphs for the cases at all, thereby abolishing the bicamerality. While most use uppercase characters only, some labeled unicase exist which choose either the majuscule or the minuscule glyph at a common height for both characters.


Some typefaces include fonts that vary the width of the characters (stretch).

Narrower fonts are usually labeled compressed, condensed or narrow. In Frutiger’s system, the second digit of condensed fonts is a 7. Wider fonts may be called wide, extended or expanded. Both can be further classified by prepending extra, ultra or the like.

These separate fonts have to be distinguished from techniques that alter the letter-spacing to achieve narrower or smaller words, especially for justified text alignment.

Optical size

Some professional digital typefaces include fonts that are optimised for certain sizes. There are several naming schemes for such variant designs. One such scheme, invented and popularized by Adobe Systems, refers to the variant fonts by the applications those are typically used for, with the exact point sizes intended varying slightly by typeface:

  • Poster (extremely large sizes, usually larger than 72 point)
  • Display (large sizes, typically 19-72 point)
  • Subhead (large text, typically about 14-18 point)
  • (regular is usually left unnamed, typically about 10-13 point)
  • Small text (SmText, typically about 8-10 point)
  • Caption (very small, typically about 6-8 point)


Font metrics refers to metadata consisting of numeric values relating to size and space in the font overall, or in its individual glyphs. Font-wide metrics include cap height, x-height, ascender height, descender depth, and the font bounding box. Glyph-level metrics include the glyph bounding box, the advance width (total space for the glyph), and sidebearings (space that pads the glyph outline on either side).


Italic capital swashes
Serifness of the Thesis typeface

Although most typefaces are characterised by their use of serifs, there are superfamilies that incorporate serif (antiqua) and sans-serif (grotesque) or even intermediate slab serif (Egyptian) or semi-serif fonts with the same base outlines.

A more common font variant, especially of serif typefaces, is that of alternate capitals. They can have swashes to go with italic minuscules or they can be of a flourish design for use as initials (drop caps).


Just like serifness, most typefaces either have proportional or monospaced (typewriter-style) letter widths, if the script provides the possibility. There are, however, superfamilies covering both styles.

Some fonts provide both proportional and fixed-width (tabular) digits, where the former usually coincide with lowercase text figures and the latter with uppercase lining figures.


  • Blackwell, Lewis. 20th Century Type. Yale University Press: 2004. ISBN 0-300-10073-6.
  • Fiedl, Frederich, Nicholas Ott and Bernard Stein. Typography: An Encyclopedic Survey of Type Design and Techniques Through History. Black Dog & Leventhal: 1998. ISBN 1-57912-023-7.
  • Lupton, Ellen. Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students, Princeton Architectural Press: 2004. ISBN 1-5689-8448-0.
  • Macmillan, Neil. An A–Z of Type Designers. Yale University Press: 2006. ISBN 0-300-11151-7.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

FONT (Lat. fons, " fountain" or "spring," Ital. fonte, Fr. les fonts), the vessel used in churches to hold the water for Christian baptism. In the apostolic period baptism was administered at rivers or natural springs (cf. Acts viii. 36), and no doubt the primitive form of the rite was by immersion in the water. Infusion - pouring water on the head of the neophyte - was early introduced into the west and north of Europe on account of the inconvenience of immersion, as well as its occasional danger; this form has never been countenanced in the Oriental churches. Aspersion, or sprinkling, was also admitted as valid, but recorded early examples of its use are rare (see Baptism). These different modes of administering baptism have caused corresponding changes in the receptacles for the water. After the cessation of persecution, when ritual and ornament began to develop openly, special buildings were erected for administering the rite of baptism. This was obviously necessary, for a large piscina (basin or tank) in which candidates could be immersed would occupy too much space of the church floor itself. These baptisteries consisted of tanks entered by steps (an ascent of three, and descent of four, to the water was the normal but not the invariable number) and covered with a domed chamber (see Baptistery).

