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For other uses, see Helvetica (disambiguation).
Category Sans-serif
Classification Neo-grotesque sans-serif
Designer(s) Max Miedinger, Eduard Hoffmann
Foundry Haas Type Foundry
Date released 1957
Re-issuing foundries Mergenthaler Linotype Company
Design based on Akzidenz-Grotesk

Helvetica Neue
Swiss 721 BT

Helvetica World

Helvetica is a widely used sans-serif typeface developed in 1957 by Swiss typeface designer Max Miedinger with input from Edouard Hoffmann. It is a neo-grotesque or realist design, one influenced by the famous 19th century typeface Akzidenz-Grotesk and other German and Swiss designs. One of the most popular typefaces of the 20th century, its use became a hallmark of the International Typographic Style that emerged from the work of Swiss designers in the 1950s and 60s. Over the years a wide range of variants have been released in different weights, widths and sizes, as well as matching designs for a range of non-Latin alphabets. Notable features of Helvetica include the termination of all strokes on exactly horizontal or vertical lines and unusually tight letter spacing, which give it a dense, compact appearance.

Developed by the Haas'sche Schriftgiesserei (Haas Type Foundry) of Münchenstein, Switzerland, its release was planned to match a trend: a resurgence of interest in turn-of-the-century grotesque typefaces among European graphic designers that also saw the release of Univers by Adrian Frutiger the same year. Hoffmann was the president of the Haas Type Foundry, while Miedinger was a freelance graphic designer who had formerly worked as a Haas salesman and designer.[1]

Miedinger and Hoffmann set out to create a neutral typeface that had great clarity, no intrinsic meaning in its form, and could be used on a wide variety of signage.[1] Originally named Neue Haas Grotesk, it was rapidly licensed by Linotype and renamed after the Latin adjective for Switzerland.


Influences of Helvetica included Schelter-Grotesk and Haas' Normal Grotesk. Attracting considerable attention on its release as Neue Haas Grotesk, Linotype adopted Neue Haas Grotesk for widespread release.

In 1960, its name was changed by Haas' German parent company Stempel to Helvetica (meaning Swiss in Latin) in order to make it more marketable internationally. The word's origins come from a derivative of Helvetia, the national personification of the Swiss Confederation (Confoederatio Helvetica), similar to Britannia in the United Kingdom, Marianne in France and historically Columbia or Lady Liberty in the United States, and comes from the Latin name for the pre-Roman tribes of what became Switzerland. Helvetia's figure is used on Swiss government documents and currency. "CH" is often used as an abbreviation for "Switzerland". Intending to match the success of Univers, Arthur Ritzel of Stempel redesigned Neue Haas Grotesk (which was not originally planned to be a full range of mechanical and hot-metal typefaces) into a larger family.[2]


  • tall x-height, which makes it easier to read in smaller sizes.
  • An oblique rather than italic style, a common feature of almost all grotesque and neo-grotesque typefaces.
  • two-storied a (with curves of bowl and of stem).
  • narrow t and f.
  • square-looking s.
  • bracketed top serif of 1.
  • rounded off square tail of R.
  • concave curved stem of 7


Variations of Helvetica
Comparison of distinguishing characters in Akzidenz-Grotesk, Folio, Helvetica, and Univers 55.

Helvetica Light[edit]

Helvetica Light was designed by Stempel's artistic director Erich Schultz-Anker, in conjunction with Arthur Ritzel.[3]

Helvetica Compressed[edit]

Designed by Matthew Carter, this is a narrow variant that is tighter than Helvetica Condensed. It shares some design elements with Helvetica Inserat, but uses a curved tail in Q, downward pointing branch in r, and tilde bottom £.

The family consists of Helvetica Compressed, Helvetica Extra Compressed, Helvetica Ultra Compressed fonts.

Helvetica Inserat (1957)[edit]

Helvetica Inserat (German for advertisement) is a version designed in 1957 primarily for use in the advertising industry. With metric similar to Helvetica Black Condensed, the design gives the glyphs a more squared appearance, similar to Impact and Haettenschweiler. Strike with strokes in $, ¢ are replaced by non-strikethrough version. 4 is opened at top.

