Designing Type & Making Fonts


Allan Haley in Archive on June 10, 2009

Fonts and typefaces are very different things, even though people tend to use the terms interchangeably. Typefaces are designs like Bembo, Helvetica or Papyrus. Type designers create typefaces, using software programs to shape the individual letters. A few type designers still draw the letters by hand and then scan the drawings into a type design application.

Whether a collection of metal letters or a set of electronic files, 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 separate functions.

From Design to Font

bodonipunches100The eighteenth century Italian designer Giambattista Bodoni created the typeface that now carries his name. Creating the design was a multistage process. First Bodoni cut a letter (backward) on the end of a steel rod. The completed letter was called a “punch.” Next he 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 poured into the mold, and the result was a piece of type whose face was an exact copy of the punch. After Bodoni made punches for all the letters he would use, he cast as many pieces of type as he thought he would need. The resulting suite of letters was a font of type.

Many Fonts-One Typeface

Over the years, there have been hand-set fonts, machine-set fonts, phototype fonts and now digital fonts of the Bodoni typeface. Currently there are TrueType, PostScript Type1 and OpenType fonts of Bodoni. There are Pro fonts of Bodoni, used to set most of the languages in Europe, and Greek and Cyrillic fonts of Bodoni, which enable the setting of these languages. All are fonts of the Bodoni typeface design.

Allan Haley
Allan Haley is Director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging. Here he is responsible for strategic planning and creative implementation of just about everything related to typeface designs.

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