Abstract To study the effects of fuel sulfur content on the characteristics of diesel particle emitted from a typical engine used in China, two types of diesel fuel with sulfur content of 30 ppm and 500 ppm were used in this engine dynamometer test under six operation conditions corresponding to 20%, 50% and 80% load at 1400 rpm and 2300 rpm engine speeds, respectively. Gaseous pollutants and particulate matter (PM) emissions were sampled with AVL AMA4000 and Model 130 High-Flow Impactor (MSP Corp), respectively. More specifically, the PM mass, total carbon (TC), organic carbon (OC), elemental carbon (EC) and water-soluble ion distribution were also measured. Compared with high sulfur diesel, the application of low sulfur diesel can lower fuel-based PM emissions by 9.2–56.6%. At 1400 rpm, the low sulfur diesel decreased both OC and EC by 5–34% and about 20%; while at 2300 rpm, the low sulfur fuel decreased OC by 33–57% and increased EC emission, resulting in a lower OC/EC ratio. The evidence implicating that OC oxidation was promoted by low sulfur diesel, but the effect on EC oxidation was dependent on engine speed. The linear regression has been conducted between TC and PM 10, and the slopes were 0.88 and 0.80 for low sulfur diesel and high sulfur one, respectively. Higher sulfate content was detected in the 0.13 μm particles when using the high sulfur diesel, but the percentage of sulfate was 0.9% for PM 10 from both diesel fuels. Comparing with that of 500 ppm, EC increased sharply to a maximum of 114% in particles of 0.13 μm when using 30 ppm sulfur diesel at 2300 rpm.