Helvetica Rounded (1978)[edit]

Helvetica Rounded is a version containing rounded stroke terminators. Only bold, bold oblique, black, black oblique, bold condensed, bold outline fonts were made, with outline font not issued in digital form by Linotype.

Helvetica Narrow[edit]

Helvetica Narrow is a version where its width is between Helvetica Compressed and Helvetica Condensed. However, the width is scaled in a way that is optically consistent with the widest width fonts.

The font was developed when printer ROM space was very scarce, so it was created by mathematically squashing Helvetica to 82% of the original width, resulting in distorted letterforms and thin vertical strokes next to thicker horizontals.[4]

Because of the distortion problems, Adobe dropped Helvetica Narrow in its release of Helvetica in OpenType format, recommending users choose Helvetica Condensed instead. However, in Linotype's OpenType version of Helvetica Narrow, the distortions found in the Adobe fonts are non-existent.

Alternate styles[edit]

Helvetica Textbook[edit]

Helvetica Textbook is an alternate design of the typeface. Some characters such as 1, 4, 6, 9, I, J, a, f, j, q, t, u, μ, and are drawn differently from the original version.

Helvetica Flair (1970)[edit]

Helvetica Flair

Designed by Phil Martin, Helvetica Flair is a redesign of Helvetica adding swashes and unicase-inspired capitals with a lower-case design. Considered a hallmark of 1970s design, it has never been issued digitally. It is considered to be a highly conflicted design, as Helvetica is seen as a spare and rational typeface and swashes are ostentatious: font designer Mark Simonson described it as "almost sacrilegious". Martin would later claim to have been accused of "typographic incest" by one German writer for creating it.[5][6]

Shatter LET (1973)[edit]


Designed by Vic Carless for Letraset, Shatter assembles together slices of Helvetica to make a typeface that seems in motion, or broken and in pieces. Writing in 2014, designer Tim Spencer said that it offered "glitch-like mechanical aggression [inspired by] cold, machine-induced paranoia. It attacked the Establishment’s preferred information typography style with a sharp edge and recomposed it in a jarring manner that still makes your eyes skitter and your brain tick trying to recompose it. Shatter literally sliced up Swiss modernist authority, and created an anti-Establishment statement from the shards."[7][8]

Language variants[edit]

The Cyrillic version was designed in-house in the 1970s at D Stempel AG, then critiqued and redesigned in 1992 under the advice of Jovica Veljovic.[9]

Matthew Carter designed the Helvetica Greek.[10]

Lebanese designer Nadine Chahine designed Neue Helvetica Arabic.[11]

(Neue) Helvetica Thai (2012)[edit]

Thai font designer Anuthin Wongsunkakon of Cadson Demak Co. created Thai versions of Helvetica and Neue Helvetica fonts.[12][13] The design uses loopless terminals in Thai glyphs,[14][15] which had also been used by Wongsunkakon's previous design, Manop Mai (New Manop).[16]

Initial release included 6 fonts in OpenType Com format for each family in 3 weights (light, regular, bold) and 1 width, with complementary italics. OpenType features include fractions, glyph composition/decomposition.


Linotype and Monotype[edit]

Neue Helvetica (1983)[edit]
Varying Helvetica Neue typeface weights

Neue Helvetica is a reworking of the typeface with a more structurally unified set of heights and widths. Other changes include improved legibility, heavier punctuation marks, and increased spacing in the numbers.

Neue Helvetica uses a numerical design classification scheme, like Univers. The font family is made up of 51 fonts including 9 weights in 3 widths (8, 9, 8 in normal, condensed, extended widths respectively), and an outline font based on Helvetica 75 Bold Outline (no Textbook or rounded fonts are available). Linotype distributes Neue Helvetica on CD.[17] Neue Helvetica also comes in variants for Central European and Cyrillic text.

