Linux Font Equivalents to Popular Web Typefaces

Published 7 years 3 weeks ago on April 2, 2007 — 4 min read

I have written before about my admiration for Web typography, and in that article I touched on the fact that many “Web safe” fonts can’t be applied to Linux. Linux distributions each ship with their own font libraries, but I’d like to focus on similar typefaces you can use within a font-family to help make your design bulletproof.

Like Windows & OS X, Linux does type too

I’ve been a Linux user for some time now, and Linux is my platform of choice both at work and at home. My distribution of choice is Ubuntu not because it’s the most popular, but because I’ve tried a wide variety of Linux versions, and Ubuntu works the best for me. I say this because I’m going to focus on the fonts that ship by default with Ubuntu, so there may be some discrepancy among distributions.

While the list of Web safe fonts we have come to know and love is relied heavily upon, it can be very beneficial to include similar default Linux fonts in your font-family as well.

What about msttcorefonts?

msttcorefonts is a Linux package providing many Microsoft fonts for easy installation. Personally msttcorefonts is one of the first packages I install when setting up a new Linux installation, but it can’t be assumed that every other Linux user does the same. I’m sure there are many people who choose not to install the package as well, leaving readers out to dry when a bulletproof font-family is not provided.

The fonts provided with msttcorefonts are as follows:

  • Andale Mono
  • Arial Black
  • Arial (Bold, Italic, Bold Italic)
  • Comic Sans MS (Bold)
  • Courier New (Bold, Italic, Bold Italic)
  • Georgia (Bold, Italic, Bold Italic)
  • Impact
  • Times New Roman (Bold, Italic, Bold Italic)
  • Trebuchet (Bold, Italic, Bold Italic)
  • Verdana (Bold, Italic, Bold Italic)
  • Webdings

Taking into consideration Common fonts to all versions of Windows & Mac equivalents, there are a number of fonts often included in designs that readers running Linux will never see (by default).

  • Book Antiqua
  • Charcoal
  • Helvetica
  • Geneva
  • Lucida Console
  • Lucida Grande
  • Lucida Sans Unicode
  • MS Sans Serif
  • MS Serif
  • New York
  • Palatino Linotype
  • Symbol
  • Tahoma
  • Times
  • Wingdings
  • Zapf Dingbats

Using a fresh installation of Ubuntu, I took some time to find Linux typefaces that closely resemble fonts commonly used in Web design. I have purposely left a number of fonts out due to their rarity in actual use. The fonts you won’t find in the following screen shots are:

  • Webdings
  • Wingdings
  • Zapf Dingbats
  • Symbol
  • MS Serif
  • MS Sans Serif

While Linux does ship with a couple symbol-based fonts, I have chosen to exclude them due to character inconsistencies

Linux equivalents to common Windows and OS X Fonts

The following aren’t meant to be exact replicas of fonts from Windows or OS X. They’re merely a similar typeface to use as a last resort in your font-family for us Linux users.

Arial
Screenshot the Linux equivalent to the Arial typeface
Charcoal
Screenshot the Linux equivalent to the Charcoal typeface
Comic Sans MS
Screenshot the Linux equivalent to the Comic Sans MS typeface
Courier New
Screenshot the Linux equivalent to the Courier New typeface
Georgia
Screenshot the Linux equivalent to the Georgia typeface
Helvetica
Screenshot the Linux equivalent to the Helvetica typeface
Lucida Grande
Screenshot the Linux equivalent to the Lucida Grande typeface
New York
Screenshot the Linux equivalent to the New York typeface
Tahoma
Screenshot the Linux equivalent to the Tahoma typeface
Times New Roman
Screenshot the Linux equivalent to the Times New Roman typeface
Palatino Linotype
Screenshot the Linux equivalent to the Palatino Linotype typeface
Verdana
Screenshot the Linux equivalent to the Verdana typeface

I know some of the above examples are a stretch and certain flagship characters don’t quite fit, but in my opinion they’re pretty close. That is much of the reason behind the existence of multiple equivalents for certain fonts. I’ll leave the final decision up to you and your good discretion.

