Today the term "font" is loosely used to describe any
named collection of letterforms. Because of the convenience of desktop
publishing, "fonts" to most people are simply choices on pull-down
menus in a word processing or page layout application. Type purists,
however, recognize that a "font" has three distinct characteristics.
It begins with the designation of a family:
Times, Helevetica, Futura, etc. Next, a style--for example,
bold, italic, or compressed--is applied to the characters of the chosen
family. Finally the point size is specified. A font thus
consists of the complete set of characters of a selected family in a
specific style and size. For example, 48 pt. Futura Bold is a font; so
is 36 pt. Futura Italic; 18 Futura Compressed; and so on.
In the days of hot-metal typesetting,
the printer's "job case" contained a separate compartment for each font
that the shop was able to set. This meant that printers had to store
thousands of individually cast letters for time-consuming manual
composition. The automated Linotype machine (1886) made it possible to
set entire lines of type on demand from matrices (molds) within the
machine. Today computers fashion characters from mathematical
algorithms as Linotypes once cast them from molten metal.