Sans fonts for designers

With the thousands of different typefaces available, it’s helpful to have a few dozen that act as the base of your collection. Listed below are dozen popular fonts ( and a little history ) that you’ll find in many designs.


akzidenz grotesk sans typeface

Akzidenz-Grotesk is a realist sans-serif typeface originally released by the H. Berthold AG type foundry in 1896 under the title Accidenz-Grotesk. It was the first sans serif typeface to be widely used and influenced many later neo-grotesque typefaces.

Max Miedinger at the Haas Foundry used it as a model for the typeface Neue Haas Grotesk released in 1957, and renamed Helvetica in 1960.

Miedinger sought to refine the typeface making it more even and unified. Two other releases from 1957, Adrian Frutiger’s Univers and Bauer and Baum’s Folio, take inspiration from Akzidenz-Grotesk. Read more about Akzidenz-Grotesk.


avenir sans typeface

Avenir is a geometric sans-serif typeface designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1988, and released by Linotype GmbH, now a subsidiary of Monotype Corporation.

The name Avenir is French for “future,” and takes inspiration from early geomeric sans-serif typefaces Erbar (1926) designed by Jakob Erbar, and Futura (1927) designed by Paul Renner.

Frutiger intended Avenir to be a more organic, humanist interpretation of these highly geometric types. While similarities can be seen with Futura, the two-story lowercase a is more like Erbar, and also recalls Frutiger’s earlier namesake typeface Frutiger.

Avenir was originally released in 1988 with three weights, each with a roman and oblique version, and used Frutiger’s two-digit weight and width convention for names: 45 (book); 46 (book oblique); 55 (text weight); 56 (text weight oblique); and, 75 (bold) and 76 (bold oblique).

The typeface family was later expanded to six weights, each with a roman and oblique version. Read more about Avenir.

Bell Gothic

bell gothic sans typeface

Bell Gothic is a realist sans-serif typeface designed by Chauncey H. Griffith in 1938 while heading the typographic development program at the Mergenthaler Linotype Company. The typeface was commissioned by AT&T as a proprietary typeface for use in telephone directories (and should not be confused with the Bell typeface, designed for the British typefounder and publisher John Bell (1746-1831) by the punchcutter Richard Austin).

Bell Gothic was superseded by Matthew Carter’s typeface Bell Centennial in 1978, the one hundredth anniversary of AT&T’s founding. Read more about Bell Gothic.

DIN 1451

din sans typeface

The DIN 1451 typeface is very legible and easy to reproduce. Both a medium and a narrow version are defined today; an older broad version is no longer used but may still be encountered on some very old road signs in Germany.

The typeface has gained popularity due to its wide exposure and has been also used by non-governmental organisations and businesses. For graphic design and desktop publishing, FontShop offers an extended version of this typeface called FF DIN.

It is a widely used standard typeface for traffic, administration and business applications. In particular, DIN 1451 is the typeface commonly used on road and railway signage in Germany and a number of other countries.

It was also used for many years on German car number plates, until it was replaced there in November 2000 by FE-Schrift, a font especially designed for number plates that is optimised for better tamper resistance and easier automatic character recognition. Read more about DIN.

Franklin Gothic

franklin gothic sans typeface

Franklin Gothic is a realist sans-serif typeface designed by Morris Fuller Benton (1872–1948) in 1902. The typeface is one of over 200 typefaces designed by Benton. There is an assumption that this typeface was named after Benjamin Franklin. “Gothic” is an increasingly archaic term meaning sans-serif, which is found primarily in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Franklin Gothic was originally designed as a typeface with a single weight and only two variations in width. Franklin Gothic has been used in many advertisements and headlines in newspapers. The typeface continues to maintain a high profile appearing in a variety of media from books to billboards.

At first only a Roman was released, but additional variants were added as Franklin Gothic became popular. A condensed design was drawn in 1905, and an extra condensed in 1906. Five years later Benton added an italic to the family, and two years after that a shaded font was offered.

In addition to Franklin Gothic, Morris Fuller Benton also designed the font in a condensed width with lighter weight, as News Gothic and Lightline Gothic. Extra condensed version became Alternate Gothic. Read more about Franklin Gothic.


frutiger sans typeface

Frutiger is a sans-serif typeface by the Swiss type designer Adrian Frutiger. It was commissioned in 1968 by the newly built Charles De Gaulle International Airport at Roissy, France, which needed a new directional sign system. Instead of using one of his previously designed typefaces like Univers, Frutiger chose to design a new one. The new typeface, originally called Roissy, was completed in 1975 and installed at the airport the same year.

Frutiger’s goal was to create a sans serif typeface with the rationality and cleanliness of Univers, but with the organic and proportional aspects of Gill Sans. The result is that Frutiger is a distinctive and legible typeface. The letter properties were suited to the needs of Charles De Gaulle – modern appearance and legibility at various angles, sizes, and distances. Ascenders and descenders are very prominent, and apertures are wide to easily distinguish letters from each other.

The Frutiger family was released publicly in 1976, by the Stempel type foundry in conjunction with Linotype. Frutiger’s simple and legible, yet warm and casual character has made it popular today in advertising and small print.

