Type Battle 36 // Fix Arial

Justin Styler's picture


Arial was created as a substitute for Helvetica, but most graphic designers consider it a poor substitute, and avoid using it if they can. 

The challenge is to redesign Arial, perhaps with small changes, perhaps with major changes, but to make it into an alternative to Helvetica that a designer could love, maybe even prefer. Making it look like Helvetica is not allowed. Making it more easily distinguished from Helvetica is a plus. Just as Arial's metrics are identical (or nearly so) and its weight and proportions similar, so should the "fixed" version.

Winner take all, no holds barred. May the best designer win.


- Image size: 550 width x 400 height. 72 dpi*
- Color: Black and White
- Format: JPG or PNG (make sure there are no spaces in the name)

*Please try to keep your file sizes to a minimum! 50k per file max.


This is your chance to stretch your type muscles on a weekly basis. You have one week to create and submit your entry. Anyone may submit a design response to the challenge. You may enter as often as you wish. Post anytime. Critiques and comments are welcome throughout the game, from participants and spectators alike. Smack talk is encouraged.

As with any street battle, there is no panel of judges and no prize — only the ability to call yourself the best on the block.

Link directly to this battle: http://www.typophile.com/battle36
Link to the battle directory: http://www.typophile.com/typebattles

*Thanks to Mark Simonson for this week's battle idea!

Bendy's picture

What a great idea! Looking forward to seeing the solutions! :)

Roger S. Nelsson's picture

Cool idea! Time-consuming, but very cool... :)

nina's picture

Yeah! This is what I call a great type battle challenge. :-D

casperobro's picture

Good one! :)

Nick Job's picture

What's wrong with Arial?

dezcom's picture

I guess I will be the 1st to take a shot at it.


Bendy's picture

Ha!! That really makes me chuckle :)

Cristobal Henestrosa's picture

Very good idea for a battle!

The easiest way for fixing Arial:
Select All > Delete. ;-)

russellm's picture

Basically, what's wrong with Arial is it's too up tight. It needs to un-wind.

It needs a freaking vacation!

It is not that it is good or bad. Just an overworked typeface trying to fit in where it wasn't really wanted and being wanted where it doesn't really fit in. It feels guilty for being forced to do Helvetica's job, even thought Helvetica has been overworked for years and years. Designers, the only people on the planet who could pick Arial out in a police line-up, despise Arial for being a cheap impostor, even if they also despise Helvetica. The fact is, because of its interloper status, it never really gets judged for its merit. It's always, "Oh, that Helvetica wannabe, Arial…" Not that most people judge it all. It's just a steady work horse to most, who gets called time and time again to fill in for somebody else because he'll work for less, or he's just there: "Here's a pile-o-crap, would you clean it up for me." Arial says, "B,b,b, But …" but accepts the shovel, sighs and gets to work. "here's a load of cod's wollop. would you dress it up and make it smell nice." Arial says, "B,b,b, but,…"

So, my solution was to help Arial relax. Get it out of that suit. Send it to the spa for some pampering and a nice massage. The whole nine yards. In the Caribbean. On the beach.

If you want to relax a typeface, what do you do? Why, of course, you convert lines to curves, make them smooth & you remove nodes. Lots and lots of them.

Arialicious: Arial is so relaxed, he's downright counter-culture. Hand that kid a dooby.

Comarial Sans: The tie is loosened, the top button opened, but he's ready to work. Maybe something not too demanding down in shipping.

Helvarial: Think mullet. Hockey-hair… Business in the front, party in the back back.

tearsforsappho's picture

I just laughed so hard, I almost peed myself. Now the other designers here are wondering what the hell is so darn hilarious.

Helvarial: Think mullet

dezcom's picture

Don't tell them, Katelynn, they will think you are some kind of a type nerd :-)


tearsforsappho's picture

Well, the Periodic Table of Typefaces hanging on my wall might be a clue...

Peter Chlebak's picture

I agree ... Arial's really wound up tight.
Was it not also designed to be a more on-screen counterpart of Helvetica? Back in the days of lower res monitors, it made a difference in smaller sizes, like in body text. You only had like 7 pixels and no anti-aliasing to define your caps, and Helvetica's humanistic roundness didn't resolve as nicely as Arial's straighter lines.