By the 9th century, however, the use of separate baptisteries had generally given place to that of fonts. The material of which these were made was stone, often decorative marble; as early as 524, however, the council of Lerida enacted that if a stone font were not procurable the presbyter was to provide a suitable vessel, to be used for the sacrament exclusively, which might be of any material. In the Eastern Church the font never became an important decorative article of church furniture: "The font, KoXvp/'/Opa (says Neale, Eastern Church, i. 214), in the Eastern Church is a far less conspicuous object than it is in the West. Baptism by immersion has been retained; but the font seldom or never possesses any beauty. The material is usually either metal or wood. In Russia the columbethra is movable and only brought out when wanted." One of the most elaborate of early fonts is that described by Anastasius in the Lateran church at Rome, and said to have been presented thereto by Constantine the Great. It was of porphyry, overlaid with silver inside and out. In the middle were two porphyry pillars carrying a golden dish, on which burnt the Paschal lamp (having an asbestos wick and fed with balsam). On the rim of the bowl was a golden lamb, with silver statues of Christ and St. John the Baptist. Seven silver stags poured out water. This elaborate vessel was of course exceptional; the majority of early fonts were certainly much simpler. A fine early Byzantine stone example exists, or till recently existed, at Beer-Sheba.

Few if any fonts survive older than the 11th century. These are all of stone, except a few of lead; much less common are fonts of cast bronze (a fine example, dated 1112, exists at the Church of St Barthelemy, Liege). The most ancient are plain cylindrical bowls, with a circular - sometimes cruciform or quatrefoil - outline to the basin, either without support or with a single central pillar; occasionally there is more than one pillar. The basins are usually lined with lead to prevent absorption by the stone. The church of Efenechtyd, Denbigh, possesses an ancient font made of a single block of oak. Though the circular form is the commonest, early Romanesque fonts are not infrequently square; and sometimes an inverted truncated cone is found. Octagonal fonts are also known, though uncommon; hexagons are even less common, and pentagons very rare. There is a pentagonal font of this period at Cabourg, dept. Calvados, N. France.

Fonts early began to be decorated with sculpture and relief. Arcading and interlacing work are common; so are symbol and pictorial representation. A very remarkable leaden font is preserved at Strassburg, bearing reliefs representing scenes in the life of Christ. At Pont-š-Mousson on the Moselle are basreliefs of St John the Baptist preaching, and baptizing Christ. Caryatides sometimes take the place of the pillars, and sculptured animals and grotesques of strange design not infrequently form the base. More remarkable is the occasional persistence of pagan symbolism; an interesting example is the very ancient font from Ottrava, Sweden, which, among a series of Christian symbols and figures on its panels, bears a representation of Thor (see G. Stephens' brochure, Thunor the Thunderer). In the 13th century octagonal fonts became commoner. A very remarkable example exists at the cathedral of Hildesheim in Hanover, resting on four kneeling figures, each bearing a vase from which water is running (typical of the rivers of Paradise). Above is an inscription explaining the connexion of these rivers with the virtues of temperance, courage, justice and prudence. On the sides of the cup are representations of the passage of the Jordan, of the Red Sea, the Baptism of Christ, and the Virgin and Child. The font has a conical lid, also ornamented with bas-reliefs. A cast of this font is to be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum at South Kensington. A leaden font, with figures of Our Lord, the Virgin Mary, St Martin, and the twelve Apostles, exists at Mainz; it is dated 1328 by a set of four leonine hexameters inscribed upon it. In the 14th and succeeding centuries octagonal fonts became the rule. They are delicately ornamented with mouldings and similar decorations, in the contemporary style of Gothic architectural art. Though the basin is usually circular in 15th-century fonts, examples are not infrequently found in which the outline of the basin follows the octagonal shape of the outer surface of the vessel. Examples of this type are to be found at Strassburg, Freiburg and Basel.

