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Helvetica: Free Alternatives & Similar Fonts

If you’re looking for free alternatives to Helvetica, here are 7 of the highest-quality look-alikes and similar fonts.

  1. Inter (go-to recommendation)
  2. Roboto
  3. Arimo
  4. Nimbus Sans
  5. TeX Gyre Heros (closest match)
  6. Work Sans (slightly quirkier)
  7. IBM Plex Sans (more squared-off and technical feeling)

For each, I’ll mention the advantages, disadvantages, and why you might choose it. Ready? Let’s get started.

You’re reading Free Font Alternatives: The Ultimate Guide. Quickly navigate to other fonts: Intro · Apercu · Avenir · Circular · DIN · Futura · Gotham · Helvetica · Proxima Nova · Times New Roman

1. Inter

Designer Rasmus Andersson’s Inter is a fantastic open source alternative to Helvetica.

Inter vs. Helvetica font comparison

Inter is optimized for viewing on screens, making it – honestly – better than Helvetica for UI design. It naturally has more generous spacing than other neo-grotesques like Helvetica, meaning you can add negative letter-spacing at large sizes (which will incidentally make it feel even more like Helvetica).

Perhaps the biggest difference between Inter and Helvetica is that the ends of Helvetica’s letterforms (it’s terminals) are almost strictly horizontal or vertical. This gives it a very crisp, clean appearance – which isn’t quite as present in Inter. On the other hand? Helvetica’s less legible.

What it’s got: 9 weights + italics; also available as a variable font

Get it at: Inter at Google Fonts

2. Roboto

The popular default Android font, Roboto, is open-source and free to use.

Roboto vs. Helvetica font comparison

Roboto’s lowercase letterforms are slightly thinner-feeling than Helvetica’s. As a look-alike, it’s not perfect, but Roboto is optimized for screens. It may feel a bit too familiar to users if used in an Android app, but highly recommended for other uses 👍. Since the letterforms are slightly thinner and therefore more compact, I feel it works best for busy, important UI where space is of the essence and cannot be wasted.

What it’s got: 6 weights + italics

Get it at: Roboto at Google Fonts

3. Arimo

Steve Mattheson’s Arimo was designed as a fresh take on Arial, but works perfectly as a cross-platform Helvetica replacement.

Arimo vs. Helvetica font comparison

Arimo has quite a slightly taller letterforms than Helvetica, but is otherwise a fairly decent replacement. If you’re looking to use any lighter weights, beware – Arimo doesn’t have anything lighter than the normal weight (pictured above).

What it’s got: 4 weights + italics; also available as a variable font

Get it at: Arimo at Google Fonts

4. Nimbus Sans

Designed by type foundry URW, Nimbus Sans is a great Helvetica replacement.

Nimbus Sans vs. Helvetica font comparison

Nimbus Sans is based directly on Helvetica, and you can see that it matches even in features that other fonts on this page don’t – the letterforms end in horizontal and vertical terminals, the leg of the “R” has a graceful bend to it, the “G” has a little descending spur, etc. One big change: it’s darker – which, in the world of typography, means the letterforms are thicker at a given size, and therefore appear slightly darker when you squint at large blocks of text. You might consider beefing up the line-height or lightening the text color to compensate, but that’s up to you.

Note: if you have an Adobe Fonts acount (via Creative Cloud), you can also get a much more fully-featured Nimbus Sans with 4 weights, plus extended and condensed settings.

What it’s got: 2 weights + italics

Get it at: Font Squirrel

5. TeX Gyre Heros

TeX Gyre Heros includes a few improvements on Helvetica, but is basically a deadringer.

TeX Gyre Heros vs. Helvetica font comparison

This one is based on Nimbus Sans, which was in turn based on Helvetica. And you know what? It’s basically dead-on. As long as you only need two weights, it’s got you covered.

What it’s got: 2 weights + italics + condensed setting (2 weights)

Get it at: Font Squirrel

6. Work Sans

Wei Huang’s Work Sans is a fantastic option when you need a bit more personality.

Work Sans vs. Helvetica font comparison

A quirkier and more friendly grotesque, Work Sans is a fantastic choice when you need a bit more personality. Note its relaxed spacing and almost goofy details – e.g. the ear of the “g” and the floppy tail of the “a”.

What it’s got: 9 weights + italics; also available as a variable font

Get it at: Work Sans on Google Fonts

7. IBM Plex Sans

The solid IBM Plex Sans is like a more technical feeling Helvetica.

IBM Plex Sans vs. Helvetica font comparison

The slightly squared-off letterforms and right angles (see the tail of the “a”, the bend of the “l”, etc.) make IBM Plex Sans feel technical and scientific. Yet the letterforms have a clear relation to Helvetica’s. The open counters (the gaps in letters like “a”, “c”, and “e”) make it even more legible than its predecessor.

Note: type afficionados may reel at the “g” – doesn’t IBM Plex Sans normally have a two-storey “g”!? Well, yes. But thanks to alternate character styles, you can use font-feature-settings: "ss02" 1; in your CSS to swap out a more Helvetica-like “g”, should you fancy 😉.

What it’s got: 9 weights + italics + matching condensed, mono, and serif fonts

Get it at: IBM Plex Sans at Google Fonts

Other Helvetica Alternatives

If you’re looking to branch out from Helvetica, it’s worth checking out some of the other alternatives in this guide. For instance, the Apercu alternatives are generally more quirky and fun, the DIN alternatives are more tough and angular, and the Proxima Nova alternatives are even cleaner and simpler.

You’re reading Free Font Alternatives: The Ultimate Guide. Quickly navigate to other fonts: Intro · Apercu · Avenir · Circular · DIN · Futura · Gotham · Helvetica · Proxima Nova · Times New Roman

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