Now that screen resolutions have all but obliterated Arial's advantage, let's take the typeface back to its roots to inject some character back into it. Maybe take some influence from Grotesk and Gothic faces. And fix some real annoyances while we're at it. Like that God-awful cap R leg. And the fugly lowercase a and r. Here's a quick go at it.

Jon Evenchen's picture

Jon E.

Bendy's picture

Ok, here's my go. It turned into some kind of Univers/Franklin hybrid...

The problem is I ended up changing things that needn't have been changed.

Did I find new respect for Arial? Not really.

Rasendyll's picture

How about 'Arialplate'?

vegfarandi's picture

Hello all, I am new here.

Here's the original thing:

Here's my attempt at, if nothing else, making it a bit more interesting:

I straightened out the slanted terminals (on e, t, f, s, c, g, y and more), changed the hight of the stem of the g, changed the a from two storey to one storey and added some ligatures. Oh, and I changed the insidious and infamous R.

Sindre's picture

Your Lubalinesque take is really nice, Vegfarandi, although I think it looks more like some kind of Schoolbook Helvetica now.

Here's mine, it's completely redrawn, though too little time is spent on it, most of the curves aren't that good. The metrics are identical to Arial's, but the shapes are definitely not.

AwesomeRobot's picture

I just did a few minor edits to Arial in Arial.

a, it's the 21st century - go on a diet.

Animated GIF

AGL's picture

I think that if you play with it you may end up with another Helvetica. Is that possible?

vegfarandi's picture

Satyagraha, yours is very nice too. Maybe the lack of slanted terminas in mine makes it look too much like Helvetica?

gillo's picture

So, in contemplating this challenge I had to do a bit of looking (please forgive my amateurish naivety) and I'm wondering if Corbel, to some extent, was meant to achieve this? One thing that bothers me about both Arial and Helvetica is that the caps don't seem to mix well with the lower case letters. Some of the corbel caps mix better, I think, and I think it looks nicer than Arial without looking more like Helvetica. (I realize that the point of the battle is for me to come up with my own alternative, but if I were to spend the time I think I'd scrap Arial and Helvetica and start elsewhere.)

Nachos's picture

The next time I design signage I'm going to recommend purple neon tubing set in Arial. That's hot.

1985's picture

Sorry to troll this thread and I only say it lightheartedly but I hope no-one has been editing outlines. Isn't that strictly prohibited?

Byronb81's picture

Its really the capitol R, lowercase s, and k that bother me, so that's what I altered. I knd of liked the lazy little s :)

Nachos's picture


Why would editing outlines be prohibited? I don't have Fontographer so how would you propose fixing Arial or creating swashes otherwise? This is a serious question but I feel like an ignoramus asking it.

1985's picture

Not at all Nachos! Some end user license agreements prohibit the editing of outlines. I don't mean to be a pedant but I'm curious to know how the Typophile copyright heavyweights might answer my question!

Moderator: Should I start a new thread? I don't want to cause an armistice mid battle!

russellm's picture

WELL. There are rules about Jay-walking too, but to save a kitten's LIFE, wouldn't you cross the street whenever and where ever you had to in a New York minute? And to save Arial from it's self, wouldn't any self respecting designer do whatever was necessary?



Mark Simonson's picture

The Microsoft license states that you may not "reverse engineer" the font, but I don't think that means you can't "convert text to outlines" in a graphics program, or a great many people would be in big trouble. What you end up with when you "convert to outlines" is a bunch of shapes that look like Arial, not a "reverse engineered" font. If graphics programs had a "convert outlines back into text" command, then there might be reason for concern.

If anyone is still worried about the issue, you can always work on paper or in a paint program, such as Photoshop.

1985's picture

I assumed some people would edit in FontLab, because playing with outlines in Illustrator is a nightmare (no constrain on tangents etc). Arial most regularly exists as TrueType and converting to outlines creates lots of extra points.

I'm confused by the different views I hear on Typophile, for me I think that element of an EULA is prohibitive and IMHO a bit unnecessary, type battles would suggest that other people are comfortable to let it pass (me included, Russ the kitten is safe).


Bendy's picture

It crossed my mind too, but I think it's ok because we're not exporting the edited outlines as a font, and not using it, distributing it or even keeping it for posterity. I could be wrong.

