Arial vs. Helvetica, can you spot the difference?

It’s long been thought that Arial is to Helvetica what the ugly step sister is to Cinderella. Helvetica was designed in Germany in the 1950s to compete with Akzidenz Grotesk; Arial was designed in America in the early 1980s, believed by many to be a move by Microsoft to supply a Helvetica-like font as part of its TrueType specification without acknowledging or paying royalties to Helvetica.

Be that as it may, to the untrained eye, the differences between the two fonts are negligible — largely due to the near identical widths. But to the savvy eye of the designer, there are dozens of subtle differences that leap off the page. For example, the ascender of Helvetica’s lowercase “t” is cut off straight, while Arial’s is cut at an angle; similarly, the terminals of the lowercase “s” and “c” in Helvetica run parallel to the baseline, whilst Arial’s run at near right-angles to the stroke.

The simplest way to tell the difference is to look at the characters as a whole and picture them as suits from their respective periods: Helvetica is sharper, with formal details; Arial is looser and less controlled.

But what would happen if everyday logos that were originally crafted in Helvetica were redone in Arial? Would the differences be easily recognizable or difficult to spot? To answer this question, David Friedman of Ironic Sans has devised a quiz featuring 20 popular Helvetica-based logos pictured side-by-side with an Arial version. Some differences are readily apparent, but others look shockingly similar.

Take the short quiz and see how well you do — be sure to share your results!

How well did you go on the quiz? What differences are most evident when comparing Helvetica and Arial? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

  • Sabrina Serrano

    19 out of 20 :) Mattel always messes with me.

    • simon ramsay


  • shivabeach

    I think it certainly takes more then a glance for the uninitiated to tell the difference.

  • Fatshape

    Helvetica seems to me much more firm, correct and accurate.

  • invisiblecities

    18/20, hm, I did better than I thought I would. The easiest way to tell is by looking at the a and c in lowercase, they’re a little more closed than arial. In uppercase, the O is rounded and overall the letters are less chunky in Helvetica (chunky yes, very technical term)

  • raVen MacKay

    Hmm, I thought helvetica was designed in Switzerland. I mean the name says all; Helvetia = Switzerland. That’s what I learned in art school. It was also an examination question. But very interesting article.

  • Jay Wilburn

    15 for 20 – not too bad.

  • Sandro Tavares

    17 out of 20. Mattel, Stapples and Toyota… =/

  • Katherine Tattersfield

    11/20 *hangs head in shame*

  • Mario Lima

    I got 18 of 20 – not too bad! :)

  • Lea

    9 of 20… Seems I like Arial more :D

  • Lvly Bawa

    Even before I knew anything about fonts, I disliked Arial and I liked Helvetica. I’ve never taken the time to compare them in as much detail as you have here, and I just always assumed that they were more substantially different than they really are. I guess a little difference can go a long way.


  • Bastian

    Designed in Germany? Ouch!

  • Kenny

    18 out of 20 … damn

  • Gaurav Mishra

    answered 8 out of 20 questions correctly

  • Swiss Miss

    Helvetica designed not in Germany but in Switzerland, in 1957, by Max Miedinger, Swiss type designer. Font name gives it away: Helvetia is traditional name for Switzerland, hence Helvetica, i.e., of Switzerland… Good to fix your entry to reflect this, credit where due.

  • asif n

    All right except bloody toyota