The Mesopotamia cuneiform script is thought to be the first writing created – it is dated to about 3200 BC. Over the years, writing has changed drastically. From typefaces and printing presses to today’s digital fonts. Even though Arial isn’t thousands of years old, it has been around since 1982. The font is a very popular sans serif style font.

If you’ve read anything online, you’ve likely come across Arial font a time or two hundred. You likely  have even used Arial font from time to time, even if you hate yourself for it now because it’s so…well…predictable.


Arial was first created by a team of 10 different designers for Monotype Typography. Leading the team was Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders. The idea behind Arial was that it would metrically match Helvetica to a T. The characters in Arial match the width of the characters in Helvetica exactly.

Arial is typically packaged with Microsoft apps. It is essentially a variation of Monotype’s Grotesque series and was specifically created with the thought that it would be used with the modern computer.

When Microsoft began using TrueType technology with Windows 3.1, Arial began shipping with the software. Today, Windows comes with Arial Unicode MS, which includes some international characters that weren’t initially available with earlier versions of this font.

So, if you’ve heard that Arial is just a copy of Helvetica font, that would be partially correct. Yet the fonts do not match exactly.

What Does the Font Imply

Arial is a more contemporary sans serif font than some of the older ones on the books, but it is a good, solid font that can be used for everything from printed materials to web design. People seem to either love or hate Arial.

Some have called it a “scourge” on fonts and said it is homely. These people basically feel that Arial is a copy of Helvetica, which was developed in the 1950s. However, by the 1980s, desktop publishing was taking shape.

The issue that cropped up was that there were two different types of postscripts and they didn’t work well with one another. This spurred copycat fonts as companies worked to break the code for Type 1 fonts, which had a clearer outputs. Adobe, who had controlled the Type 1 fonts finally released their secrets to the higher quality fonts.

Those who love Arial feel that it is a good solid font that works across many types of situations – formal or informal. There is a reason Helvetica was so popular. It looks good on computer screens. Arial does as well.  It is seen as a contemporary font, having been widely used during the last part of the 20th century.

However, it has been so overused that people have come to realize it is a pretty boring font without a lot of pizazz. Because it is so familiar, it doesn’t help your brand stand out from the crowd in any way.

Mechanics of Arial

Even though Arial is very similar to Helvetica, they aren’t exact, of course. For example, the lower case “a” in Helvetica features a slight tail while Arial does not have a tail. The top of the “t” on Arial is slightly slanted.

The initial description within OpenType of the font is that it has curves that make it softer and fuller and less industrial. The appearance is less mechanical than terminal strokes that are cut horizontal. Arial is cut on the diagonal.

The variants of Arial include:

  • Regular
  • Unicode MS
  • Black
  • Narrow
  • Rounded
  • Special
  • Light
  • Monospaced
  • And many variations within those types as well

In fact, in many letters in Arial, the letters are cut at an angle rather than horizontal. Most of the letters do not have a tail. Even though people often say Arial is a copycat font of Helvetica, it more closely resembles Grotesque in some ways.

Where It’s Commonly Found/Used

Arial is all over the place. You’ve probably read text in Arial several times today and didn’t even realize it. Twitter and Google both use Arial font in most of their text. Huffington Post uses Arial font on the front page of their magazine as well.

You’ll also find Arial used in publications quite often. By switching to Arial instead of Helvetica, businesses avoided licensing fees. This can make a big difference to small businesses or independent artists who might have a small budget to create new products or put out marketing materials.

What Should It Be Used As

Most designers will tell you that Arial has been overused to the point that they are sick of it. Because it was often a default font, it appeared often (Microsoft has changed their default to Calibri in more recent versions.

It is seen as a low-end type font and designers simply don’t use it. To use it would be akin to using Comic Sans in a design. At the same time, clients will sometimes request Arial in their materials because they are familiar with the font and may want to be able to do additional edits on their own in-house.

If a client requests it, designers can certainly point them to better alternatives, but at the end of the day the client’s wishes should be met. Even though it might go against your design sensibilities, you can still create a beautiful end result even with Arial font.


Arial is a font that nearly everyone has heard of, both designer and non-designer. Even though there are many other options out there that designers prefer, don’t completely overlook Arial. It can be a viable alternative when you need a simple font that is easy for absolutely anyone to edit no matter what software they are using and what fonts they own, since it comes packaged with Windows.

After all, a font does add some impact to your design, but a good designer should be able to make any font look professional.


CHAPTER 8: Didot  CHAPTER 10: Tahoma


About the author

Lexie Lu

Hello! My name is Lexie and I have a fervor for design, writing, and coffee. I graduated with a dual major in Creative Writing and Commercial Design, and through those grueling study hours (facilitated by coffee, of course) I always found time to write for myself.

My posts feature design trends throughout all industries and show how the field is always changing. There’s never a dull moment in the design world!

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