Helvetica – the definitive version?

Hello all,

I've had a check through previous posts but not found this exact topic, please redirect me if there is.

So what is your chosen version of Helvetica? Or should I say Helvetica Neue (as most people will be using as opposed to the original digit 'cut').

From working at various design agencies, studios, other people's computers etc I have probably used every version of Helvetica going. There are many, plus now we also have Christian Schwarz's digitized Neue Haas Grotesk to content with. But is it possible to advise and settle the issue? Is one foundry's version objectively the best?

Please discuss!



Frode Bo Helland's picture

Depends on how you define “best”. Best at what? Supporting a lot of languages? Rendering well on screen? Faithful to the original?

hrant's picture



JEH's picture

hrant: I presume that you mean Team'77's Haas Unica, and not one of the other fonts called Unica (Eduardo Tunni's "Unica One" or Elias Chafino's "Unica", neither of which are even vaguely Helvetica-like). Sadly, I can't find Haas Unica for sale (apparently due to a conflict between Lino­type and Scan­graphic), so I'm not really sure that your suggestions is practical...

hrant's picture

The act of mentioning Unica -thereby triggering expressions of dismay that it is no longer available- is the best way to motivate the powers that be to correct their intransigence, causing the mention to have practical relevance once again. Mount Ararat isn't Turkish - it's currently in Turkey. Play the long game.


Nick Shinn's picture

Lewis, if anyone is qualified to make a “best of” decision, it would appear to be you, as you have worked with so many Helveticas. So why you asking?!

IMO, working with a typeface in a layout app, developing a document design and then seeing it in print/on screen is the best way to assess a face, rather than just seeing it around output in other designers’ work.

What’s your opinion, and why?
Please support by showing examples of your work with Helvetica.

Nick Shinn's picture

But you know, with regards to headline settings, as Ms Muldaur once put it, it ain’t the meat it’s the motion. Check out the spacing on this ad of mine from 30 yrs ago:

Public Spaces Design's picture

Thanks for the comments fellas.

Sorry Nick, I don't have many examples to hand on file from past work, and I don't have the versions I used on other machines of course. But I do remember giving a good study at the time. I noticed slightly different x heights and different variations for the same corresponding weights. Because of the weight issue, some worked better a smaller sizes and others as large/display. As Frode mentioned, there were other factors, like language support, which wouldn't affect me as everything I've done is in English (well, once in German).

So I guess what I wondered is maybe someone had already looked into the specifics of the different versions. I like the Linotype cut, but I really like the sound of Schwarz's Neue Hass Grotesk so hopefully one day I'll either get that or have an opportunity to use it. But what I really need to look into is the main differences between Linotype and Adobe versions. I know I should have before raising this thread!

I didn't know about Unica, but made for interesting googling thanks. Sounds a little bit like the efforts made with aforementioned Neue Haas Grotesk remake?

But in being the mighty, ubiquitous typeface that it is (I wrote a chapter in my university dissertation looking at the topic of globalisation and helvetica, or rather the global usage of it) it seems odd that it isn't easy to settle on a "definitive" version of it, at least out of the popularly available versions (as I imagine there is a theoretical debate about what constitutes a "definitive" version of it).

dezcom's picture

Why does it matter so much which cut ends up as the definitive choice? It is more a combination of how it does the specific task at hand and personal taste. Why not just add every other grotesk ever drawn to the mix as well? Frode's comment is a pretty fair question to ask.

Public Spaces Design's picture

I don't disagree. What I mean to do is put the question out as a hypothesis. If the simple answers is "no" then the next step in the hypothesis is whether there are strong factors/reasons why one version might be better for specific uses than another. Right now, just saying it is personal taste leaves it open and somewhat chaotic. There must be more concrete and informed opinions and reasoning towards preferences in different versions of Helvetica? For a more potent example, take a look at the issues with Garamond, and how much fuss the ITC cut caused. There isn't the same situation with Helvetica, but I am sure there is a lot to be said about the pros and cons of one version over another.

Albert Jan Pool's picture

Or should I say Helvetica Neue

No, I think you shouldn’t. ‘Neue Helvetica’ is the right name. The decision to put ‘Neue’ behind Helvetica is a font menue sorting issue. Unfortunately, fonts do not have such a thing as a ‘sorting name’ by which both Adobe Garamond and ITC Garamond would be automatically sorting under G. And Helvetica and Neue Helvetica under H. Another thing is that PostScript fonts did not allow numbers in the font names. So Frutigers number system, which Stempel (they took care of the Linotype library those days) had adopted for naming the weights of many other new /re-designed families such as Janson Text, could not be used in the font menues. The Mac 4-style family strategy was ‘chosen’ instead. Shit happens.

Nick Shinn's picture

Issue 83 of Eye magazine is a must for Helvetica obsessives.

Art director Simon Esterson sets the entire editorial matter of the magazine in a different typeface each issue, and for #83 it’s Neue Haas Grotesk.

What makes it really interesting—apart from seeing such a typographic tour de force with Helvetica on many different kinds of paper stocks—is the feature on Massimo Vignelli, which reproduces some of his work with Helvetica in complete-page reproductions.


If only all the type foundry ads had been for their classic grotesque typefaces…

Public Spaces Design's picture

Excellent, nice one Nick, thanks a lot for that. I used to subscribe but now I only get the occasional issue of Eye. Missed that one completely though. Would want to see it in any case but sold on Vignelli. I recently bought his Canon as I was tired of looking back to the free pdf version and much prefer things in print. Don't we all?! Also, speaking of that link, the Helvetica on the eye website seems to render nicely, doesn't it? Going to have to investigate their style sheets...

ferfolio_2's picture

"Christian Schwartz has newly restored the original Neue Haas Grotesk in digital form – bringing back features like optical size variations, properly corrected obliques, alternate glyphs, refined spacing, and more."

I didn't like Helvetica until Neue Haas Grotesk appeared... I think it's the best digital version of it, the only disadvantage is the price!


marcox's picture

Looks like Unica is getting the Neue treatment from Linotype:


Hrant, will you still like the typeface once it's commercially available and not just a platonic ideal?

hrant's picture

Touché. :-)
But really, a font is meant to be used, and I've lost track of how many times I've had to give bad news to people emailing me (after reading of my interest via Typophile) of where to get it.


quadibloc's picture

I just bumped into a page mentioning Post Grotesk and Runda, both of which looked like alternatives to Helvetica to me.

Since Haas Unica originally came out for phototypesetters in 1977, I would have thought that the design was no longer protected even in Europe, just as Optima and Palatino are able to be copied. So I am surprised there are not imitations of it all over the place, given that it is felt to be Helvetica "done right".

The typeface Heltar was referred to in one place as a Haas Unica redraw, but I don't know how accurate that is.

bensyverson's picture

For my money, the ultimate "Helvetica" is Christian Schwartz's Neue Haas Grotesk. Once you compare it to Neue Helvetica, there is no contest.

Unica is lovely, but it's not Helvetica. It's an improved Helvetica.

Syndicate content Syndicate content