It was developed at D. Stempel AG, a Linotype subsidiary. The studio manager was Wolfgang Schimpf, and his assistant was Reinhard Haus; the manager of the project was René Kerfante. Erik Spiekermann was the design consultant and designed the literature for the launch in 1983.[18]

Designer Christian Schwartz, who would later release his own digitisation of the original Helvetica designs (see below), expressed disappointment with this and other digital releases of Helvetica: "Much of the warm personality of Miedinger's shapes was lost along the way...digital Helvetica has always been one-size-fits-all, which leads to unfortunate compromises...the spacing has ended up much looser than Miedinger's wonderfully tight original at display sizes but much too tight for comfortable reading at text sizes."[19]

iOS used first Helvetica then Helvetica Neue[20] as its system font. All releases of Mac OS X prior to OS X Yosemite used Lucida Grande as the system font. The version of Helvetica Neue used as the system font in OS X 10.10 is specially optimised; Apple's intention is to provide a consistent experience for people who use both iOS and OS X.[21]

Neue Helvetica W1G (2009)[edit]

It is a version with Latin Extended, Greek, Cyrillic scripts support. Only OpenType CFF font format was released.

The family includes the fonts from the older Neue Helvetica counterparts, except Neue Helvetica 75 Bold Outline. Additional OpenType features include subscript/superscript.

Helvetica World[edit]

Also called Helvetica Linotype,[22] Helvetica World supports Arabic, Cyrillic, Greek, Hebrew, and Vietnamese scripts.

The family consists of four fonts in 2 weights and 1 width, with complementary italics.

The Arabic glyphs were based on a redesigned Yakout font family from Linotype. Latin kerning and spacing were redesigned to have consistent spacing.[23] John Hudson of Tiro Typeworks designed the Hebrew glyphs for the font family,[24] as well as the Cyrillic, and Greek letters.[25]

Neue Helvetica eText (2011)[edit]

It is a version of Neue Helvetica optimised for on-screen use, designed by Akira Kobayashi of Monotype Imaging.

The family includes 8 fonts in 4 weights and 1 width, with complimentary italics (45, 46, 55, 56, 65, 66, 75, 76). OpenType features include numerators/denominators, fractions, ligatures, scientific inferiors, subscript/superscript.[26]

Neue Haas Grotesk (2010)[edit]

Neue Haas Grotesk is the most recent digitisation of Helvetica's precursor, completed by type designer Christian Schwartz in 2004.[27][28][29] This project, which he referred to as a restoration, was completed in 2010.[30]

The updated design includes a version optimized for on-screen display, as well as a style for printed text, both of which preserve the original essence of the typeface. The release includes a number of features not present on digitisations branded as Helvetica, including optical sizes and corrected-curve obliques, tabular figures, stylistic alternates such as separate punctuation sets for upper- and lower-case text and separate spacing metrics for oblique styles.[31] Writing for the website Typographica, typeface designer Matthew Butterick argued that the release was superior to any previous digital release of Helvetica: "As someone who’s worked with cold-metal Helvetica, I can vouch for the fact that it’s never looked better...My sole criticism of the face [is] its ungainly name, which I’m regrettably certain will limit its visibility and hence its uptake. "Neue Haas Grotesk" makes it sound like a second cousin of Akzidenz Grotesk that’s just stumbled in from the hinterlands. But no, it is the rightful heir to the Helvetica throne. It should carry the Helvetica name."[32]

Similar typefaces[edit]

Comparison of Helvetica, Arial, and Bitstream Vera.
Helvetica on the logo of Cassina S.p.A., showing its traditionally tight letterspacing

Generic versions of Helvetica have been made by various vendors, including Monotype Imaging (CG Triumvirate), ParaType (Pragmatica), Bitstream (Swiss 721), URW++ (Nimbus Sans), and Ray Larabie (Coolvetica and GGX88).

Monotype's Arial, designed in 1982, while different from Helvetica in some few details, has identical character widths, and is indistinguishable by most non-specialists. The characters C, G, R, Q, 1, a, e, r, and t are useful for quickly distinguishing Arial and Helvetica.[33] Differences include:

  • Helvetica's strokes are typically cut either horizontally or vertically. This is especially visible in the t, r, f, and C. Arial employs slanted stroke cuts.
  • Helvetica's G has a well-defined spur; Arial does not.
  • The tail of Helvetica's R is more upright whereas Arial's R is more diagonal.
  • The number 1 of Helvetica has a square angle underneath the upper spur, Arial has a curve.
  • The Q glyph in Helvetica has a straight cross mark, while the cross mark in Arial has a slight snake-like curve.

