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 8 - 1st Style Codes 25 to 31)

Font name (Supplier) Font Class 1st Style Code 2nd Style Code Sample Notes
Xctasy Sans Alternates (RR) D 25 3
See Bauhaus-style Guide
Riesling (Bright Ideas) D 25 17
l.c. s has lower counter like g. Flamboyant Art Deco look, with very wide and very narrow letters.
Melvin Sans (T26) T 26 2
g resembles 8; Q has vertical tail;See Bauhaus-style Guide
Canterbury Old Style (RR) D 26 12
very low x-height; f way below baseline
Providence Sans (FF) H 26 12
Portobello (RR) T/D 27 5
semiserif; terminals come to blunt point; f below baseline
Le Chat Noir (AG) H 27 37
M, N & E like lower case letters
Minah (FB) D/H 27 58
Considers that e is angled. See also code 28-58
Aires (CAP) T 27 61
Serif on J, curved l; bottom bowl of g is open
Antenna (FB) T 28 13
Renoir (TF) T 28 14
Poplar (AD) T 28 17
Extreme Sans (GD) D 28 31
open lower bowl on g; l curved; W has vertical sides; serif on I, J; A, F have rounded tops; E like C with centerline
Adepta (TF) T 28 33
Alega (FF) D 28 34
squared counters might make G ambiguous; J, i, j with serifs; y tail vertical
Occupant Gothic (FB) D 28 35
angular, squared letters
Default Gothic (Psy) T 28 41
Psy-Ops (DGWT); squared
Postcard (AG) H 28 42
Postcard Alt (AG) H 28 42
Benguiat Frisky (AG) H 28 45
Impress (BT) H 28 45
Mex Sans (T26) T 28 45
Cineplex (LL) D/T 28 46
comes in 3 weights, reg & bold with true italic; also has SC; oblong counters; Y has curved bowl; rounded left corners on B, P, R
Conduit (IT) T 28 47
Felth Gothic (T26) T 28 47
T26(18); some variation in strokes; g like Cheltenham; squarish
Pakenham (RL) T 28 49
squarish counters; open-tailed g
Gothic Condensed Variants (RR) D 28 57
Most u.c. letters rounded shapes; y has centered tail
Orbon (IT) D 28 57
shield-shaped counters; condensed letterforms
Minah (FB) D/H 28 58
Considers that e is horizontal. See also code 27-58
Adigo (PTL) D 28 59
Serif on J; symmetrical y; x-height increases with version number
Gothic Condensed Medium (RR) T 28 61
Modula Round Sans (EM) D 28 61
Radiant (AG) T 28 61
k has loop; M, N, W & Y like lower case; A rounded
Empire (FB) D 28 63
Sneakers (T26) D 28 63
2-storey g; curved l
Obsessed (AG) D 29 2
Out of the Fridge (IT) H 29 9
Artane Elongated (BT) D 30 7
Index (GF) T 30 11
Garage Fonts (DGWT); spiked stems, lower bowl of g open
Regulator (T26) D 30 11
T26(21) strange g, like circle with angled L beneath
Berlin Sans (FB) D 30 13
alternate G; alternate g
Tarzana (Em) T 30 24
E like reversed 3; Q like reversed 9; comes in 2 weights, each with italics [Samples shows Tarzana Wide; Tarzana Narrow has same style attributes]
Pisa (LL) H 31 1
e not obviously angled
Oxalis (AG) H/T 31 2
g has open lower bowl
Oxalis Alt (AG) H/T 31 2
letter spacing, proportions & details different from Oxalis Regular
Pisa (LL) H 31 2
e not obviously angled
Amsterdam Old Style (RR) D 31 9
semiserif; oddly angled arms & serifs; look like silent movie titles; comes in several weights
Quadraat Sans (FF) T 31 15
Clichee (AG) H 31 21
g has angled upper bowl
Karbid (FF) T 31 22
curved l; open lower bowl on g; serifs on i, j; curved bowl on y
Tannhauser (Let) D 31 31
Lower case script-like and compressed
Barmeno (BE) T 31 37
Sari (FF) T 31 38
J below baseline; very slight curve on R
Albe Sans (Bergsland) T 31 39
Serifs on C, G; uneven strokes; J below baseline
Binner Gothic (MT) D 31 39
Alphabet (T26) T 31 41
Odd-shaped bowls on lower case; stems don't reach baseline for some letters.
Globe Gothic (AG) T 31 41
Lucida Casual (BH/AG) H 31 45
Considers R as type 2
Pill Gothic (UMT) T 31 47
Lucida Casual (BH/AG) H 31 53
Considers R as type 3
Tema Cantate (T26) D 31 53
Semiserif; unusual flares to parts of letters; 2 weights (Bold shown)
Sari (FF) T 31 62
J below baseline; very slight curve on R
DGWT = "Designer's Guide to Web Type" by K. Ziegler, N. Greco


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Date of this page version: 16 Mar 2008

The Sans Serif Font Identification Aid/Guide is Copyright © 2008 by Michael Yanega.
The typeface names and designs are the property of their respective owners.