“Weights” doesn’t mean what it used to?

I’ve been noting an interesting trend in recent years for type foundries and vendors referring to a typeface coming in a certain number of “weights” to mean what I would call fonts or perhaps faces. Folks doing this on their web sites include vendors both large and small.

I’d be tempted to just accept this as a change in terminology, but we already have words to express this distinction, and if we change “weights” to mean fonts, then what the heck to we call real weights? By “real weights” I of course mean that a typeface that has light, regular, bold and black weights has four weights – and it still only has four weights even if there are italic and condensed versions of each of those.

I’m not just pointing the finger at other folks here – a departed type marketing manager here at Adobe (who I generally have both respect and affection for, I might add) sometimes used the term “weights” in that fashion, and I suspect it made it into some of our public materials on occasion. But I think we need to reclaim the word for its previous typographic meaning, or else we have just increased ambiguity with no gain in communication. Or am I crazy?

15 Responses

  1. Totally share your concern, Thomas. But I don’t think “fonts” is a good term here. Example:The new typeface Supercool Pro is available in 32 fonts.A little cumbersome wording and may be confusing for some folks. And “styles” doesn’t really work either – has the same prob as weights. Time for a new term?

  2. Peter Bruhn says:

    In Sweden we have the word “vikt” for weight and the word “skärrning” which could translate to “cut/cuts/carving”. Same word as in “a tailored suit with a nice cut”.”The new typeface Supercool Pro is available in 4 weights, with a total of 32 cuts.”I do think the words “cut” has a hard ring to it though. But maybe there’s word that means the same?I’ve used family members some times:The new typeface family, Soupercool Pro, is ha a total of 32 members.Well just some ideas.

  3. Dan Reynolds says:

    This is a tremdous problem!I run into this almost every day. Unfortunately, every time I describe a font family, I think I use different terms (typeface, fonts, weights, styles, sorts,* etc) in different orders, trying to throw as many words at the problem as possible in order to save it for the reader :(German has a word for what you might be looking for Stephen, Garnituren (plural). Isn’t its English translation garnitures? Could we use that? Does it make sense?”The new typeface Supercool Pro is available with 32 garnitures. These include 15 weights optimized for text sizes, each with its own matching italic, and two display styles.”?* Yes I know that a sort is just one single piece of lead type… a glyph if you will. I misuse the word on purpose. Please don’t hate me 😉

  4. i was thinking of the same issue recently when we redid our website. ‘weights’ didn’t seem appropriate for many of the typefaces we release. so i went with ‘styles’ which covers both different versions and different weights. ‘fonts’ i don’t think works that well as to me is suggests a whole family rather than one version from a family

  5. Mike says:

    Unfortunately, too many people now call typefaces fonts, which has created its own ambiguity that the word weight is being used to address.

  6. jason campbell says:

    Bravo, Tom, I wholeheartedly agree. I tend to accept “style” for this use, although I take Stephen’s point that it also is a misnomer. The most true appelation would be “variations”, I think, but that isn’t exactly sexy.

  7. Delve Withrington says:

    Happy New Year Tom, everyone.I too noticed the use of the term “weights” was becoming more widespread. I think it’s fine if used in combination with “styles”, where applicable. E.g.- “The new typeface Supercool Pro includes 32 weights and styles”. If the typeface is indeed comprised of multiple weights and no italics, obliques, outlines, etc., then it is accurate. Otherwise, generally using it in place of “fonts” may confuse or complicate matters. Pro is a relatively new term for describing fonts and now “Premier” has been introduced as well. I think we have plenty of handles available and it’s simply a matter of consistently using them correctly. But I know that’s easier said than done (pun intended).

  8. Don McCahill says:

    I really like the term cuts, but I wonder if it will fit the general public, who probably are the root of the problem. After all, most typographers and afficinados know the difference between a font and a typeface.(That said, how often do you hear a publisher announce a new typeface by calling it a new font?)If cut is too esoteric, then style fits. I could consider style to include weight as well as oblique or italic, and condensed or extended/expanded fonts.Don

  9. Lots of comments there. I agree that “fonts” may not be the perfect term, though I like it better than “weights” for this purpose. “Styles” and “variations” are both reasonable alternatives as well.Unfortunately, “garniture” has a rather different meaning in English, so it’s not a good candidate. And “cuts” is usually used to refer to different interpretations of the same basic theme, such as Adobe Garamond vs. Garamond Premier, rather than variants within a family.

  10. jason campbell says:

    How about:| The new typeface Supercool Pro is available in 31 flavors. |;)

  11. paul hunt says:

    what’s wrong with the term “styles”? can someone explain how this one is ambiguous?

  12. I agree that “styles” is probably the best option, with “fonts” or “variants” being reasonable alternatives (though the masses do seem to equate “font” to “typeface”).

  13. Don McCahill says:

    PaulI suspect the main problem with style is that traditionally a weight and a style are different things. The CSS web design standard treats them separately, for instance.That said, I agree that there is nothing wrong with extending the definition of style.Calling a bold a style is far less incorrect than calling italic or condensed a weight.Don

  14. Karsten Lücke says:

    I think, “styles” relates more to design, while “fonts” refers to the technical side: mere countable files. (Like with the bigger PS T1 font families, it would be wrong to refer to “250 styles” if half of them just contains a different set of numerals. Here, “fonts” would be the better choice, as a “style” may consist of more than one “font”. But then, are small caps a “style” of their own, now that they are part of upright or italic style?)Otherwise, using “style” in a strict sense wouldn’t be bad.In German I prefer “Schnitt”, same as “cut” or “skärrning”.Karsten

  15. Jean-Claude Siegrist says:

    The same problematic exists with French, particularly when French speaking people speak in English idiom, saying font for a typeface or a entire family. So for me it is simple to speak of a font for an assortiment in one style but with additional Opentype features and of a family or variants of a given style for a typeface…But one another question Thomas: how do you make a bold glyph from a normal? Or how do you make a small cap from a cap? Have you formulas or do you redesign the all glyphs?

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Thomas Phinney

Adobe type alumnus (1997–2008), now VP at FontLab, also helped create WebINK at Extensis. Lives in Portland (OR), enjoys board games, movies, and loves spicy food.

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