Facts about Font Families

Facts About Font Families
The Linotype Support Team gets a lot of questions which have to do with the structure of a font family. Some wonder why their font looks odd when they press the bold style button, others wonder why the font they installed does not appear in their font menu. This Font Technology Feature is intended to clear up any confusion about font families and how they work.

What is a font?
The question is not as straightforward as it might seem. The word font has come to be a general term for everything from the software to the typeface design. In this Feature, the word font is used for the software for which a user can buy licenses and which enables a machine, like a computer or printer, to display and/or print images of a typeface design.

What is a font family?
A font family is a group of fonts which can be linked together for convenient use. The most common font family consists of the plain, italic, bold and bold italic weights. The link between these four fonts on a computer enable the use of style buttons like those in Microsoft Word, for example. When you are writing a text using the plain defined weight of the font and would like to emphasize something with an italic, this link allows you to just press the ?I? button instead of having to choose a new font (the italic weight) from the font menu.

What is the difference between how Mac and Windows environments organize fonts?
On a Windows PC all fonts which are parts of font families are treated as such. And because this family link eliminates the need to see all members of a font family in the font menu, a PC font menu shows only the plain font of the family. A Mac can organize fonts by family, but unlike on a Windows PC, they can also be organized by their individual names. You can use the style buttons to access the different fonts in the family, but when you choose a particular font from the folder, you can see exactly which one it is.

We receive a number of e-mails and telephone calls from font users who think that their bold or italic looks funny when they press the corresponding style button in their program. This is often due to the fact that only one font weight is on the computer. Some applications can electronically alter a plain font so that it looks like an italic or bold version, however, this is not the same as the italic or bold font itself. The appearance of such electronically altered fonts, both on the screen and in a printout, can vary, and some printers will not print them at all. When you buy the full font family, you are buying fonts which have been designed, constructed and mastered to fit harmoniously together, both on screen and in printouts.

Another possibly confusing fact about font families is the way they are listed in a program’s font menu. As explained above, a font family has one font which represents the entire family in the font menu. For example, if you install Frutiger 45 light on your computer, you will see Frutiger 45 light in the font menu. If you then install Frutiger 46 light italic, you will still only see Frutiger 45 light in a PC font menu. On a Mac you will have both style links and a list of all fonts in the font menu, so you would see Frutiger 46 light italic in the menu. (Not all font software is linked in families, in which case you would see all font names in the font menu but could not use style buttons.) And if you first install the family version of Frutiger 65 bold, you will also see Frutiger 45 light in the font menu, even if you never install the font with this name.