Arial vs Helvetica

Arial??? Give me Helvetica or give me death!

The reason Arial was developed was because Bill Gates was too cheap to pay the fee for Helvetica. One of the most powerful and creative gods of technology, Steve Jobs, gladly paid the fee to include it in the system fonts for the very first Macs.


Yeah. Years ago for my old job I had to try to reproduce an article from some journal (IIRC they were unwilling to shell out for copies from the journal publisher). I searched my type guides for quite some time trying to identify the font, because it simply did not occur to me that a professional publication would be using Arial. But it was.

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First, that link comes up 404 for me.

Second, Helvetica was not in the earliest Macs. None of the fonts included in the first Macs were licensed from outside Apple. Geneva was the original “Helvetica” on Macs.

I haven’t been able to find a date or OS version number for when Helvetica was first bundled on Macs, but I would guess it was somewhere around the time the original LaserWriter was released in 1985, as Helvetica was one of the four original font families included with that printer (alongside Courier, Times, and Symbol).


You are correct. Helvetica debuted on Macs in 1984. And Helvetica was also included in the first LaserWriter, and was chosen to be among the very few first PostScript fonts:

It’s part of the reason why 1984 was no longer like 1984:

And Apple became the major catalyst of the desktop publishing industry.

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At the risk of moving further off-topic, there have been three “levels” of the PostScript specification, with each level adding more fonts to the standard definition. Typically, PostScript printers will ROM-embed the standard fonts for the level of PostScript that is licensed for use in that printer. For example, the first Apple LaserWriters included the “Level 1” fonts, while later models included the “Level 2” fonts.


And Adobe recently announced it is putting the kabosh on Type1 fonts. And I have a huge collection of them.

It sounds like this is another incident of Adobe arm twisting many of its users into paying more for their subscription services.

That’s what that screen-clip was rendered with. I assume because it’s what the TidBITS Talk site was requesting for my configured theme. Or what my browser settled on after negotiating with the web server for that particular piece of text.

I actually have my browser configured for Microsoft’s Verdana font, with the serif font set to Georgia. Primarily because I work with small font sizes on my displays and these fonts are optimized for low-resolution displays.

As for Arial vs. Helvetica, at the small sizes I normally use on screen (9-12pt on a non-retina display), they are virtually identical. And I really couldn’t care less about the politics surrounding its creation.

Adobe is on my shortlist of companies I refuse to do business with. That also includes Intuit, Meta, and Microsoft. I minimize my use of Google services too (couldn’t avoid Google Earth, it was a course requirement. And I admit I strongly prefer Google news on a locked-down web browser over Apple, due to the annoying Apple ads.)

And on the original topic: It seems to me the only 2 groups who really benefit from the proliferation of Top Level Domains are spammers and domain registries. (Disclosure: Wife used to work for Verisign.)

That is the story I’ve often heard too, but it appears to be an urban legend.

Arial has quite a different history. Around 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 Arial by Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders for Monotype Typography in 1982. One of the goals of Arial was to compete with Helvetica, but also to be its own design with unique details more suitable to the lower resolution technology of that time, including the IBM laser printer. Its roots lie in Monotype Grotesque, a typeface drawn in 1926.

Given one of its goals as being suitable for low-resolution technology, it makes sense that MS would choose Arial over Helvetica. And to be a bit snarky, Arial does seem to fit better with the Windows aesthetic. Helvetica is a better looking font, which is apparent at larger sizes, at least to my eye.


Same: Verdana and Georgia.

There is an app called FontXchange that converts fonts to different formats. I converted quite a few of my legally owned Type 1 fonts to OTF 8–10 years ago. I know Adobe added characters to the OpenType versions, but I can get along without the extras for my fairly simple needs. Your needs may be different.


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Helvetica is beautifully and extremely resizable, and it emphasizes well. This is why it is so prevalent in logos, signage, including street signage, packaging, labeling. There are US government requirements for medical equipment and drug labeling as well as nutrition packaging and labeling info.

Helvetica scales beautifully in many sizes, from the smallest to the largest. It is probably why it is heavily used by mobile app developers.

These are just some of the reasons why Apple uses Helvetica in so many instances:

“ Typographical Identity of Apple: Helvetica”

As someone who used to do graphic design as their day-job, I’m of the opinion that 90%+ of the non-novelty fonts out in the wild only exist because someone somewhere didn’t like something about one of the other 10% of fonts, be it aesthetics or licencing.

I join you in your love of Helvetic’s (or did I presuppose a stronger emotion than you would engender). But as a former copywriter at McCann-Erickson in the 60s, I could easily say give me Palintino and Barrett and maybe a thousand other wonderful fonts. Even though an Art Director was assigned to me, I felt the need to take responsibility for the look of all my print ads, let alone outdoor bill boards and TV commercials. To keep it in focus, Helvetic’s is a marvelous typeface and Arial has its excellent pages when fitting. Enjoy what makes you enjoy what you do.
Best, REShaman

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