In England no fonts can certainly be said to date before the Norman conquest, although it is possible that a few very rude examples, such as those of Washaway, Cornwall, and Denton, Sussex, are actually of Saxon times; of course we cannot count as "Saxon fonts" those adapted from pre-Norman sculptured stones originally designed for other purposes, such as that at Dolton, Devonshire. On the other hand, Norman fonts are very common, and are often the sole surviving relics of the Norman parish church. They are circular or square, sometimes plain, but generally covered with carving of arcades, figures, foliage, &c. Among good examples that might be instanced of this period are Alphington, Devon (inverted cone, without foot); Stoke Cannon, Devon (supported on caryatides); Ilam, Staffs (cup-shaped); Fincham, Burnham Deepdale, Sculthorpe, Toftrees, and Shernborne in Norfolk (all, especially the last, remarkable for elaborate carving); Youlgrave, Derby (with a projecting stoup in the side for the chrism - a unique detail); besides others in Lincoln cathedral; Iffley, Oxon; Newenden, Kent; Coleshill, Warwick; East Meon, Hants; Castle Frome, Herefordshire. Some of the best examples of "Norman" fonts in England (such as the notable specimen in Winchester cathedral) were probably imported from Belgium. In the Transitional period we may mention a remarkable octagonal font at Belton, Lincolnshire; in this period fall most of the leaden fonts that remain in England, of which thirty are known (7 in Gloucestershire, 4 in Berkshire and Kent, 3 in Norfolk, Oxford and Sussex, i in Derby, Dorset, Lincoln, Somerset, Surrey and Wiltshire); perhaps the finest examples are at Ashover, Derbyshire, and Walton, Surrey. Early English fonts are comparatively rare. They bear the moulding, foliage and tooth ornament in the usual style of the period. A good example of an Early English font is at All Saints, Leicester; others may be seen at St Giles', Oxford, and at Lackford, Suffolk. Fonts of the Decorated period are commoner, but not so frequent as those of the preceding Norman or subsequent Perpendicular periods. Fonts of the Perpendicular period are very common, and are generally raised upon steps and a lofty stem, which, together with the body of the font, are frequently richly ornamented with panelling. It was also the custom during this period to ornament the font with shields and coats of arms and other heraldic insignia, as at Herne, Kent. The fonts of this period, however, are as a rule devoid of interest, and, like most Perpendicular work, are stiff and monotonous. There is, however, a remarkable font, with sculptured figures, belonging to the late 14th century, at West Drayton in Middlesex.

In Holyrood chapel there was a brazen font in which the royal children of Scotland were baptized. It was carried off in 1544 by Sir R. Lea, and given by him to the church at St Albans, but was afterwards destroyed by the Puritans. A silver font existed at Canterbury, which was sometimes brought to Westminster on the occasion of a royal baptism. At Chobham, Surrey, there is a leaden font covered with oaken panels of the 16th century. The only existing structure at all recalling the ancient baptisteries in English churches is found at Luton in Bedfordshire. The font at Luton belongs to the Decorated style, and is enclosed in an octagonal structure of freestone, consisting of eight pillars about 25 ft. in height, supporting a canopy. The space around the font is large enough to hold twelve adults comfortably. At the top of the canopy is a vessel for containing the consecrated water, which when required was let down into the font by means of a pipe.

In 1236 it was ordered by Edmund, archbishop of Canterbury, that baptismal fonts should be kept under lock and key, as a precaution against sorcery: - "Fontes baptismales sub sera clausi teneantur propter sortilegia." The lids appear at first to have been quite simple and flat. They gradually, however, partook of the ornamentation of the font itself, and are often of pyramidal and conical forms, highly decorated with finials, crockets, mouldings and grotesques. Sometimes these covers are very heavy and are suspended by chains to enable them to be raised at will. Very rich font covers may be seen at Ewelme, Oxon; St Gregory, Sudbury; North Walsingham, Norfolk; Worlingworth, Suffolk. The ordinary position of the font in the church was and is near the entrance, usually to the left of the south door.

See Arcisse de Caumont, Co`urs d'antiquites monumentales (Paris, 1830-1843); Francis Simpson, A Series of Antient Baptismal Fonts (London, 1828); Paley, Ancient Fonts; E. E. Viollet-le-Duc, Dict. raisonne de l'architecture (1858-1868), vol. v.; J. H. Parker's Glossary of Architecture; Francis Bond, Fonts and Font-Covers (London, 1908). A large number of fine illustrations of fonts, principally of the earlier periods, will be found in the volumes of the Reliquary and Illustrated Archaeologist. (R. A. S. M.)

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Simple English

In typography, a font or fount is all the letters or characters of a single size of a typeface. For example, all characters for 9 point Bulmer is a font, and the 10 point size would be another font.

With the increase in the use of personal computers, definition has changed. The term font is now often used as another name for a typeface. The size of the characters has no effect on fonts when using this definition.

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