Sans Serif Font Identification Aid/Guide

This Font Identification Aid/Guide is a tool to help narrow down the possible choices of Sans Serif type faces that meet certain stylistic characteristics. These typefaces are also called "Gothic", "Grotesque" (or Grotesk) or "Lineales" (or Lineals). I have emphasized Text (T) typefaces, but have also included many Handlettered (H) and Display (D) typefaces that are also sans serif faces. I will expand the number of faces covered as I have time, but the current set is over 800 type families and should prove useful. When you consider that each family could include various weights and condensed versions, this number of families might easily equate to 3,200 individual fonts or more.

I have recently updated this Aid to Guide status, with the addition of pictures of certain key letters. The seven letters (a, e, g, G, M, R, and y) used for the Style Codes, and several additional letters to help with identification. The standard sample will be "MRS Wilfy C Gadget Jr", so there will be 17 letters out of the possible 52. Numerals are not included. The reason for using this 17-character sample is to keep the loading times short by keeping the samples simple, while using helpful letters for identification. I will continue to add samples as I am able to make or obtain them. (Sample donors are welcome, but I am only asking for graphics images, not the fonts. See the list of WANTED fonts, that need samples for this Guide.)

My Special Thanks to 'elaine' and 'Per Etz', sample donors extraordinaire, who have provided many of the font samples in this Guide, as well as in the Script Font Guide. Also many thanks to Victor De Castro of Unifonts, 'Apostrophe' of The Lab, and Rod Cavazos of Psy/Ops who all donated many samples. Such generous help, from these people and others, has made these Guides much more complete than I could have done on my own.

I have focused on Text types, because I think these are the hardest to distinguish from each other. For the purposes of this tool "Text" means that letterforms are relatively conventional and not usually intended to attract attention (ignore letter weight, and just look at the shapes of letters). They can be used in long settings of text in a book or magazine and not seem difficult to read. In my definition "Display" typefaces are those with distortions to lettershapes that are intended to make the type distinctive and noticeable. Compresssed or very wide typefaces belong in this category only if they do not have a "normal" width. "Handlettered" (or Hand-printed) typefaces will look somewhat irregular, as if done by hand using a pen or brush. (Script types are not included - that's a separate Guide topic. See Script Font ID Guide.)

Sometimes you may notice that the same font will be shown with more than one code. This is done when I think the choice of character is not clear, so I choose both possibilities. This will make it easier for anyone to use the Aid, even if they don't quite see it the same as I do.

How to use this Font Identification Aid

You only need to have a sample with the following seven letters to use this Font Identification Aid: a, e, g, G, M, R and y.

There are two tables used to help characterize a typeface in this Identification Aid. The first uses pairs of the letters a & e and g & G to get the first Style Code. Decide which letterform combinations match most closely with the sample and note the corresponding Style Code number from the table. With the G, the key feature is the "chin" - I show five variations. There are only two variations you need to identify in the other three letters.

The second table uses the combinations of the letters a & R and M & y to give the second Style Code. You will note four variations in the R (the "leg" shape and position is key) and the M (the "crotch" position and "leg" angle are keys). There are only two variations to recognize in the letters a and y (whether their "tails" are straight or curved).

Using these two Style Codes, use Table 3 to look up the possible typefaces with these characteristics. [In order to shorten page loading times, Table 3 is in eleven Parts, determined by the 1st Style Code, which you will find in Table 1. Page 11 is for fonts that are unconventional, with no upper case, or no lower case, or a mix that omits some of the usual diagnostic letters for the style codes. In such cases the letters used for the codes will be shown, and the first applicable row/column values will be used (shown by color-coded squares). NOTE: Table 1 has links to the other pages where those Parts of Table 3 are displayed. Links for this page are inactive.] You will need a way to know what these typefaces look like when there is no graphic (yet) - that's why this is called an "Aid/Guide" - and then be able to identify the typeface based on the more subtle features of each typeface. (See the "Bauhaus-style" Font Identification Guide, for an example of a Bowfin Font ID Guide.)

How to find similar typefaces

If you know a font's name and want to see if there are other fonts with similar characteristics, possibly to use as substitutes, you can look up the font name in the Sans Alpha List, which is a tab-delimited text file arranged in alphabetical order of the font names, rather than in order of the Style Codes. This list is also useful if you suspect that a font may be the one you are trying to identify, but you don't know where to find it for comparison. Once you find out the Style Codes, then you can use the links in Table 1 on Page 1 to go to the page that has those Style Codes.

Free Font Identification Service - If you ever see a "mystery" typeface used somewhere that you would like identified, just send me a sample, or send me the URL of a website that uses the typeface, and I will try to tell you the name of the typeface and where you can buy it. e-mail me your font ID question

Table 1



All Lower Case

Table 1 Assumptions:
Assume e is angled type if bar is not completely straight.
Assume g is "2-bowl" type if tail is not simple curve.

Table 2



MR1 - MR4
MR9 - MR12
MR17 - MR20
MR25 - MR28
All Lower Case

Table 2 Assumptions:
NOTE: Treat single-level a the same as letter a with curved tail.
Assume tail of an a or y is straight, unless it is obvious that it is not.
Assume M legs are not angled, unless it is obvious that they are.
Assume straight-legged R is the first type, unless it is obviously the second type.
Assume curved-legged R is fourth type, unless flip at baseline is obvious.