Two typefaces with features intermediate between Arial and Helvetica are "Arimo" and "Roboto", both of which are available as web fonts.[34] Arimo is a Croscore font family and is metrically compatible with Arial. Roboto was developed by Google for version 4 of its Android operating system.

"Helv", later known as "MS Sans Serif", is a sans-serif typeface that shares many key characteristics to Helvetica, including the horizontally and vertically aligned stroke terminators and more-uniform stroke widths within a glyph.


Helvetica used on signs in Vienna, 1973
Helvetica is used on signage on the Chicago 'L'
Helvetica used in the logo of the National Film Board of Canada

Helvetica is among the most widely used sans-serif typefaces.[35] Versions exist for many alphabets and scripts.

Helvetica is a popular choice for commercial wordmarks.

Media coverage[edit]

In 2007, Linotype GmbH held the Helvetica NOW Poster Contest to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the typeface.[36][37] Winners were announced in January 2008 issue of the LinoLetter.

In 2007, director Gary Hustwit released a documentary film, Helvetica (Plexifilm, DVD), to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the typeface. In the film, graphic designer Wim Crouwel said, "Helvetica was a real step from the 19th century typeface... We were impressed by that because it was more neutral, and neutralism was a word that we loved. It should be neutral. It shouldn't have a meaning in itself. The meaning is in the content of the text and not in the typeface." The documentary also presented other designers who associated Helvetica with authority and corporate dominance, and whose rebellion from Helvetica's ubiquity created new styles.

From April 2007 to March 2008, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City displayed an exhibit called "50 Years of Helvetica",[38] which celebrated the many uses of the typeface. In 2011 the Disseny Hub Barcelona displayed an exhibit called Helvetica. A New Typeface?. The exhibition included a timeline of Helvetica’s consolidation over the last fifty years with a view to understanding its role in the history of design, as well as its antecedents and its subsequent influence. The itinerary started out with a selection of local works, highlighting the top-quality design of current and past creations whose common denominator is their use of Helvetica.[39]

In 2011, one of Google's April Fools' Day jokes centered around the use of Helvetica. If a user attempted to search for the term "Helvetica" using the search engine the results would be displayed in the font Comic Sans.[40]


