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So you think you can tell Arial from Helvetica? (ironicsans.com)
91 points by airstrike on Aug 31, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 88 comments


"It was created to be metrically identical to the popular typeface Helvetica, with all character widths identical, so that a document designed in Helvetica could be displayed and printed correctly without having to pay for a Helvetica license."


I wonder why they had to make it gratuitously different on top of it. What the hell were they smoking when they made the t and G?

They were smoking possible lawsuits from Haas Type Foundry or whomever was the legit owner Helvetica at the time.

Glyphs aren't copyrightable. Only the programs that draw them - but MSFT can write their own fonts.

Monotype is the owner right now.

it shared many exact characteristics of helvetica. if it didn’t have any hairy arms, then it would be helvetica.

the stupid slanted end bits on letters like c s and r are also really crap.

So, I think there’s something you should know. When I made this quiz I made a mistake. I keep meaning to go back and change the quiz to fix it but it’s been so long that it’s a low priority for me. So I’ll just tell you what it is: Turns out the “digital” logo is apparently not actually Helvetica. It’s not any font. It’s a logo that happens to look a lot like Helvetica, which was designed the same year, and has often been recreated in Helvetica. But there’s a very nerdy story about it’s creation and maintenance that is probably perfect HN material that more of you would appreciate if only I’d noticed this post sooner. But for those of you who are still here, the “digital” logo story can be found at: https://nedbatchelder.com/blog/200712/ancient_history_the_di...

19/20, fooled by Mattel (and guessed lucky on the other all caps texts). My heuristic was to look at the a, c, e, g, and s, if present in lowercase: are the ends of those characters horizontal (Helvetica) or at an angle (Arial).

I scored the same, for the same reason. What I find interesting is that the Helvetica logos are a lot nicer in my opinion even though the difference is subtle. Having things parallel to the baseline improves the look dramatically over the angled bits in Arial.

Same score. I also applied the same heuristic. I wonder what I should have looked for in the MATTEL one.

It's very subtle and more pronounced in the other logos shown, but the horizontal line in the "A" is closer to the baseline in Helvetica than in Arial.

This probably is more to do with recreating the logo imperfectly than the font itself but the kernning was way off on the Arial version.

Exactly what I used for reference to decide as well (got 20/20).

18/20, they're fairly easy to tell apart, except for MATTEL and TOYOTA which are quite subtle (and I got wrong precisely because I couldn't remember which is which). Both the capital and lowercase R are a dead giveaway.

MATTEL and TOYOTA are the most difficult ones IMO. I got Toyota right because the non-circular O's in the Arial variant just look wrong to me.

The Y is also slightly different too.

TOYOTA was completely impossible to me. I had AGFA wrong because I'd forgotten which had which G. I got lucky on MATTEL. The others are easy once you know that Helvetica loves its horizontal lines.

Those are the two I got wrong as well. I had problems with capital R myself though.

Same. I wasn't sure what to look for with those particular capital letters.

Those are the two that stumped me, too

The tell for Mattel is the Arial 'E' has a shorter middle bar, whereas Helvetica has all equal length bars.

1/20 I guess I was able to tell them apart too?

Ha, in all but one (Mattel?) you pointed to Arial as being Helvetica. Just invert your heuristic! :-)


A = Angled = Arial

H = Horizontal = Helvetica

Some of the capitals (C, S) have that, too.

Similarly, lowercase r ends vertically in Helvetica, slanted in Arial.

I also got all except Mattel, despite not really using either typeface all that much. Lowercase 't' was also a dead giveaway in a lot of cases. I also noticed that the Helvetica answers seemed to have a slightly heavier weight, which really helped for the all-caps examples.

Ultimately, the Helvetica versions "felt right", and that probably contributed to my lucky guesses. A more challenging test would be to compare samples not associated with well-known brands.

19/20, yeah, the tricky ones are the capitals.

Even HN falls to it's knees in the presence of an internet quiz and the opportunity to show off a score.

Unrelated, you used to see ridiculous amounts of quiz's being shared on Facebook only a few years ago and they seem to have all but disappeared. They where obviously shady in some aspect (maybe some kind of data collection), did something actually happen to them or did people just get bored?

