Wich "serif" to be well matched with omnipresent Helvetica?

Alessandro Pascoli's picture

Just wich "serif" to be well matched with omnipresent Helvetica.
Any suggestions?

blank's picture

Times New Roman is the perfect face when you need to say “I don’t give a shit and this client will pay late anyway.”

riccard0's picture


Maxim Zhukov's picture

In my opinion (in alphabetical order, not in order of preference):



ITC Century








—and many others.

Jan's picture

Slimbach (image) is Utopia and the other way round.

hrant's picture

James, good one!


Maxim Zhukov's picture

Aw shucks. No pass…

hrant's picture

To be fair* sometimes a designer has to match something whether he likes the pre-existing thing or not... Few people can brush off clients because they don't like a font they've been using. So it's certainly nice to help out. Maybe an Egyptian would be safest (and my own favorite is Egyptian 505).

* It's too tempting to pass up a jab at Helvomita... Oops, I did it again!


Maxim Zhukov's picture

After all, there is nothing intrinsically wrong in the Halvetica-and-Times combo, or even in the Arial-and-Times New Roman. It works.

hrant's picture

Maybe the combo is acceptable in some way, but its parts have problems. Helvetica's vertical proportions and spacing are mismatched (it's kind of the flipside of Mrs Eaves) and both Helvetica and Times (and Arial) are too diluted by over-use.

If somebody was starting fresh I personally could never recommend those.


Maxim Zhukov's picture

From the practical standpoint the Arial-&-TNR (Helvetica-&-Times) combo is unbeatable. Everybody’s got them, worldwide, no matter what hardware or OS. The metrics of those fonts are compatible by design. I used them for many years. Did you?

Nick Shinn's picture

In typography, any typeface may be matched with any other.

However, if you must use Helvetica, it is usually best to use nothing but Helvetica, despite its shortcomings as a text face.
This is because such neo-grotesque types express the idea/myth that typefaces should be neutral, which adding a contrasting face undermines by introducing a typeface-centric dialogue.

Nonetheless, if one designs with an awareness of historical modernism, it is possible to reference other ideas, such as the origins of typeface modernism and the grotesque typestyle in the early 19th century, or Post-modernism.

Then again, one may choose to ignore all cultural associations, and just consider pure form--in which case it may be best to just experiment in your layout, with an open-minded attitude, trying every serif face on your hard drive and seeing how you can optimize each combination.

hrant's picture

Maxim: no, I don't use fonts much - I admit. But I do make fonts, and over the past 2+ decades of doing so have formed ideas of what works and what doesn't, based not least on my users. But most of all, I'm certainly not the only one who sees enough problems with Helvetica to recommend not using it. Spiekermann's opinion isn't good enough either? Not GGL's either? And Times? You might ask John Hudson what he thinks. Let's not pretend that there are no expert typographers who avoid those fonts like the plague.


What about this?


Alessandro Pascoli's picture

Well thanks to all.
I was already working with Utopia and Century. Egyptienne it really has an interesting harmony with Helvetica to me.
But I get the point of view of Nick about modernism drive origins of typeface so I choose Utopia with his cleanliness and optical sizes: "Utopia, created by Robert Slimbach and presented by Adobe in 1992, was intended to solve a number of typographic problems related to office correspondence. This demanded versatility, so Slimbach created a font family with cuts for text, for titles, extra bold for headlines, small caps, all caps with numerals, old face numerals, fractions, ligatures and scientific markings. Not just its forms, but also its aesthetics make the balanced, elegant Utopia suitable for any use." (Linotype)

Celeste's picture

I've always thought that David Hillman's (now defunct) iconic masthead for The Guardian newspaper
showed that Helvetica Black and ITC Garamond Italic are a great match.

And don't forget Jack Summerford's poster, too.

dave bailey's picture

Or this t-shirt Hrant produced a few years ago, of which I snagged two!

dirtcastle's picture

Maxim, that's a very useful list of fonts. Thank you.

hrant's picture

Due credit: Brian Jaramillo was my partner on that.


John Hudson's picture

Hrant: You might ask John Hudson what he thinks. Let’s not pretend that there are no expert typographers who avoid those fonts like the plague.

I not only don't avoid Helvetica, I've even designed Helvetica (Greek, Cyrillic and Hebrew). I do avoid Times New Roman though.

I used to dislike Helvetica, but after working on it pretty intimately, I came to the conclusion that it is rather more interesting and worthwhile than either its modernist fan club or its detractors suggest. Most versions suffer from very bad spacing, due to inheritence of unitised matrix widths, but the actual design rewards study.

hrant's picture

> I’ve even designed Helvetica

You pay me well enough I'll do it too. :-)

Anyway, I was specifically talking about Times. And you've said
something much stronger than "I avoid it" in the past. Thank you.

> due to inheritence of unitised matrix widths

That's escapist.

> the actual design

I'm not sure what that means. A font's spacing is integral to it. A font with bad spacing (or rather, spacing that doesn't match its vertical proportions) is a bad font. But Helvetica actually has two Achilles' heels: the other is its severe over-use, which no amount of good spacing will now cure.


John Hudson's picture

A font’s spacing is integral to it.

I said most versions of Helvetica were badly spaced. The original Haas foundry version wasn't, so that it the spacing that I would consider integral to the design, as opposed to integral to particular fonts. Helvetica was respaced for unitised widths, so can just as easily be respaced for better fit. I respaced Helvetica World (although I now think that spacing a bit too tight: more appropriate for subheads than text).

