Wednesday, November 17, 2010

“Why isn’t Arial in my LaTeX installation by default?”

“Or Cooper Black, or a bunch of other fonts? They’re free, aren’t they? They’re already there on my computer!”

If you’ve ever wondered about this, this article on Free Fonts: Free Is Not Always Free may help you understand some of the underlying issues about font licensing. (Some people would argue that the M$-bundled fonts are of inferior quality compared to the real stuff anyway e.g. Times Roman, Helvetica etc)

On the other hand, rest assured that all is not lost as there are free clones of many of such fonts that you can use in your LaTeX documents anyway.

For example, \usepackage{mathptmx} loads Nimbus Roman, a look-alike for Times Roman, while \usepackage{helvet} loads Nimbus Sans to stand in for Helvetica, which is pretty much indistinguishable from Arial — to the untrained eye anyway.

One last thing: You can still use some non-free fonts: install them using the getnonfreefonts script.

One really last thing: The last thing I want to do is to start a font war on this blog, so please spare me the hate mails! ;-)


  1. A good summary, though it is worth noting that if you use XeLaTeX or LuaLaTeX you can use any fonts installed on your system by means of the fontspec package. It takes at most a few minutes to learn to use XeLaTeX if you already know LaTeX, and the executables probably came with your LaTeX distribution anyway, at least if you're using an up to date one.

  2. BTW, using fancy fonts can make our grades better or our articles get more recognitions ? :)

    Yeah; fancy fonts do look nice for personal use or for love letters; but; for me; cmr and and phv are more than enough. :)

  3. @Bahathir, fancy fonts certainly would not improve your grades nor your chances of getting a paper accepted. (In fact if I received an assignment using Comic Sans I'd probably deduct marks.) Although a really good font such as Minion Pro might get your CV noticed.

    Having said that, you have no idea how many times I get asked this question by users new to LaTeX. :-/ "Why no Arial??" "Why no Comic Sans?" "Camne nak tulis thesis nie kalau takde Times??? The PDF says Nimbus Roman so it's not really Times?? What?!"

  4. Yeah, it is a typical problem when a person who used MS products for quite long time starts using LaTeX. Don't worry, they can change their mindset after getting along with LaTeX.

    Here is a simple macro and put it in preamble (before \begin {document} ) if you want to change the default font to phv (Helvetica)

    \renewcommand {\rmdefault} {phv}

    Thank you.

  5. A more usual scenario is when a specific style guide (e.g. your university's thesis formatting guide) dictate that you need to use Times New Roman as the default and Arial for sectional headings etc. I favor the use of


    so that Times (OK Nimbus Roman actually, ptm) is the default body and math font, while Helvetica (OK so it's Nimbus sans actually, phv) is the san serif fonts. The helvet package allows you to scale it since Arial/Helvetica/Nimbus Sans is larger than Times/Nimbus Roman by default.