I had a feeling that was going to be the case ;-) Mission accomplished!

Got 3/20. I didn't know the characteristics of Arial or Helvetica beforehand. The results show that I can easily tell the two fonts apart, although I don't know which is which.

Me neither. But there’s still things you could do without looking at specific letters. i was guessing by which looked more stylish or like what an original would look like. Along with obviously looking at if I was right or wrong before.

Did you not at least look at what you got right or wrong for the answer before to improve? Getting 3/20 seems a bit too low.

3 wrong? If so, same here. I also didn't know the characteristics so at the first logo I noted the differences and tried to remember what I noticed about Arial in the past, guessed correctly, and was able to find common letters in most subsequent ones (and learn new letters). I kept messing up the capital A, otherwise I would have gotten only one mistake.

No, not 3 wrong, but only 3 right. I was effectively doing a blinded test. Since I didn't know what are the real differences between the two fonts, all I could do --- as another user has commented --- was to make consistent choices throughout the whole test. Actually I think a blinded test is slightly more meaningful, because the test hypothesis looks simpler.

Most normal users see much more Arial text than Helvetica so it looks more normal to them.

Pretty much the same as me, I just tried to be consistent without knowing what each font looks like. It goes to show they are easy to tell apart.

Did you not use the results you got along the way to learn which is which?

I didn't notice them (on my phone) until the last few, not excepting that tiny text to be anything important.

I also had no idea of the difference, but got most right by choosing the one that looked "wrong" to me, that one was usually helvetica. Someone above suggested the prevalence of arial makes it look more normal.

Same, then I learned and retried and got 100%... Was eye-opening.

17/20. I've spent some time studying the differences and could just rocket through them without bothering to even look at the 'c's and 't's. The one that gave me the most pause was digital, and that was one of the ones I got wrong. When you separate the letters, Helvetica loses a lot. The other two I got wrong were also done without letter-by-letter examination.

Helvetica just looks more 'solid' sitting there on the page. Not only is the font a bit heavier, but the kerning is also tighter. Arial's curves and lines look like a 15 year old who thinks anime art is cool drew them.

Arial is an awful font that I wish never had been born.

I know nothing about fonts. Got 18/20 just picking whichever felt older looking.

16/20 by trying to guess which one was more German/mathematical looking.

> digital

The lowercase a is a dead giveaway.

I didn't go reading up on the specific differences between the fonts before taking the test. I did look at the 't', but I didn't remember which was which. I had been relying on the impression the two fonts made on my mind.

And the "t".


They're fairly easy to differentiate. The curved ends (finials) of e, c, C, r, S, s are generally horizontal in Helvetica and at an angle in Arial.

The tail of the uppercase R and ascender of the lowercase t are the biggest giveaways.

Funny how they are so similar, but Arial is pretty tacky in comparison...


When looking at uppercase I could see such a difference in kerning, Arial just can't get it right.

The only ones where it was difficult to tell the difference were MATTEL and TOYOTA.

Yeah, Mattel was tough.

19/20. Damn you to hell, Mattel!

Toyota :'(

Just look for the neatest font, with the straightest endings on curved ends e.g. r c g etc

Arial has angled caps, Helvetica are straighter.

Yup, that's the hard one!


Just to even out the comments of all these people bragging, I got 11/20, so no better than chance. :)

(EDIT: Okay, yes, technically 11/20 is slightly better than chance - but really, no.

Cumulative probability P(X >= x) = 0.41 )

I did hopelessly, then I found out about the differences (which I did not even ever know or notice), I got 100% on a second try. Consider me enlightened about the differences now.

11/20 as well here

> You answered 2 out of 20 questions correctly.

At least I'm consistent, but I guess I got them the other way around.

Helvetica has a few very easy tells; look at the 'e' and 'c', the 'F' and 'E' and the 'A' and 'Y' in these examples, and you'll get 20/20. Oh, and the 'G' and 'R' ofcourse.