Over use isn't a criteria for judging a design. It may be a reason to avoid using a type, but it isn't as if the character of the design changes over time due to over use. Look at the thing itself, not at your associations and perceptions of it.

matr's picture

"...it isn’t as if the character of the design changes over time due to over use. Look at the thing itself, not at your associations and perceptions of it..."

Of course the character of the design will change with overuse. The perception of a typeface is created by its design, and if one perceives something to be ubiquitous then that will naturally become criteria when judging it. You cannot honestly say when you see and then consider Helvetica you don't remember where it has been used before?!

You can try to be objective but I would argue that ignoring your perception and association is impossible whether you think you're doing it or not.

hrant's picture

> The original Haas foundry version ...

Right, when people talk about using Helvetica,
they mean the original Haas foundry version...

> Over use isn’t a criteria for judging a design.

Fonts are for users (like Alessandro here) and for a user over-use most certainly is something to worry about. And not my associations and perceptions, John, but those of society.

Please, enough of this apologistic maneuvering to appease buddies.


Maxim Zhukov's picture
  • Please, enough of this apologistic maneuvering to appease buddies.

You mean, make war, not love?

hrant's picture

I mean be candid. Especially to your friends.
It leads to more peace in the long term.
(But Heraclitus was right.)


Chris Dean's picture

Try Belizio, designed by David Berlow of The Font Bureau. And in Bringhurst's book, The Elements of Typographic Style, he recommends Haas Clarendon. Not sure where to buy that particular cut.

Chris Dean's picture

Accidentical double post. Does anyone know how to remove a post?

hrant's picture

You just did it. :-/


quadibloc's picture

Except in signs, I don't see Helvetica that often, and I have to admit that in my opinion Helvetica is more attractive than Univers - or Gill Sans; which doubtless exposes my lack of taste. (And my opinion of Times Roman is that it will stick around as long as Caslon did.)

But I don't think that Helvetica and Times Roman go well together (unless they're very different in size, so the issue of the stylistic clash arises less). Times Roman's appeal comes partly from its very sharp serifs, which shouldn't really be on the same line as no serifs. Clarendon - and most of the other suggestions made here - are much better.

matr's picture

"Except in signs, I don’t see Helvetica that often"

You mean you've missed the iPhone's OS? Orange advertising....its bloody everywhere!

nina's picture

"Except in signs, I don’t see Helvetica that often"

Try living in Switzerland.
But really, I suspect it's all around you too. It tends to become invisible because it's so ubiquitous.

John Hudson's picture

Hrant, whom do you imagine that I am 'appeasing'?

I have spent time working with the Helvetica design, and I am making comments about the quality of that design based on intimate knowledge of it. And one of the points I have made about Helvetica a number of time, contra your 'homogenized Helveeta', is that this is actually a quite idiosyncratic design with many oddities of construction, ultimately only understandable as a reduced contrast romantic type, which makes its associations with modernism all the more ironic.

I'm talking about the design, not about its use, over-use or appropriateness for any given purpose. Back before I worked on Helvetica Linotype (now Helvetica World), my opinion of Helvetica was largely the same as yours: a negative reaction to an overused, badly spaced font with, to me, unpleasant associations. Since working on it, I've been forced to acknowledge that the design itself is really quite brilliant, not least in its figure-ground relationships, i.e. its notan. It is still overused, and most versions are still badly spaced, and it still has unpleasant associations, but it is also a very clever bit of work that deserves to be acknowledged as such.

Here's an idea for you: why not spend some time making an Armenian Helvetica? I wonder if your appreciation of the design might increase, as mine did when I worked on new Cyrillic and Greek versions.

Alessandro Pascoli's picture

"And in Bringhurst’s book, The Elements of Typographic Style, he recommends Haas Clarendon."

All my typographic projects start from the suggestions of this valuable book ;-)

Alessandro Pascoli's picture

Some general suggestions from Bringhurst’s book "The Elements of Typographic Style".

Akzidenz Grotesk & Clarendon
Baskerville & Bodoni
Bodoni & Baskerville
Bodoni & Futura
Caecilia & Sabon
Clarendon & Akzidenz Grotesk
Clarendon & Century
Folio & Impressum
Frutiger & Meridien
Frutiger & Sabon
Futura & Bodoni
Futura & Galliard
Futura & Memphis
Garamond & Syntax
Jenson & Univers
Memphis & Futura
Meridien & Frutiger
Meridien & Univers
Minion Pro & Myriad Pro
Minion Pro & Poetica
Myriad Pro & Minion Pro
Officina Sans & Officina Serif
Officina Serif & Officina Sans
Palatino & Aldus
Sabon & Caecilia
Sabon & Clairvaux
Sabon & Frutiger
Sabon & Syntax
Sabon & Univers
Sabon & Zapf Book
Serifa & Univers
Stone Sans & Stone Informal
Stone Sans & Stone Serif
Stone Serif & Stone Informal
Stone Serif & Stone Sans
Syntax & Garamond
Syntax & Sabon
Univers & Centennial
Univers & Duc De Berry
Univers & Egyptienne
Univers & Jenson
Univers & Meridien
Univers & Sabon
Univers & San Marco
Univers & Serifa
Univers & Walbaum
Walbaum & Univers
Zapf Book & Sabon


matr's picture

There is an extremely good online adaptation of Bringhurst's book:

Sye's picture

personally, my favourite thing about helvetica is the numeral 7. i think it's just beautiful.

SuperUltraFabulous's picture

I love the lowercase a

dojr2's picture

And I love the uppercase G and R (though the R in Univers is better), IMVHO.

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