Can You Tell the Difference Between Arial and Helvetica?

Can You Tell the Difference Between Arial and Helvetica?

Jan 30, 2013 News

Arial and Helvetica are two widely popular typefaces. In fact, you’re even glancing upon that latter of the two as of now. Within the designer community (as you’re probably very aware), there’s a strong and widely accepted view which goes something along the lines of — ‘Helvetica is the far superior option, with Arial being nothing more than a poor clone of the original Swiss sans-serif’. So much so, in fact, that the criticism surrounding Arial manages to make its Wikpedia page.

There are plenty of funny jokes or random insults regarding Arial as a result of designer backlash. One of my favorite is the following one, which always gets a chuckle out of me, of whose origin I am unable to determine, and also of which there are a few slight variations.

“I’m going to get “Helvetica” tattooed on me in Arial and the first [individual] to notice will be who I marry.”

Arial is held in disregard by many professional typographers and type enthusiasts, for reasons relating to its similarity to other typefaces and the involvement of Microsoft in its development and distribution. It is reinforced by Arial’s apparent status as a de facto Helvetica stand-in, but without paying royalties, or credit, to Helvetica. Arial’s glyph widths are nearly identical to those of Helvetica, rather than Monotype Grotesque, on which Arial is otherwise based. “But to an experienced designer,” writes typographer Mark Simonson, using Arial “was like asking for Jimmy Stewart and getting Rich Little.”

The horizontal cut-offs, that perfect spur in the upper-case “G” and the always distinct curvature in the upper-case “R” are just some of the many ways you can use to distinguish Helvetica from other sans-serif fonts.

The image above details just how similar the two faces really are — this image is extracted from MacUser, 8 July 2005, from this PDF. But even though the two sans-serif fonts are comically similar in some aspects, there are differences. The question is: can you spot them?

That’s the question David Friedman, creator of Ironic Sans asked when he created, “So you think you can tell Arial from Helvetica?”

This quiz goes through a list of various brands made in both typefaces and asks you to choose which one is the answer they’re looking for. If you’re looking for some hints before you get started on the quiz, this handy Wikipedia page might help you out. I’d suggest having a go without any additional trickery first, though.

My first try yielded a 19/20 as I mistook MATTEL. The all-caps with no defining characters threw me off, but I’ll take 19/20 for not being a completely dedicated typographer. Give yourself a go and leave your results in the comments below. We won’t make fun of anyone. We promise.

  • mikenayyar

    19/20. The MATTEL threw me off as well. I will readily admit that I cheated a bit – after seeing the comparison from the image in the post, I was able to key in on the “a” glyph and figure out which was Helvetica pretty easily.

  • Alec Schmidt

    The terminals that are cut perfectly horizontally are always a dead giveaway for Helvetica :)

  • Jordan Koschei

    I got 20/20. My nerd cred is through the roof, but I fear I am fated to die alone in an empty house filled with cats.

    • Gannon Burgett

      We still love you, Jordan. However, the only thing that brings us together is Twitter and Basecamp.

  • Ignacio Giri

    Same mistake with MATTEL here.

  • joncan

    somewhat interestingly I too got 19/20 getting Mattel wrong…

  • Charles @

    Also 19/20, got the Mattel one wrong.

    My personal opinion is that Helvetica is too cold, corporate and rigid. I prefer Arial, it’s more relaxed.

  • Anthony Ryan Tripoli

    19/20, I got Mattel, but I got Toyota wrong.

  • Kari Rasmason

    18/20. missed MATTEL AND TOYOTA. Based on the capital R, I thought the capital O would not be so round. Lower case a and t were the dead giveaways. Fun!

  • Franck Bot

    19/20 missed “National” Logo. In some designs i use Arial, maybe many designers wolud tell me i’m wrong, but in some cases i like a little more the dynamic could give the “errors” on arial, helvetica some times could be too BOLD for a quick reading design, but of corse, thats my impression

  • Amanda

    19/20 got TOYOTA wrong. Too be honest Helvetica is a nice font but overused and i don’t mind Arial.

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