Also the lower case 't' is diagonally cut in Arial, straight in Helvetica

The 's' too - the ends stop in horizontal lines, in Arial they're diagonal.

I had to guess for two logos: MATTEL and TOYOTA. The rest was fairly obvious.

The helvetica A is narrower and the Y has a shorter stem. I saw those differences but also guessed wrong.


c's and t's are a giveaway, Mattel and Toyota logo are easy to tell if you pay attention to the font weight.

Bravo to the author, the logos were recreated faithfully

17/20 (without looking anything up). You can usually tell by the "straightness" of Helvetica characters, and the more complex G.

It’s easy to tell if you know what to look for. If there’s an R, r, or t, it’s super obvious. G, S, s, 3, Y, A and a are also pretty noticeable too. If you didn’t score well on this test, go back and look again given what I just told you above and you’ll see what I mean.

Oh it's always in the lowercase a. Arial is missing that trademark grotesque tail.

And perpendicular cuts on all C/c/S/s/e/G/g

The uppercase R is the most obvious one to me, which interestingly is the only one I prefer Arial over Helvetica. I sometimes like to screw with font nerds I know and make the R be Arial and the others Helvetica and see if they notice (they of course notice the R, but don’t always immediately realize the joke).

Haha— that's clever, but cruel.

The bolder one is Helvetica. Got 15/20 after figuring this out from the first question.

Would be good if they didn't tell you the answer after each question...

['t', 'R', 'a', 's', 'S', 'c', 'C', 'g', 'G'] are the easiest to spot IMHO. You can get most of these with the lowercase c alone

By telling the answer after each one they educated me on the difference between Arial and Helvetica. After a coin-flip guess on the first question I got 19/20 right. Now I know the difference.

Yeah, I found comparing the size of the holes in letters like 'a' between the two be the easiest way. Smaller hole is bolder usually from what I saw.

> Would be good if they didn't tell you the answer after each question...

Indeed, although TBH I only noticed at the second to last one!

I got one wrong—Mattel—but, frustratingly, even after being told this, I still can't really confidently tell the difference with that one...

I guess 5 capital letters wouldn't've been enough for the owners of Helvetica to have made a case

That one is quantifiably the most difficult to decern, but the irregular kerning gives it away. Helvetica has slightly better spacing between letters.

Got 15/20, although I don't know much about fonts (I just tried to pick the one that looked better or more professional).

To the quiz creator: There's an (R) trademark missing in the imitation "Staples" logo which is a giveaway.

15/20 also and knew nothing about them. Figured out what I missed on the first one and corrected from there.

Well, that was easy. Helvetica just looks more less fancy and more modern (if you want to be sure, just look at the a, e, s etc.).

What I think is interesting is that Helvetica just looks better to me, despite them bein very similiar.

18/20. I got thrown off by the kerning in CVS/pharmacy. On Crate&Barrel, I was thrown off by the C. Why does it look different from all the other C's in the Helvetica versions of the logos?

This quiz really drives home how thoroughly Helvetica has permeated corporate typography. It's like Brooks Brothers or ThinkPads -- you couldn't have a serious business without it.

I got 19/20, I failed on Toyota. :(

17/20 Target Toyota and National are hard ones (IMHO)

18/20 the quiz just crystallized my distaste Arial.

19/20, missed national


Only missed Mattel and Staples.

It's bananas to me how similar these fonts are, and how passionately people feel about them:

> the stupid slanted end bits on letters like c s and r are also really crap.

> Arial is an awful font that I wish never had been born.

> What the hell were they smoking when they made the t and G?

Like, I wish Hitler had never been born. Arial can stick around, haha.

People are obviously exaggerating. I don’t care much about fonts. But I still wrote to a friend that Arial is ugly and sucks when linking to this. That doesn’t mean I really care all that much. Just a feeling in the moment.

Yeah of course they are. I guess my point is that it isn't helpful. Like, with a just a modicum of self discipline we could go from "the slanted lines are really crap" to "slanted lines in a font are bad because ...", or from "I wish Arial had never been born" to "the introduction of Arial into the mainstream was disastrous for design because ...". At some point, the internet is a cesspool because of us.

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