Mark Simonson's picture

FWIW, the extra points show up in FontLab, too, as TrueType curves, which are much trickier to edit than Béziers. But, come on, this wouldn't be a challenge if it were easy, would it?

Jan's picture

what you’ve altered is Myriad, not Arial, or am I missing something?

Byronb81's picture

Oooh first post on typophile and I blow it lol. Yeah, it was Myriad... Did it in the computer lab at my school quickly and it must have been a bit too late for proper brain functioning, my apologies >.<

Nachos's picture

Right on. Thank you for the input and explanation all! So here is what I came up with.

Randy's picture

Yo Mark, since this is your idea, where's your solution?

My hope is that Arial will, in fact, gain a bit of respect as a result of this battle. It is easy for me to hate on typefaces because they are popular, or because they have flaws, or even because their origins are perceived as being dubious. Comic Sans sucks. Ok, draw a better comic sans. Not so easy. I'm not commenting on the quality of any executions in this thread, only observing that as I worked on my entry below, I decided Arial deserves more credit that I give it. Next battle: improve Papyrus (good luck).

What I did: I contemporized Arial while fixing a few of the flaws (bad curves on the a, width of the a, anemic r, high-waisted R). The result is a blunt terminal Cholla meets Info meets Helvetica typeface that is still pretty bland:

Edit: here is the real mccoy for comparison

Woah, when I edited to add that second image I dropped down three comments.

Alvin Martinez's picture

I could tolerate Arial. In fact I could actually work with it gleefully, and use it in large point sizes…if it wasn't for the leg on the uppercase R and the sheared top of the lowercase t. Those are deal breakers in my opinion. But then again, I am fussy that way.

Alvin Martinez's picture

Randy, you entry is spot on. My favorite so far. All it needed was a little spit and polish and clarity. Where can I purchase it already?!! : )

Alvin Martinez's picture

"Next battle: improve Papyrus (good luck)." -- Randy

I will go one further on the difficulty scale. Improve Courier.

Christian Robertson's picture

My 15 minute take:

Randy's picture

Thx for your kind words. Courier doesn't get half the hate Papyrus has on Typophile. Not to mention, it is incredibly executed. Popular yes, but well done. (don't forget to turn off the bold).

John Boardley's picture

5-minute hack:

Oh, you siad “improve” it. Oops.

Stephen Coles's picture

Satyagraha - I like your squaring idea. It reminds me of Heldustry, Phil Martin's mix of Helvetica and Eurostile.

vegfarandi's picture


Mark Simonson's picture

Yo Mark, since this is your idea, where’s your solution?

I was hoping I could just sit back and watch the fun. :-)


Sindre's picture

Thanks, Stephen. And thanks for the Heldustry link, I don't think I've seen that typeface before. I would really have fancied it, if it weren't for those useless rings in Å and å. It's amazing how lazily many professional type designers treat diacritics used in languages they don't know. So I guess I have to polish up my own quick sketch of a typeface. I actually obeyed (as the only contestant so far, I think) the requirement of using Arial's exact widths, which severely compromised some of the shapes, the G and the R being the worst examples.

bbenne10's picture

First off, I love these entries. I simply wish that Arial got half the creative thought displayed here when it was first designed. :/

This is my entry. Registered just to show my work, though I fear it's rather subpar.

Mostly I've edited the capital E, F, G, Q, R and the lowercase a and e, as well as the 1 and 0. I don't know how 'improved' this makes Arial, but it allows me to play with some things I've wanted to implement in my own (forthcoming) typeface. The lowercase 'e' is the best example of this, with the disconnected cross stroke. The capital R is the only thing I've 'improved', but that's because everyone hates the uppercase R.


merkri's picture

Randy, I actually like that quite a bit. Minimalistic isn't necessarily bland.

Randy's picture

Interesting that everyone identifies the cap R as public enemy number one. I totally agree. Most people diagnosing the problem with amputation (myself included). While the leg is less then ideal, to me it is not the worst problem. The problem is that the bowl is too small and the letter is too wide. Fix those two issues, and you have a credible R, even with a wonky leg. Don't fix them, and it doesn't matter what kind of prosthesis you affix.

Cool that this thread generates enough interest that someone would register for it.

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