Arial versus Helvetica

Here’s a nifty little graphic showing the difference between Arial and Helvetica.

arial versus helvetica

It seems to have been created by Raynor.

(via ignant)

68 Comments leave a comment below

  1. This will definitely help me explain type differences to all the non-designers in my life. Love!

  2. as if they would understand… I find that I am surrounded by typography-illiterate people….
    -“noooo we do not squish the text to fit in the page, nooo”

  3. Give ’em Helvetica, Harry.

  4. I might buy a poster like this.

  5. And helvetica vs akzidenz grotesk ? Will help all ppl in NYC…

  6. Fascinating! A very clear and simple way of showing the differences. Are these the only differences?

  7. If you just don’t like arial, you should try this:

  8. Nice post! thanks to share it.

  9. Reading from left to right, one might interpret Arial as being the original typeface, and Helvetica as the “copycat.” That’s my only gripe.

  10. I once worked at a magazine job designing ads. The only requirement was that I had to use Helvetica Condensed for everything. After that, my appreciation for Helvetica in all forms was incredibly low. I want to stop worrying and love the Helvetica, but I’m one designer who never will.

  11. cool

  12. Sadly, what I could really use is a Helvetica vs. Comic Sans graphic to share with select people on my campus…

  13. @sam I love Helvetica Condensed, but I don’t use it in excess.

    Just saw a resume that was set in Arial. It just looks ugly…so if it doesn’t please your eye its probably Arial.

  14. If you need a guide to “spot” Arial, then it can’t be that bad. Personally, when I see Arial my eyes bleed and it’s like looking at video static, the page seems like it’s falling apart because of the terminals in every which direction.

    I love Helvetica (though I use Nimbus Sans L more often. It’s free!)

    Akzidenz has many of the same problems as Arial. Sprawling terminals.

  15. An excellent cheat sheet of the most obvious differences! I always check the capital R’s as my key to tell them apart. I wrote about that here:

  16. I always check the a’s and the R’s, which are the easiest ways to determine the difference in my opinion.

  17. I always look for a capital G, it’s a dead give away

  18. Now see if your type geek friends know the difference…

  19. Helvetica is a great font!

  20. As nice as Swiss-Miss is, I have no idea why Gruber linked here instead of to Raynor’s site; be that as it may: since it was mentioned, he also did an awesome one for Comic Sans & Courier:

    His posts on typography are among the best I’ve seen online:

  21. Thanks! I always wondered what the differences were between Helvetica and Arial as they are so similar.

    The G and the R are good hints.

    Hey, I learned something today!!!

  22. I think I’ll be printing this off and handing it out to all of my classmates.

  23. man, helvetica posts are always the most commented….

  24. Thank you for this informative post pointing out the subtle differences between Arial and Helvetica. As a result of this, I can now plainly see that Arial is the font being used in this blog.

  25. Helvetica is a typeface; Helvetica Bold is a font. There is a difference between a typeface and a font. Learn it, live it, love it.

  26. … I knew it… it’s all about the R

  27. ahah I’m definitely sharing this with my design friends…

  28. the e is the best way of checking the difference (because it is the most used letter in the english language)

  29. As a designer of furniture, not graphics, etc. I have no expertise here, but was profoundly affected by the documentary. Anyway, after seeing this I looked @ my word processing program and found that NewZurica was a complete knock off of Helvetica, at least by the markers given here.

  30. Great explanation and graphic for all of us Little Lord Fontleroids out here. Now I’ll be able to spot an impostor from 50 paces.

  31. @Karl von L.

    Yeah I noticed that too. Now that’s ironic.

  32. oh, the frustration of, “no, no, not arial,” spoken in a soft, gentle, educative tone.

    “why not?”

    this is so beautiful. thank you.

  33. this should be subtitled, “There’s a Fine Line Between Beauty & Crap – Learn the Difference”

  34. Designers are so predictable.

  35. There’s more to a font than the shape of the glyphs. Arial and Helvetica have different spacing/kerning.

  36. This inspired me to do some automatic comparisons of various fonts:

  37. Does anyone know of reputable research and blind tests that back up the common designer sentiment against Arial?

    The reaction of many designers seems to smell of elitism and subjectivism more than anything to me, but I’ll be happily proven wrong.

    Are designers commonly aware of why Arial exists. I presume many designers must understand the very strong business & licensing reasons for Microsoft to have developed this typeface.

    Do many designers also understand the distinctly different approach to pixel alignment in display faces, which some people prefer while others prefer Apple’s approach (I subjectively prefer Microsoft’s approach).

    It’s easy to pile onto the “I hate Microsoft and everything they touch bandwagon”, but how much unbiased and objective research has been applied to the question of qualitative value to the target audience? Is an old typeface only good if it’s designed by the Swiss?

    Something is stinky here. There are so many subjective factors at play while the language surrounding debate rarely recognizes those factors.

  38. Even Hitler understood the need for good typeface.

  39. @Marcus:

    I think you raise some good points, and of course aesthetics are inherently subjective. But I think it’s also important to consider the intended use of the fonts: while (as I understand it) Microsoft mainly commissioned Arial to avoid the cost of licensing Helvetica, and therefore Arial was intended as a suitable substitute for Helvetica in all media, Arial was still developed primarily as a font for screen display, not for print.

    This argument is probably stronger with Verdana than with Arial, but I think it holds for both: a lot of emphasis was given to how these fonts rendered in aliased, bitmap form at small sizes on a computer screen, perhaps moreso than how they look in high resolution and at large sizes in print. Case in point: Verdana looks good in 11-pixel height on a computer screen, but terrible in 24-point headlines in the IKEA print catalog. (All subjective, of course.)