There are still a few fonts to go over

Unfortunately there was a list of fonts to which I was unable to find a Linux equivalent:

  • Book Antiqua
  • Impact
  • Monaco
  • Lucida Console
  • Geneva
  • Lucida Sans Unicode
  • Trebuchet MS
  • Arial Black

While these typefaces don’t have a similar equivalent in Linux, all is not lost. You should always provide a very generic “failsafe” font at the end of your font-family in an effort to at least control whether your font is serif, sans-serif, or monospace.

Keep Linux Web fonts in consideration

Many people find Linux to be an afterthought as far as target audience is concerned, but Linux is exponentially increasing in popularity as an alternative to other operating systems. As a Linux user, it’s easier for me to keep an eye on inconsistencies and try to compensate in the best way possible. Web design should be bulletproof & your choice of type should be no different.

Hopefully the above screenshots will help your font-family of choice to become that much more bulletproof now that Linux users aren’t forced to see the lowest common denominator.

There's a conversation brewing

  1. Very good article.

    I think it’s very important to consider Linux fonts when we are applying CSS styles.

    Thank you for this help!

  2. Thanks for this, good article. I will give it a try soon.

  3. Thanks for your article. This will cause some adjustments in my workflow.

  4. Excellent study Jon!
    I have been trying to get a list of linux equivalent fonts for some time now – you have saved me a lot of work.
    Cheers

    Three points:
    But sure to add a full example of a typical font-family.

    Should the linux free fonts be first?

    How many free fonts should we add till we get 99% coverage?

  5. I have found to best always end the list of fonts in the font-family with the default specified CSS21 standards. ie. font-family: arial, sans-serif;

    http://www.w3.org/TR/CSS21/fonts.html#generic-font-families

  6. … nice article summing it up. In recent projects I focussed a bit on such font issues, and ended up with always listing font names in the order least used OS > most popular OS, thus I ended up with

    Mac OS > Linux/Gnome, Linux/KDE > Solaris > Windows.

    Since I don’t have other OS’es at hand, its rather hard to find out how many more standard OS fonts are out in the wild.

  7. I was asking Linux users the same question about their ‘websafe’ fonts a while ago. It’s nice to know there’s a good selection of default fonts

  8. A nice mention should also go to the font “monospace” which is generic across every Linux distribution, and as far as fixed-width fonts go, is a pretty good alternative to Courier New et al.

  9. Personally, I always use the following:

    font-family: “DejaVu Sans”, Verdana, Arial, sans-serif;

    Works beautifully across every platform/browser combo I’ve ever tested.

  10. The DejaVu series are a really good set of fonts, with many glyphs, and much better readability than the Free* series — free and well recommended for everyone.

    Tahoma is a bit of a shame not to have made into msttcorefonts, I consider it better than Verdana, because it uses much less horizontal space…

  11. Very useful article. Thank you for taking the time to show us the equivalents. Ill do my best to dont forget them.
    =) v

  12. Great article but don’t forget Bitstream Vera which is open source and also a good alternative to verdana :)

  13. I think Bitstream Serif and DejaVu Serif make better alternatives to Georgia than any of the other samples provided for the font in question. Other than that, nice lookup for Web designers developing with Linux in mind.

  14. @Diederik Willemsen: Yes, I plan on revising this piece sometime soon, including the full character set for better comparisons. I don’t think Linux fonts need to be first, just included if you wish to support them. In any case, I always put the most generic one last in the list (serif, sans-serif, or monospace) .

    @Daniel: That seems like an effective way to list your typefaces.

    @John Reese: Definitely, yet monospace encompasses a generic font-family that is widely supported, so you might be shooting yourself in the foot by including it before a more desired font.

    @Jack: Thanks for the tip!

    @Henrik Pauli: I agree — personally I prefer Tahoma as well and I wish it made it into msttcorefonts.

    @tek: Agreed. I plan on making a more lengthy revision to this reference soon and I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.

    @Brownspank: I’ll definitely take a closer look for the next revision, thanks very much for including your opinion!

  15. Aren’t some of those fonts meant to be used as foreign language fonts? I was doing some research into this myself and I found many of those listed to be documented as south asian & other language fonts. Or is ist just that they can be used for those languages but are fine to use in English as well? I was a little confused about that but it does explain why there are so many fonts that look exactly the same in English.

