Arial vs. Helvetica
by Ilene Strizver
We’ve all heard of the Arial® and Helvetica® typefaces, and have most likely used them both. Graphic designers either love or hate the designs. What’s the story behind these two polarizing typeface designs? Here’s the scoop!
The Helvetica Story
Helvetica was originally designed in 1957 by Swiss typeface designer Max Miedinger for the Haas Type Foundry in Switzerland. His objective was to create a neutral, legible sans serif typeface that could compete with the Akzidenz Grotesk® typeface – and could be used in a broad variety of applications. Its original name, Neue Haas Grotesk, reflects this heritage. When Haas became part of the Linotype group of companies, the name was changed to Helvetica (an adaptation of "Helvetia", the Latin name for Switzerland). Linotype added more weights and began heavily promoting the family. Helvetica has since gone on to become one of the most well-known and widely used typefaces in the world.
In the mid 1980s, Helvetica virtually became a household name when it, along with Times Roman® and Courier, were made core fonts in Apple® Computer’s operating system and laser printers – ushering in desktop publishing.
At about the same time that Adobe was developing PostScript, Monotype won the contract to provide fonts for IBM’s first big laser-xerographic printers. This led to the design of the Arial typeface in 1982, by Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders for Monotype Typography. Several years later, Arial was also licensed to Microsoft and was subsequently supplied with all versions of the Windows® operating system.
While it is true that Arial was intended to be a competitor to Helvetica – as Helvetica was to Akzidenz Grotesk – the intention was not to copy it. In fact, Arial is based on the Monotype Grotesque® typeface, a design first drawn at the turn of the last century. Arial is a more rounded design than Helvetica, with softer, fuller curves, and more open counters. The ends of the strokes on letters such as ‘c,’ ‘e,’ ‘g,’ and ‘s,’ rather than being cut off on the horizontal as in Helvetica, are terminated at the more natural angle in relation to the stoke direction.
Helvetica and Arial are still two of the most popular typeface designs around. Truth be known, Arial is many times more popular of the two due to its widespread availability on computers. (After all, there are over a billion Windows computers!) But Helvetica still rules among graphic designers for print work, with its multiple weights and versions, as well as the rerelease of Linotype’s reworked, and very popular version, the Neue Helvetica® typeface.
- Editor’s Note: Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 3rd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.