I was in a meeting the other day, where I was reliably informed that the font face Arial is in fact identical to Helvetica; they are one and the same. At the time I thought this was not the case but the re-assurance was such that I was open to accept that maybe I was wrong and they were in fact interchangeable.
Upon further investigation on the matter I discovered the following information about these two popular fonts:
Designed in 1957 by Max Miedinger. Helvetica’s design is based on the font Akzidenz Grotesk (1896), and classified as a Grotesque or Transitional san serif face. It was renamed Helvetica (Latin for Swiss) in 1960 after being revised.
Designed in 1982 by Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders for Monotype. Was originally called Sonoran San Serif, and was designed for IBM’s bitmap font laser printers. It was supplied with Windows 3.1 in 1992 and only recently replaced by Calibri as part of the Windows Vista operating system.
Now whilst there is certainly common similarties between many of the two sets of characters there are very clear differences for ‘a’, ‘G’, ‘Q’, ‘R’, and ‘1’.
Of course as with many things in life there is always an element of ‘borrowing’ from whats gone before it would not be fair to say that Arial is a copy of Helvetica. However there are certainly not the same font; as Mies Van Der Rohe remarked: “God is in the details”. It always pays to check.