  16. @Megan: I had run into something similar on my own prior to writing this article, but decided to base my findings on what ships with Ubuntu by default (including their default representation). If you have any more information/resource links on the topic, I’d be very interested to check them out. I plan on researching the origins of the typefaces for another version of this article down the line.

  17. Good one Jon! As Linux becomes more and more popular, I hear you on that one. It is important to take in consideration even the smallest percentage of web users as much as we are able to. This article is a good reference point for those font equivalents in Linux. Thanks!

  18. Jon – all I know is what I was able to come up with on a google search. Malayalam, for example, is a language spoken in south india. If you look at the character set you can see that it has the basic latin characters followed by some vary strange (to us) looking Malayalam characters.

    This is the case with many of the fonts that come pre-installed with Ubuntu. Basically all the ones with foreign sounding names (Jamrul, Rekha, Gargi 1.7 etc.) On a google search they only come up on pages listing fonts available for these languages.

    So, I would guess that these typefaces should be reserved for those foreign languages and that the English equivalent be used instead.

  19. @Megan: Thank you very much for posting back again — I’ll be sure to take that into consideration and revise the article in the coming weeks. I apologize for taking this long to reply. Thank you again.

  20. Megan is right. On my system these ‘foreign’ fonts seem to fall back on “Sans Serif” or “Serif” for Latin characters. “Sans Serif” defaults to Bitstream Vera Sans (which is basically the same as Dejavu Sans) on my KDE setup.

  21. @Tijn: It’s great to have another confirmation, thank you. Foreign language should absolutely be taken into account here and I’ll be sure to make the proper updates.

  22. This answers one of the nagging questions in web design–thanks for the article!

    IMHO Arial has limited use on the web: it’s pretty tight set and hard to read. Plus, it looks quite different from Verdana, Vera Sans, Lucida Grande, etc. A lot of Mac OSX systems don’t have Verdana but do have Arial, so declaring it will give them a bad experience.

    Is it safe to assume that [Verdana,"Lucida Grande","Bitstream Vera Sans",sans-serif] amounts to the same as [Verdana,sans-serif] on modern systems?

  23. just a minor point. be sure to embed png’s or gif’s instead of jpg’s in such computer graphics and text screenshots. jpg is better for photos.

  24. There’s a new set of open-source font families on the block. Red Hat released the Liberation fonts last week.

    Bitstream’s Vera fonts did a reasonable job of standing in for Georgia, Verdana, and Andale Mono. Liberation compliments these by helping fill the gap for Times New Roman and Helvetica / Arial. The fonts don’t look quite as good as the ones they substitute for, but thanks to the similar metrics they make good stand-ins for design purposes.

    You can get a look at the new fonts here.

  25. @Arlen: I’m glad you enjoyed it :) In my personal opinion, if you’re aiming to target a specific font, include it in your font-family, but always include a generic font at the end as a last resort.

    @ustun: That’s a good point, I’m not sure why I defaulted to jpg for this particular post.

    @Adam Messinger: Thanks so much for including the information and link! I’m not sure about other people, but I wasn’t aware of the release.

  26. I know, this is an old article. But you should know that I _regularly_ come back to it. It’s EXTREMELY useful.

  27. @Ben: Thanks! I really do plan on revisiting this article and making it much more comprehensive in the coming weeks. It’s just difficult to find the time lately, but stay tuned!

  28. Awesome resource. Thanks, Jonathan!

  29. It’s too bad that MS Comic Sans isn’t used more than it is. In fact, I found this page looking for a Linux replacement for it (no, I don’t want to install the M$ core fonts). Also, the Liberation fonts are seemingly pretty good emulations of the M$ fonts (but AFAIK, only have four varieties: Serif, Serif Narrow, Sans, and Monospace).

  30. No problems with installing commercial fonts on Linux the only problem would be is including them as part of the base os, it could be a legal squabble that’s why major Linux distros do not include proprietary anything. With the exception that certain drivers and closed source software is the equivalent of free distributions minus the source code.

  31. According to wikipedia http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palatino_(fuente_tipogr%C3%A1fica) the Microsoft fontype “Book Antiqua” is a copy of the Palatino in case you want to update this post

  32. Thank you! You saved me on a design project that requires Tahoma. I installed ttf-devanagari-fonts to get Kalimati, and it works great. Thanks again!

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Published April 2nd, 2007

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