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« Font ID Reward! (SOLVED)

[EDIT: I believe this is solved, though I won't have time to reach 100% certainty until much later today. The current leading candidate is Swiss 721 Medium, horizontally squished, as demonstrated by Florian Hardwig.]

Sometimes even a font detective can use help. Particularly when running out of time….

At the bottom of this post are some samples from a document, a legal notice printed as a classified ad.

Here are the rewards if you give me an ID by 6 pm Pacific time, Friday Feb 8, 2013. If you are the first to give me a definite read on what font is used in this document, I will pay you $200! If you are the first to give me the right lead without definitive proof (for example, you name a couple of typefaces, and I investigate and one of them is it) then I will give you $100. I can pay by PayPal or personal check.

Why a reward? Well, I’m getting paid for my time and effort in the case, so why not share that? Plus I hope to motivate some folks to assist. :)

Half the above reward is available for an ID after the above deadline, but before 6 pm Pacific time, Sunday Feb 10.

So what is the story here? Many of you have heard of my various “font detective” work; cases where I have been called on as a font expert to investigate the authenticity of a document or some typographic issue that drives a legal case. This is one of those cases.

Right now I am in the depths of two cases. The one I am writing about involves a document that is set in something like Helvetica Condensed (but not actually, of course). Although the actual issues in question are elsewhere, identifying the font would be an immensely helpful piece of the puzzle for me. 

Looking carefully at the font, I have noted that it is a highly condensed sans serif, in the same general style as Helvetica Condensed. Part or all of that horizontal compression may have been achieved by means of simply squishing the type horizontally to fit more in. The letterforms have some distortion that is typical of that kind of artificial condensation.

Typefaces I have tested that did not seem to match: Helvetica, Helvetica Condensed, Helvetica Neue, Helvetica Neue Condensed, Swiss 721, Swiss 721 Condensed, Pragmatica, Pragmatica Condensed, Nimbus Sans, Nimbus Sans Condensed.

I have an entire document at 2400 dpi, but the file is huge. Several chunks are available here for download, and if you’re somebody I know/​trust I will share the full document for you to download.

All files are in PNG format unless otherwise specified. The type is roughly 5.5 or 6 pt high, and the entire text block is about 6.5 inches wide (

mystery-ad-lowercase-clip (High-​​res image clip of lowercase section, 4 MB)

mystery-ad-caps-clip (High-​​res image clip of caps only section, 5 MB)

mystery ad text (RTF file of one paragraph of the ad, 3 KB)

mystery ad med-​​res (PDF file of entire ad, 930 KB)

On the side, I hope to see some of you at one of my “font detective” talks:

8 commentsto “Font ID Reward! (SOLVED)”

  • February 5, 2013
    Al wrote

    Playing around in Word, it’s more like Arial Narrow — which seems the obvious choice — than any of those, especially if you add an ‘outline’ text effect to simulate the ?ink spread. But the inner angle at the top of the number 1 seems wrong.

    The 1 is more like CG Triumvirate Condensed, but I feell the look of the font is too square.

    [It's definitely not Arial or Arial Narrow. Look at the R to see why. (Of course, it is now identified, Swiss 721 Medium by Bitstream.) — T]

  • February 5, 2013
    Indra wrote

    Hi Thomas, do you know the (rough) date when this document was composed/​printed? That would maybe narrow down what kind of Helvetica clone it might be. And it’s from the US I suppose? I have a list of digital Helv clones (you probably know them all already) but not all of them at my disposal to test.

    [Thanks for the kind offer, Indra. Although I am no longer looking (see update in actual blog post above), you never know when a list of Helvetica lookalikes would come in handy, I will be in touch. :) — T]

  • February 5, 2013
    Sol wrote


    [Not a crazy suggestion... but I should have put that on the list of typefaces I checked to start with. In any case, I believe this is now solved. — T]

  • February 5, 2013
    Alec wrote

    It looks suspiciously like Arial Narrow that has been squished horizontally.

  • February 5, 2013
    Lars Schwarz wrote

    Berthold’s AG Book in something like medium condensed? Hard to tell if the roundness comes from the medium (paper) it was printed on or the typeface itself …

    [I should have thought of that, though I don’t have any version of Akzidenz Grotesk to test with. However, it is now positively identified. Still, thanks for the suggestion! — T]

  • February 5, 2013
    Jason Campbell wrote

    Hi Thomas; what year are these samples from?
    I’d guess these might be done with a version of Compugraphic Triumvirate or maybe even Compugraphic Helios, unfortunately, I no longer have any samples of those to compare to.

    Best of luck,


    [They are quite recent, so it was safe to assume modern digital type. Now identified, it looks like. — T]

  • February 5, 2013
    Al wrote

    Ignore my ramblings, it’s clearly not Arial Narrow. As for whether it has been artificially condensed, if you look at the words “NOTICE! YOU HAVE BEEN SUED” where NOTICE is in bold, I would say that the horizontal and vertical strokes are too similar in both faces to have been squashed artificially, though the spacing may have been condensed.

    I’m surprised it’s not a font that you’ve already mentioned, but I guess that’s why you’re the expert and not me!

    [You are right to be surprised, as actually, it turns out it seems reasonably sure, pending further test, that it was a typeface I already mentioned! Swiss 721 Medium. A couple of typos in the text threw off my comparison. Fixed now, thanks to Florian. — T]

  • February 5, 2013
    Alan Stearns wrote

    You say you have considered and rejected a few typefaces – it might help to give some details why. I’m wondering whether it could be Pragmatica Web Condensed, but I don’t know why the non-’Web’ versions of Pragmatica don’t fit.

    Do you have any idea how the text was set? The L” combination looks like the result of optical kerning in InDesign, but that might be my tool bias showing.

    [The “web” versions of Pragmatica have the same horizontal metrics, aside potentially from hinting (which could impact advance widths at lower resolutions, but should not impact typesetter resolutions significantly). Plus, it would be pretty weird if somebody was using a brand new internet-​​web-​​optimized font variant for newsprint. Anyway, it sure looks like Swiss 721 Medium, pending some in-​​depth testing.

    In all my testing I have tried metrics kerning, no kerning, and InDesign's optical kerning, just to put the fonts through all permutations.... — T]
    — T]

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