Some major uses of Frutiger are in the corporate identity of Raytheon, the National Health Service in England, Telefónica O2, the British Royal Navy, the London School of Economics and Political Science, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Conservative Party of Canada, the Banco Bradesco in Brazil, the Finnish Defence Forces and on road signs in Switzerland.

The typeface has also been used across the public transport network in Oslo, Norway since the 1980s. In 2008 it was the fifth best-selling typeface of the Linotype foundry. Read more about Frutiger.


futura sans typeface

Futura is a geometric sans-serif typeface designed between 1924 and 1926 by Paul Renner. It is based on geometric shapes that became representative visual elements of the Bauhaus design style of 1919–1933.Commissioned by the Bauer type foundry, Futura was commercially released in 1927.

The family was originally published in Light, Medium, Bold, and Bold Oblique fonts in 1928. Light Oblique, Medium Oblique, Demibold, and Demibold Oblique fonts were later released in 1930. Book font was released in 1932. Book Oblique font was released in 1939. Extra Bold font was designed by Edwin W. Shaar in 1952. Extra Bold Italic font was designed in 1955 by Edwin W. Shaar and Tommy Thompson.

Although Renner was not associated with the Bauhaus, he shared many of its idioms and believed that a modern typeface should express modern models, rather than be a revival of a previous design. Renner’s initial design included several geometrically constructed alternative characters and ranging (old-style) figures, which can be found in the typeface Architype Renner.

Futura has an appearance of efficiency and forwardness. The typeface is derived from simple geometric forms (near-perfect circles, triangles and squares) and is based on strokes of near-even weight, which are low in contrast. (This is most visible in the almost perfectly round stroke of the o, but the shape is actually slightly ovoid.)

In designing Futura, Renner avoided the decorative, eliminating non-essential elements. The lowercase has tall ascenders, which rise above the cap line. The uppercase characters present proportions similar to those of classical roman capitals. Read more about Futura.

Gill Sans

gill sans typeface

Gill Sans is a humanist sans-serif typeface designed by Eric Gill.

The original design appeared in 1926 when Douglas Cleverdon opened his own bookshop in his home town of Bristol, where Eric Gill painted the fascia over the window in sans-serif capitals that would be later be known as Gill Sans. In addition, Gill had sketched a design for the publisher and bookseller Douglas Cleverdon, intended as a guide for Cleverdon to make future notices and announcements.

Gill further developed it into a complete font family after Stanley Morison commissioned the development Gill Sans to combat the families of Erbar, Futura and Kabel which were being launched in Germany during the latter 1920s. Gill Sans was later released in 1928 by Monotype Corporation.

Gill Sans became popular when in 1929 Cecil Dandridge commissioned Eric Gill to produce Gill Sans to be used on the London and North Eastern Railway for a unique typeface for all the LNER’s posters and publicity material. Read more about Gill Sans.


helvetica sans typeface

Helvetica was developed in 1957 by Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann at the Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei (Haas type foundry) of Münchenstein, Switzerland. Haas set out to design a new sans-serif typeface that could compete with Akzidenz-Grotesk in the Swiss market.

Originally called Die Neue Haas Grotesk, it was created based on Schelter-Grotesk. The aim of the new design was to create a neutral typeface that had great clarity, had no intrinsic meaning in its form, and could be used on a wide variety of signage.

When Linotype adopted the Neue Haas Grotesk (which was never planned to be a full range of mechanical and hot-metal typefaces) its design was reworked. After the success of Univers, Arthur Ritzel of Stempel redesigned Neue Haas Grotesk into a larger family.

In 1960, the typeface’s name was changed by Haas’ German parent company Stempel to Helvetica (derived from Confoederatio Helvetia, the Latin name for Switzerland) in order to make it more marketable internationally. Read more about Helvetica.


univers sans typeface

Univers is one of a group of neo-grotesque sans-serif typefaces, all released in 1957, that includes Folio and Neue Haas Grotesk (later renamed Helvetica). These three faces are sometimes confused with each other, because each is based on the 1896 typeface Akzidenz-Grotesk. These typefaces figure prominently in the Swiss Style of graphic design.

Different weights and variations within the type family are designated by the use of numbers rather than names, a system since adopted by Frutiger for other type designs. Frutiger envisioned a large family with multiple widths and weights that maintained a unified design idiom. However, the actual typeface names within Univers family include both number and letter suffixes.

Currently, Univers type family consists of 44 faces, with 16 uniquely numbered weight, width, position combinations. 20 fonts have oblique positions. 8 fonts support Central European character set. 8 support Cyrillic character set. Read more about Univers.

All images and descriptions are courtesy of Wikipedia.

What are your thoughts?

What are your go to fonts? If you have another font that you think should be on this list let me know.

7 thoughts on “Sans fonts for designers”

  1. I like them all, but offer the warning that some have the numerals six and nine whose ascenders and descenders have too much curve to be highly distinctive.

    If numerals are important, insist on having the ascenders and descenders spike up and down, not curve over.

  2. G F,

    Numbers are always a bit of work when it comes to typography, the kerning especially.

  3. Thanks Jack,

    Just looking through your site at the moment, I’m really liking your JY Alia typeface.

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