    I’m fairly indifferent to the variance between Helvetica and Arial at small sizes on-screen. When anti-aliased, Helvetica does still look a little cleaner and more polished to me than Arial, but in general I think both look fine on screen. But printed, at large sizes, the slightly “clumsy” characteristics of Arial become more apparent, especially when they’re side-by-side, as in these two signs in the parking garage at Mall of America:×500.jpg

  40. Nicely done infographics. Though, they don’t explain to arial-lovers exactly why helvetica is superior, only that its different.

  41. I don’t think it’s about hating microsoft–I certainly don’t. I do have a problem with such a wealthy corporation commissioning a font that is a total rip-off of an existing font to avoid the cost of licensing the original.

  42. Mistake in my history: Microsoft didn’t commission Arial. Good explanation here with accompanying designer appropriate vitriol spewed its way


  43. Interesting that this blog uses Arial before Helvetica in its font family list (arial,helvetica,clean,sans-serif).

  44. Geez, I hate to admit it, but I’m a designer who has always liked Arial better. //ducks// I can’t explain why. I understand the technical differences that make Helvetica superior but when I see them side by side, I always find Arial more aesthetically pleasing for some reason. Go figure!

  45. hoefler text

  46. Now if only someone would make an informative graphic about why the hell anyone cares so much

  47. @nick

    You’re definitely in the minority, but I don’t think it’s an unreasoned minority. Arial is less symmetrical and more disbalanced than Helvetica–as such many find it displeasing because a string of Arial letters look malformed (to my eyes at least.)

    But Arial does bring along a bit more personality than Helvetica, precisely because of the symmetry and balance issues it has. (I personally like the look of the Arial “r” because I think it’s cute in the way it’s cut in comparison to the Helvetica “r.” (Capital Helvetica “R” is much better than Arial’s “R”))

  48. I always used Arial, but now I might switch to Helvetica. It seems a lot neater and sort of smoother.

  49. This is a great tool. Any chance of doing one with Bauer Bodoni and Futura Extra Condensed Semi Bold because I always have trouble telling these two fonts apart and having this kind of device would save me alot of time and confusion.

  50. nice graphic! I would like to see a similar one showing the difference between the old Helvetica and Helvetica Neue (New).

  51. I am not a font geek or designer, and had never considered the difference between the two typefaces, but subjectively I prefer the irregular look of Arial.

    Thanks for the info and, especially, the civil and enlightening commentary.

  52. Seriously, only one comment about a Grotesque family. I’ll say it louder for all the folks in the back:


    It’s a cheap copy of some Grotesque or other. I hear Monotype, but I don’t know for sure. Here’s an example I made up with one of the original Grotesque faces, Akidenz:

  53. I just posted a really informative and educational podcast that mentions Arial vs. Helvetica. How timely!

  54. really cool, thank u

  55. it could be a nice font…

  56. It is great when some one points it to you. The differences are minute but when you look at the bigger picture it is quite significant. That’s why I love Typography.

  57. @Karl von L Zoom in and see if your observation holds up. This blog is most certainly not in Arial.

  58. @Josh: It probably is in Arial for Karl von L if he’s on Windows.

  59. @Steven Hoober: Arial’s not a cheap copy of Helvetica, but it is a cheap substitute for it.

  60. Such a small difference can make a great type face, Thank you for sharing, Jen

  61. @Steven Hoober, you are right. Mark Simonson’s article cited earlier explains it best, but in a nutshell, Monotype took its Grotesque 215 design and adapted it to Helvetica metrics. The brief from Microsoft was to match the metrics of Helvetica which, you might recall, was a standard typeface family on the Apple Laserwriter. That way, users of Windows 3.11 could have a family that they could work with on their systems and output to the Laserwriter. (Times New Roman, already owned by Microsoft, was slightly retooled to match the metrics of Linotype Times; Corsiva to match ITC Zapf Chancery Medium Italic; Book Antiqua to match Palatino, etc.)

    The designers’ objection, to my mind, is not the knock-off aspect, but that 215 (and 125 and 216) were never meant to work with these metrics. It’s the same objection you see to false condensing type: here, each character was stretched beyond the original’s form just so numerical targets could be reached.

    To my knowledge, no formal study has been done on reader preferences toward Helvetica v. Arial.

  62. Correction, ‘Times New Roman, already owned by Monotype’. What a silly mistake for me to make.

  63. Marcus, Arial, Univers (and now Aktiv) are all valid developements upon Akzidenz but Helvetica (through it’s modern touch of horizontal terminals) does something with the figure/ground-relationship that these more chaotic cuts don’t even touch (partly in order to make letters more separate, ostensibly making them more legible but to my eyes only make them sprawling).

    (I know there’s method to Arials madness—the terminals are slanted according to various pivot points on the letters—but that’s true for a Markov chain as well and they can still give results that seem plenty noisy.)

    Jack, the grief I have with Arial I have with 215, too.

  64. I have a problem with such a rich society to book a font that is a total rip-off by an existing policy to avoid the license fee to the original.

  65. Now I finally understand why a free online version of a web designing tool I used back in 1999 only provided Helvetica, Times and I can’t remember what other fonts. I didn’t like using Times and so chose Helvetica because it looked closest to Arial. I still remember wondering why Arial was not included, despite being such a common font at that time. Now I know the reason – Helvetica came first, not Arial.

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  67. Thanks for the post. I was wondering the differences between Arial and Helvetica Neue fonts. Now I truly get it.