Computer users are all familiar with font families today. From office apps like Microsoft Word we know the buttons for “italic” and “bold” and this use has created a de-facto standard for a type family consisting of at least the four styles “regular”, “italic”, “bold” and “bold italic”. But font families can also contain hundreds of styles.
Roman and Italic
Roman and italic were originally two different writing styles used independently. Now they are usually part of a type family and both styles are meant to be used together. The roman “upright” style is usually the default style. That is why is also often called “regular”. Italics are closer to handwriting and the stems are usually slanted to the right. Italics are often used to separate or emphasize parts of a paragraph. Because of their calligraphic nature, they also have a more personal feel and are therefore often used for quotations.
Weight and Width
A common way to offer more styles within a type family is to extend it in regards to the weight and the width. Weight describes the thickness of the stems. There can be any number of styles lighter or more bold than the regular style.
The width describes how much horizontal space the characters need. The styles more narrow than the default width are usually called condensed and the styles wider than the default width are called extended or wide.
For font use with body copy (e.g. a website, a magazine, or a corporate design), a font family with at least the four styles regular, italic, bold and bold italic is usually recommended. It also avoids that apps create artificial versions for the missing styles.
More weights and widths beyond a 4-style family are usually not required but can improve the versatility of your font use. The light and extra bold styles for example are a popular choice for display use. But keep in mind that there is rarely a good reason to use all of the available styles in a large font family. The differences in weight and width can be subtle and using slightly different styles next to each other doesn’t serve a clear purpose.
Text/Display & Optical Sizes
Styles within a text family can be optimized for text or display use. Text styles are usually more robust with less contrast and without hairlines. Display styles on the other hand might use thin strokes and can be more expressive.
A font family with many styles might have a single style for display use or there might be entire sub families for display and text use.
While not very common, this is even taken further with some families, which offer three or four variations just for the type size. So you can use one style for a tiny caption, another for the body copy, a third for sub-headlines and yet another for the biggest headlines.
Related Terms in our Glossary: