I've heard there are a number of slight differences between these two similar fonts, is one better than the other for different contexts?

up vote 28 down vote accepted

As far as the difference goes, you are right. There are some character which are slightly different however the difference goes way beyond just the comparison of the character.

Here is some explanation on ilovetypography

Here is a site which shows you how to spot the difference on awayback Helvetica vs. Arial, and includes amongst other things this helpful chart (which they credit to Ragbag):

Arial & Helvetica

Yes, one is better than the other, for all contexts. The answer is Helvetica.*

I find the differences in uppercase CGQR and lowercase a and t the easiest to spot. And the Arial numeral 1 is gawdawful.

*Before people jump down my throat, be aware my tongue is in cheek. You may make a slim case that Arial is better for web design because it is more ubiquitous and has wider support. Otherwise, get outta here.

  • 1
    if you make a good reasoned case for why Helvetica is better i would accept your answer – JamesHenare Jan 21 '11 at 22:51
  • 1
    +1 for the link to Mark Simonson's background article. – e100 Jan 23 '11 at 10:56

There are certainly more variants of Helvetica. Although the base fonts are very similar indeed, the flexibility of all the Helvetica variants certainly make it a better prospect for design work, especially off-web.

  • oh, I like this. That sounds like a really valid objective argument for 'better', in that its more flexible – JamesHenare Feb 6 '11 at 4:17

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