Table 3 (Part 4 - 1st Style Codes 9 to 11)

Font name (Supplier) Font Class 1st Style Code 2nd Style Code
Casablanca (RR) D 9 2
See Bauhaus-style
Cirgeos (TF) D 9 2
Comes in 6 weights, Thin to Black (Medium shown)
Romeo (FB) D 9 2
identical to Casablanca Condensed
Mosquito (AG) T 9 5
stroke terminals curved and narrower than strokes
Moquito Formal (AG) T 9 5
More conventional version of Mosquito; terminals not tapered or curved.
Eaglefeather Informal (AG) D/H 9 15
Sinclair (RR) H 9 21
like brush lettering; f curves back below baseline; y with curved bowl
Albawing (LL) T 9 29
'Crotch' of M curves outward; f below baseline; y has curved bowl; serif only on J; has italic version & two display variants, called Albatross & Albafire.
Badger (RR) D 9 30
Serif on J; y with curved bowl
Gadget (Apple) T 10 2
Mac OS font; curved l; serifs on C, G & S
Gothic No.3 (AG) T 10 2
Heraldus (E+F) T 10 2
Metro #2 (LL) T 10 2
Toronto Subway (Quadrat) T 10 2
Josef (ingo) T 10 3
has alt a, g, G, M, R, B, A,f, d, ß and l (normal l has very slight curve at base)
Super Grotesk (FF) T 10 3
Burko (TF) D 10 5
similar to Pump & Bauhaus
Guestcheck (TF) D 10 5
flattened sides; heavy vertical strokes
Govan Alt (FF) T 10 7
Govan Regular is T12-39; serif on I; l is not curved; Govan One, Two & Three are progressivley wider. (Govan One Alt shown)
Green Terror (T26) D 10 7
Serif on J; some strokes cross stems, like in R; odd terminals on many strokes.
Gothic No.2 (AG) T 10 9
Serus (Psy) T 10 9
Semiserif; serif only on tops of letters
Ulissa (abc/AG) T 10 9
Ulissa Rounded (abc/AG) T 10 9
Metro (LL) T 10 10
Berlin Sans (FB) D 10 13
alternate G
Bryant Alt (Proc) T 10 13
alt has different a, n, u, similar to Bauhaus-style See Regular at Code 12-45.
Sansa Slab (OurType) T 10 15
semi-serif; serifs on b, d, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, y, J & C
Adaptive Mono (Psy) T 10 16
"Monospaced semi-serif; serifs on E, F, J, L, T and Z; also on several l.c. letters."
Popgod (T26/DF) D 10 25
many parts of letters are separated elements
Zwo Alternate (FF) T 10 28
[Also has version with different a & g at T32-60]
Jeunesse Sans (AG) T 10 29
45 degrees (T26/IDK) D 10 31
squarish with 45 degree corners
Gill Sans School (MT) T 10 31
Curved l; rounded bowl on y
Sansa (Our) T/D 10 31
serifs on i, j, l & J; curved bowl on y
Isonorm (FF) D 10 47
squared; curved l; rounded strokes
Eaglefeather (AG) D 10 n/a
Wade Sans (Let) D 11 2
low x-height; very small serifs
Blueprint (MT) H 11 6
Betabet Sans (T26) T/D 11 13
short stems or serifs on many l.c.; I, J have serifs
Petrol (T26) D 11 13
Semiserif font; M, W rounded; l curved
Dax (FF) T 11 34
J goes below baseline
Generica Cond. (AG) T 11 34
f below baseline
Kabel (IT) T 11 34 See Bauhaus-style
Palatino Sans Informal (LL) T 11 34
Curved l; serif on J; W not symmetric
Schmalhans (FF) D 11 34
Zeppelin (AG) D 11 34
Aspect Intro (LL) T 11 37
curved l; f below baseline; serif only on J; curved bowl on y; display variant called 'Aspect' is white, against black shapes.
Pacific Clipper (GR/AG) D 11 38
g has short tail; sawtooth m
Stoclet (IT) D 11 39
ear-shaped C, D; U narrower at top
Extension (RR) T 11 40
Betabet Sans (T26) T/D 11 45
short stems or serifs on many l.c.; I, J have serifs
Sam Sans (FB) T 11 47
compressed; k with loop
Whiskey (IT) H 11 47
Alambic (TF) T 11 57
Alphaville (Shn) D 11 57
ShinnType; Squared letters; M has centerline
Method (LL) D 11 61
Ambiguous G (also D7-61); M & W like lower case; R leg does not touch bowl (B similar)
Base 3 (Koen) D 11 63
Base 6 (Koen) D 11 63
uneven stroke weight
Unotype (AG/BB) D/H 11 63
Monospaced; rounded, almost hand-drawn lettering
Newport Classic (AG) D 11 n/a
See Bauhaus-style
DGWT = "Designer's Guide to Web Type" by K. Ziegler, N. Greco


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Date of this page version: 27 Aug 2007

The Sans Serif Font Identification Aid/Guide is Copyright © 2007 by Michael Yanega.
The typeface names and designs are the property of their respective owners.