  1. ^ a b Helvetica (Documentary). 2007-09-12. 
  2. ^ "myfonts: Arthur Ritzel". New.myfonts.com. 1999-02-22. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  3. ^ de Jong, Cees W; Purvis, Alston W; Friedl, Friedrich. "Creative Type: A Sourcebook of Classic and Contemporary Letterforms". Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-50051229-6. Retrieved 2009-06-08. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Type 1 ("PostScript") to OpenType font conversion". Adobe. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  5. ^ Simonson, Mark. "Interview with Phil Martin". Typographica. Retrieved 30 August 2014. 
  6. ^ Puckett, James. "Helvetica Flair (photo of specimen book)". Flickr. 
  7. ^ Spencer, Tim. "Kern Your Enthusiasm: Shatter". HiLoBrow. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  8. ^ Winch, Andrew. "Vic Carless Obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  9. ^ "Helvetica Cyrillic". Fonts. Adobe. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  10. ^ "TYPO.18" (magazine). CZ: Svettisku. December 2005. 
  11. ^ "Download Neue Helvetica® Arabic font family". Linotype.com. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  12. ^ "Helvetica now available in Thai" (World Wide Web log). Linotype. Mar 2003. 
  13. ^ "Helvetica jetzt auch in Thai – Eine der beliebtesten Schriften ab sofort in neuer Sprachversion bei Linotype erhältlich" (in German). 2012-03-20. 
  14. ^ "Anuthin". 2012-03-02.  |chapter= ignored (help)
  15. ^ "Helvetica Thai". Linotype. 
  16. ^ "Manop Mai" (distribution). Anuthin + Cadson Demak. Dec 2009. 
  17. ^ "Linotype Library presents entire New Helvetica family on a single CD". Linotype.com. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  18. ^ "Who Made Helvetica Neue?", typophile.com
  19. ^ Schwartz, Christian. "Neue Haas Grotesk". Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  20. ^ Gruber, John (2010-06-29). Daring Fireball. The Daring Fireball Company LLC. http://daringfireball.net/2010/06/4. Retrieved 18 October 2014. It’s a subtle change, but Apple has changed the system font for the iPhone 4, from Helvetica to Helvetica Neue. The change is specific to the iPhone 4 hardware (or more specifically, the Retina Display), not iOS 4.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. ^ "OS X Human Interface Guidelines: Designing for Yosemite". Apple Developer. Apple, Inc. 2014-10-16. Retrieved 18 October 2014. The use of Helvetica Neue also gives users a consistent experience when they switch between iOS and OS X. 
  22. ^ "The Language Whiz — Helvetica Linotype". Linotype.com. 2007-10-16. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  23. ^ "Linotype Releases 1100+ OpenType Fonts: Release a Significant Step Towards Format's Acceptance". Typographica.org. August 6, 2003. Archived from the original on 2008-07-04. Retrieved 2009-06-08. In the Comments Section: The biggest differences are the new Greek, Cyrillic and Hebrew designs, and the presence of Arabic support based on the radically redesigned Yakout Linotype (not a perfect match for the Helvetica, but the most appropriate in the Linotype Library; this is 'core font' Arabic support: not for fine typography). There is also a large maths and symbol set in each font (not complete maths typesetting support, but more than you'll get in most fonts). The only big change in the Latin is that the whole thing has been respaced. The old Helvetica Std Type 1 and TT fonts inherited, via phototype, the unit metrics of the original hot metal type. This led to all sorts of oddities in the sidebearings, which were cleaned up during development of Helvetica Linotype. It is still quite a tightly spaced typeface by today's standards, but the spacing is now consistent. It was also re-kerned. Helvetica Linotype has also been extensively hinted for screen. -- John Hudson 
  24. ^ "Experimental Arabic Type". Typographica.org. Retrieved 2009-06-08. [dead link]
  25. ^ Macmillan, Neil. An A–Z of Type Designers. Yale University Press: 2006. ISBN 0-300-11151-7.
  26. ^ "Download Neue Helvetica® eText font family". Linotype.com. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  27. ^ "Neue Haas Grotesk". The Font Bureau, Inc. p. Introduction. 
  28. ^ "Neue Haas Grotesk - Font News". Linotype.com. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  29. ^ "Schwartzco Inc". Christianschwartz.com. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  30. ^ "Neue Haas Grotesk". History. The Font Bureau, Inc. 
  31. ^ "Neue Haas Grotesk". The Font Bureau, Inc. Retrieved 23 December 2013. 
  32. ^ Butterick, Matthew. "Neue Haas Grotesk". Typographica. Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  33. ^ How to Spot Arial at Mark Simonson Studio
  34. ^ "Helvetica Neue Equivalent on Google Fonts?". Graphic Design Stack Exchange. Retrieved 2014-08-09. 
  35. ^ "Uses of Helvetica". Fonts In Use. 
  36. ^ "Linotype Announces Helvetica NOW Poster Contest". Creativepro.com. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  37. ^ "Helvetica NOW Poster Contest". Linotype.com. 2008-08-19. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  38. ^ "Exhibitions 2007: 50 Years of Helvetica". Museum of Modern Art, New York. Retrieved 2008-11-16. 
  39. ^ Helvetica. A New Typeface? at Disseny Hub Barcelona
  40. ^ Pickel, Janet (1 April 2011). "April Fool's Day: Helvetica becomes Comic Sans and Gmail Motion is on the move". The (Harrisburg, PA) Patriot-News. Retrieved 1 April 2011. 


  • Lawrence W Wallis. Modern Encyclopedia of Typefaces 1960-90. Lund Humphries Publishers Ltd: 2000. ISBN 0-85331-567-1.
  • Müller, Lars; Malsy, Victor (Ed.); Langer, Axel; Kupferschmid, Indra: Helvetica forever. Story of a typeface. Lars Müller Publishers 2007. ISBN 978-3-03778-121-0 [1]

External links[edit]