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I am using PDFLaTeX, not XeLaTeX. How can I find the short name of a specific font? For example, I know that \fontfamily{phv}\selectfont is URW Nimbus Sans (a Helvetica clone).

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It depends of course on your level of understanding of your TeX system. So, if you do not know the details of the ways TeX deals with fonts (for example if you don't know what a .fd file or a .map file is) then the simplest, I guess, is:

  1. consult the doc of the package allowing to use your font,
  2. and if the doc does not contain the answer, try the following:
\documentclass{article}
\usepackage{my_package_for_the_font}
% \renewcommand{\familydefault}{\sfdefault}
% if it is a Sans font, or perhaps rather the package had 
% a "default" option
\begin{document}
the name of my font is \familydefault
\end{document}

LaTeX your document and the result should show up.

Now for the more complete answer if wxyz was the printed result, you need to find on your system ot1wxyz.fd or t1wxyz.fd which will give you all the gory details about how the files are truly named on your system (the tfm files).

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