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 10 - 1st Style Codes 33 to 40)

Font name (Supplier)
Font Class
1st Style Code
2nd Style Code
Hardcase (FF) D 35 15
Curves made from straight segments; f, i, j, r, I, D, T have serifs; l curved
Verkehr (IT) D 35 22
Compressed;R has slight flip to tail
Panache (IT) T 35 63
Amplitude (FB) T 36 9
wedges cut from most stroke intersections; comes in 7 weights and 5 widths
Grotesque Display (MT) T 36 13
also condensed version
Hydrous (Psy) T 36 13
Psy-Ops (DGWT); C, G, S with pear-serifs; lower bowl of g open
Knockout (HTF) T 36 13
Oblong counters, except in Sumo (widest) version; has 2 R's; t curve slight; many weights & widths
Olisipone (FTF) T 36 13
Not available for general sale. Used in newspapers.
Parry Grotesque (OurType) T 36 17
assumes flip in R leg (see T36-25)
Bau (FF) T 36 21
Champion Gothic (HTF) T 36 21
Q has centered tail; comes in 6 width/weight variations
Grotesque Cond (BE) T 36 21
Hydra Extended (FF) T 36 21
Serif on J; Hydra is more condensed.
Hydra Text (FF) T 36 21
Widest version of Hydra
Kipp (FF) D 36 21
grunged look; compressed
Knockout (HTF) T 36 21
Oblong counters, except in Sumo (widest) version; has 2 R's; t curve slight; many weights & widths
Leviathan (HTF) T 36 21
Black weight only; has italic face
Metronome Gothic (AG) D 36 21
strong contrast; compressed, oval letters
Smart Sans (AG) T 36 21
Similar to Helvetica Compressed with 2-storey g
Parry Grotesque (OurType) T 36 25
assumes R leg is arched (see T36-17)
Britannic (E+F) T 36 29
DynaGrotesk (ST) T 36 29
Grotesque No.9 (BE/SG) T 36 29
Bureau Grotesque (FB) T 36 29
Headline bold (MT) T 36 29
Westinghouse Gothic (Paul Rand) T 36 29
[a.k.a. National Gothic (Opti); Washington (Serials); Westin (Solo)]
Dieselis (TB) T 36 31
Serif on i, l; g open lower bowl; stem serifs on some letters
Omnes Bold (Village) T 36 35
Terminals are rounded/tapered in heavier weights. See T36-43 for Regular weight.
Gothic No.1 (AG) T 36 37
Gothic No.4 (AG) T 36 37
Paralucent (T26/DF) T 36 37
Paralucent Condensed (T26/DF) T 36 37
September (T26/DF) D/T 36 37
Berliner Grotesk (BE) T/D 36 39
very short descenders; R has upward curve to leg
Omnes (Village) T 36 43
Heavier weights have more obvious rounding/tapering of the terminals. See T36-35 for Bold weight.
Alpin Gothic (AG) T 36 45
Alternate Gothic (URW) T 36 45
Benton Gothic (FB) T 36 45
Elephant (T26) T 36 45
T26(20); k has loop, small lower bowl on g; oblong counters
Franklin Gothic (IT) T 36 45
News Gothic (AD/BT/MT) T 36 45
Trade Gothic (AD) T 36 45
Zine Sans (FF) T 36 45
J below baseline
Equipoize Sans (T26) T 36 47
T26(18); thin link between bowls of g; semiserif lower case
Formica (T26) T 36 47
T26(23); lower bowl of g open; a, b rounded bottoms
Lightline Gothic (MT/BE/SG) T 36 47
Monotone Gothic (BE) T 36 47
Nubian (G-Type) T 36 47
g has open lower bowl
Unit (FF) T 36 47
serif on i, j, I; l curved; stem on U; ignores slight curve in leg of R
Corpus Gothic (T26) T 36 53
T26(21) Slight flip on tail of R included
Fiedler Gothic (AG) D/T 36 53
squared counters
Rhode (FB) T 36 57
Bulldog (CT) T 36 61
Corpus Gothic (T26) T 36 61
T26(21) Slight flip on tail of R ignored
Gothic Condensed Bold (RR) T 36 61
Has different C, G & J from Medium weight
Gothic No.13 (AD) T 36 61
Unit (FF) T 36 63
serif on i, j, I; l curved; stem on U; considers slight curve in leg of R
Berlin Sans (FB) D 38 13
alternate g
Daley's Gothic (FB) D 39 37
rectangular letters; bowls all extremely compressed
Koliba (JY) T 40 34
Slight flip on tail of R; distinctive g & e
Napier (T26) D 40 39
Berlin Sans (FB) D 40 45
alternate a; alternate g
Eidetic Modern (Psy) T 40 45
some downstrokes curved
Koliba (JY T 40 50
Slight flip on tail of R; distinctive g & e
DGWT = "Designer's Guide to Web Type" by K. Ziegler, N. Greco


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Date of this page version: 29 Nov 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.