Font is a technical term that refers to a specific style of a typeface. While Arial is a typeface, it is divided into four distinct fonts: Arial Regular, Arial Bold, Arial Italic, and Arial Bold Italic. However, for the purposes of this article, we will use a broader, more common definition of font, with the understanding that we are referring to the overall typeface.
In the modern era, there are literally tens of thousands of fonts available, thanks to the widespread use of computers. There are perhaps a hundred fonts that are truly common, accounting for the vast majority of printing and screen presentation. Ten or fifteen of these fonts are extremely popular, accounting for the vast majority of all type work.
Helvetica is without a doubt the most well-known of the common fonts used in signage. This sans-serif typeface was designed Max Miedinger in the 1950s as a truly neutral type, giving it the versatility to be used anywhere and the legibility to be ideal for signage. Helvetica was first known as Neue Haas Grotesk before being renamed Helvetica in 1960.
Helvetica shares many similarities with another popular font, Arial, in terms of character width, for example. Arial comes pre-installed on both Microsoft Windows and Mac OS, and it’s the default sans-serif font on many computers, so you’ll see it all over the internet. Arial was created in 1982, and it was based on Monotype Grotesque, with many of the same ligatures and general shapes. Typographers frequently criticize Arial because they believe it is Microsoft’s way of avoiding paying royalties to the Helvetica creators.
Another popular font is Courier, which is designed to look like a typewriter. The typeface was created in the 1950s with the intention of being used on typewriters. Courier’s popularity grew again with the introduction of computers, because the fixed-width between its letters ensures that lines of text align perfectly.
Georgia and Verdana are two more popular fonts that were created for Microsoft in the 1990s. Matthew Carter created the sans-serif font Verdana. It’s similar to Frutiger and was designed to be legible even at small screen sizes. Georgia was created as a companion to Verdana and was created Matthew Carter as well. It’s a serif font that’s meant to be readable at small sizes.
Times New Roman is one of the most recognizable serif fonts. It was created for the British newspaper The Times in the 1930s. After lambasting The New York Times for their illegible typeface in an article, Stanley Morison was commissioned to design the typeface. As a result, the emphasis was placed on newspaper legibility. Because Times New Roman is the default font in many modern word processing programs, it is far the most common of the common fonts in papers printed at home.
Comic Sans, Impact, Lucida, Palatino, Tahoma, Symbol, Trebuchet, MS Serif, Geneva, Zapf Dingbats, Monaco, Book Antiqua, and Garamond are some other popular fonts.