Wanted: typedesigner’s opinions about Arial

- georg -'s picture

Hello everybody,
I’m a design student from Potsdam (Germany). Currently I am working on a research project about Arial and it would be great to hear some expert opinions about this strange typeface.
I have already read this great article by Mark Simonson. It would be very nice if some of the typedesigners in this forum could help me and write a few words. Thank you!


p.s.: Please excuse my bad english.

William Berkson's picture

One of the good aspects of Microsoft's ambition for world domination is their shop which produces fonts for every script in the world, and the fullest sets of characters. So whatever you think of Arial—and personally I agree with Mark—it has a mind-blowingly complete set of glyphs and compatible forms in other scripts. Perhaps in competition, though, Linotype now has a World version of Helvetica.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

And Arial is hinted extensively. Try comparing Helvetica and Arial in small sizes on a Windows computer (with Cleartype switched off)!

- georg -'s picture

Thank you very much for your answers!

@William: I agree with you, I guess this is one of the main reasons why arial is so popular.

@frank: do you (or anyone else here) have any background information about the hinting of arial? was it hinted that extensively from start? or has it been refined during the years of its existance?

Do you think that arial (as world’s most popular typeface) will soon be replaced by another typeface?

Are there any Typedesigners in this forum who like arial?

I wonder if someone could recommend some websites/books about the topic? (couldn’t find very much)



Frode Bo Helland's picture

No, I don’t. You might want to contact Monotype.

Nick Shinn's picture

It's common, not popular.
"Popular" implies an element of attraction and appreciation, but Arial is merely the default sans serif, having been bundled by Microsoft.

Arial is not a clone of Helvetica, in fact Helvetica is a much closer derivation of Akzidenz Grotesk.

Bendy's picture

It's a funny thing. As Frode says, it works on screen very well. For me that's its only use because in vector form it's just a warped and needless ugly cousin of Helvetica, which is itself overused.

Allan Haley's picture

Actually, Arial is both: common and popular. Even though several of its weights are "system" fonts, it is still one of the best selling families on Fonts.com.

Nick Shinn's picture

I guess so. It does have some cachet with designers who don't have a lot of formal typographic background and like the "neutrality" of the grotesque genre. Also they may prefer it as being "the neutral sans for left-brain PC users", if they identify Helvetica as being the Mac/right brain equivalent

However, isn't it also true that a lot of sales of Arial are for purposes of corporate standardisation, to fill out peripheral sectors of a business' licensing requirements, where Arial is not available bundled, although it has become the corporate face due to being bundled for the business' core requirements? That too would constitute a "get it because we have to" scenario, rather than "get it because we like and prefer it".

Further on the Helvetica Clone/Spot the Difference meme: the same exercise could be carried out with a lot of faces, eg Frutiger and Myriad, with similar effect for the lay person.

IMO Robin Nicholas' design of Arial is informed by the Grotesque genre in general, and what most draws it into direct comparison with Helvetica is the fact that it has the same (or very similar?) metrics; and Akzidenz Grotesk is not so well known.

As has been pointed out at Typophile before, Arial looks a bit ropey at display sizes: any plans for an Arial Next, Allan?

JamesM's picture

> it has become the corporate face due to
> being bundled for the business' core requirements

Yep, many corporations specify Arial for certain situations (like in PowerPoints, for example), or for all situations, because they know every PC is likely to have it.

Also, many corporations list Arial as the backup font. Their brand standards manual will says something like "If [corporate font] is not available, you may substitute Arial".

John Hudson's picture

Frode: And Arial is hinted extensively. Try comparing Helvetica and Arial in small sizes on a Windows computer (with Cleartype switched off)!

Note that ‘Helvetica World’, to which Bill Berkson referred, is not the typical Helvetica, and was also extensively hinted for aliased displays.

- georg -'s picture

@russel: nice link :-)

Jack Curry's picture

@Nick – In regards to Robin's inspiration, it could go like: Arial is to Monotype Grotesque as Helvetica is to Akzidenz Grotesk – they're both ultimately children of older, 19th century san serifs. Macuser had a decent article (PDF) on Arial a while back.

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