Jon Tan / silo / html / Font naming conventions

A typeface is the design. A font is the variant of that design contained in a file. Font names can seem somewhat inconsistent with many interchangeable terms. This is an attempt to break down and catalogue the descriptive characteristics and terms commonly used for font names.

Five font characteristics and their terms

  1. Typeface (design) name (e.g. “Georgia”, or “Centro Sans Pro”)
  2. Width (may also have further divisions using prepends “extra-” or “ultra-”)
    • Condensed, Narrow, Compressed
    • Expanded, Wide, Extended
  3. Variant (also optical variant)
    • Small-caps
    • Display
  4. Slope
    • Italic (re-designed characters that lean and infer a connection from one to the other)
    • Oblique (the upright version is slanted)
  5. Weight
    • Hairline
    • Thin
    • Ultra-light
    • Extra-light
    • Light
    • Book
    • Regular / Normal / Plain / Roman / Standard (used for the default weight of the typeface)
    • Medium
    • Semi-bold / Demi-bold
    • Bold
    • Extra-bold / Extra
    • Heavy Black
    • Extra-black
    • Ultra-black

Weight can also be expressed as numbers (and be included in the name) as per Adrian Frutiger’s system used for the Univers typeface. CSS uses a range from 100–900 with 900 being the heaviest weight.

Family and super family

A font family is usually the width variant. E.g. "Arial Narrow". It seems common with many foundries to list fonts by:

  1. Typeface name (e.g. Arial)
  2. Super Family group: Sans, Serif, Slab
  3. Family group: Widths (e.g. Arial Narrow) — narrowest first up to the widest — including any variants (e.g. Georgia Small Caps) and the width
  4. Slope (grouped by width or variant)
  5. Weight (grouped by slope)


Based on some initial work for Fontdeck drawn from various sources including font characteristics on Wikipedia. Corrections and additions welcome. Contact me below. Created on Wed 1st Sept, 2010.

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