A typeface is a family of letters all of the same design. This family consists of a basic upright or normal style plus different variations such as a slanted, or italic, style. These individual variations are called fonts. A typeface family can include as many as a dozen or more fonts; the most common family unit contains four fonts -- upright (called roman), italic, bold, and bold italic. You can always tell what a font is because thatís what your printer considers an individual component. For example, Times Bold Italic is an individual font in the typeface family called Times.
Typefaces are generally divided into two fundamental categories -- serif and sans serif. A serif is a little embellishment or curlicue which appears at the ends of certain letters. Most newsprint uses a serif typeface -- notice the little flag at the top of the letter "l" or "d," or the little ball at the end of the curve in the letter "f" or at the end of the tail of a "y." These are all serifs. An example of a serif typeface is Times, which was originally designed to be the body text typeface for the Times of London newspaper. Since the word "sans" means "without," sans serif typefaces are made up of letters without serifs. The letters are made up of just straight lines. Arial and Helvetica are examples of sans serif typefaces.
In desktop publishing circles, the general rule of thumb is to use a serif typeface for the main text, or body text, of a document, since the serifs are said to guide the eye and make reading easier. Headlines and other attention-getting but short passages are the best places to use a sans serif typeface, since the contrast with the serif body text makes the letters stand out.
To dress up a document in Windows or on the Mac, you can not only choose a particular typeface or variation, but also change the size of your text as a special effect. The text size is measured in "points." There are 72 points to an inch, so each point is one-seventy-second of an inch. But the easiest way to think about it is that normal typewriter-sized text is about 11 or 12 points, and a one-inch-high letter for a poster or sign is 72 points. Just experiment with the sizes in between and soon youíll be familiar with their relative degrees of emphasis.
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