Edinburgh Web Development

Don't use Helvetica on websites!

by Iain Wilson

3 March 2009

What a beautiful font Helvetica is. It is available in so many different flavours too - the designer is spoiled for choice. However, designers, especially Mac designers, need to be aware that Helvetica looks terrible on Windows Vista and XP. 

helvetica in web browser on PCWe do quite a bit of collaborative work with other design companies and often they produce work using Helvetica fonts. It looks great on a Mac and in print, but NOT IN A WINDOWS XP or VISTA browser.

A classic illustration of this site is the Skype site. The text looks dreadful on this site if you have the Helvetica font loaded on a Windows PC.

There is a twist here, though. Helvetica is not provided on Windows by default. If you don't have Helvetica installed on your Windows PC, a website using Helvetica might still look ok, even good, because if the pages have been written correctly, the font stacking will defer to another font when Helvetica is not available.

Bizarrely, if Helvetica IS available on the PC, the text will probably look blurry and with artefacts, even if you enable Windows ClearType. Of course, the pages will look fantastic on a Mac!

helvetica  degraded in web browser on PCWhat can you do? Well, the bottom line is that it is best to not use Helvetica for text on web pages. Instead, use one of the sans serif fonts that are supported on both PCs and Macs; Arial, Tahoma, Verdana and Trebuchet MS.

If you want to use Helvetica or other fonts, by all means use them in graphics, but not in HTML text.

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