Helvetica knockoffs

renovatio's picture

Hey everyone!

I have currently been looking for Helvetica knockoffs, and am not entirely sure that I've come upon what I exactly need.

As we all know, Arial is the obvious villain in this situation. However, other than Arial, what type faces are a direct knockoff of Helvetica?

I've got: CG Triumvirate, Pragmatica, Swiss 721, Nimbus Sans, Helv/MS Sans Serif, and Newhouse DT. Now, these are all clearly influenced by Helvetica, but are they also considered knockoffs?

Also, I was told by someone, fleetingly (hence the forgetfulness), that there is another typeface in existence that is also a direct knockoff of Helvetica. Described vaguely as having portions of Helvetica removed to create it. Anyone have an idea as to what it is?

Thanks in advance. :)

J_P_L's picture

Akzidenz-Grotesk (the mother of helvetica)
Folio
Maxima
Univers Std
Paralucent

renovatio's picture

Thanks so much! This really helps.

Si_Daniels's picture

Here's one you missed... Neue Helvetica

cerulean's picture

Shatter is derived directly from Helvetica.

Corey Holms's picture

I wouldn't call it a knockoff, but how about Haas Unica?
http://typophile.com/node/18387

David Sudweeks's picture

There's a free font by the name Alte Haas Grotesk that mimics very well Helvetica under duress of soft-focus photocomposition.

Also Christian Schwartz details the completion of the custom Neue Haas Grotesk on his site, commissioned in 2004 by Mark Porter at The Guardian; Completed in 2010 for Richard Turley at Bloomberg Businessweek. This design attempts to answer the question “... but what was Helvetica really like?”

Indra Kupferschmid's picture

>> Akzidenz-Grotesk (the mother of helvetica), Folio, Maxima, Univers Std, Paralucent

Calling Akzidenz-Grotesk the mother and a knock-off at the same time is interesting. It was in the form of »Serie 57« and later AG Buch though, but then you'd want to include Monotype Grotesk also and others who issued alternative letters for their typefaces to make the feel more Helvetica after it's huge success, f.e. Norma and Linea.
Univers and Folio were issued at the same time in 1957 (Univers developed since 1952), so it's hard to call then knock-off's. As I wouldn't call a further developement of the same typeface like Neue Helvetica.

But there are Aristocrat, Claro, Corvus, Geneva 2, Hamilton, HE, Helios & Helios II, Helv, Helvestar, Helvette, Newton, Nimbus Sans, Megaron, Sans, Spectra, Swiss 721, Switzerland, Vega and Video Spectra.

Maybe the book Helvetica forever is an interesting read for you.

Nick Shinn's picture

...and others who issued alternative letters for their typefaces to make the feel more Helvetica after its huge success...

Aren't you just pumping the myth (like Helvetica Forever)?

There was a technological sea-change in typesetting at the time, as there frequently is, driven by changes in technology and business practice. If a foundry had a grot, and they all did, they reworked it. Cleaning up one's catalog for multiple-device setting -- including the most demanding and non-size-specific, typositor reel -- is something foundries were duty-bound to, not because they were aping Helvetica. AG was a prime candidate, being so very inconsistent between metal sizes.

Sabon was a cleaned-up, multi-device Garamond, and illustrative of this process, and certainly not a Helvetica me-too.

Helvetica was still a hodge-podge of metal idiosyncracies between styles (note the spur of "a" at different weights) compared to The System demonstrated by Univers, which was the iconic and intellectual centre of the movement.

Another driving force was the role of the International Style in modernist corporate identities, with design systems which demanded smoothly variable plastic qualities of a typeface, making that the focus of attention.

Avant Garde may be considered a simplified Futura, removing its style inconsistencies (e.g. pointy apexes in lighter weights, different "C" form in condensed styles, curve distortions of extra bold weights).

1985's picture

Anyone know why the idiosyncrasies were continued in Neue Helvetica? Christian Schwartz also kept the same spur/spurless 'a' formula for his reworking.

MackG99's picture

coolvetica is one http://www.dafont.com/coolvetica.font ... sorta

Chris Dean's picture

I saw a swash version of Helvetica once, but I can't seem to find is anymore. Anyone?

Nick Shinn's picture

why the idiosyncrasies were continued in Neue Helvetica?

It wouldn't be Helvetica without them, it would be Haas Unica, which didn't fly.

Indra Kupferschmid's picture

“If a foundry had a grot, and they all did, they reworked it. Cleaning up one's catalog for multiple-device setting -- including the most demanding and non-size-specific, typositor reel -- is something foundries were duty-bound to, not because they were aping Helvetica.”

I'd tend to agree if Berthold or Monotype had just reworked the weight, spacing and x-height. These were adapted to the current taste (corporate needs or the international Style). But why change the design of R, G and a which formerly were the key differences?

1985's picture

It wouldn't be Helvetica without them, it would be Haas Unica, which didn't fly.

They did remove the chipped flare on the 'a' and 'R' though.

I'm inclined to agree with Indra. Although Helvetica Forever maybe pumping the idea absolutely, it seems unlikely that several foundries would import horizontal terminals akin to Helvetica, which previously weren't a feature of the family in any weight, as a matter of tidying up optical sizes. Surely this is a matter of emulation?

Speaking of horizontal terminals, anyone know anything about the version of Helvetica that has ever so slightly angled terminals?

Indra Kupferschmid's picture

At least when it comes to the wish of their designers Helvetica was never supposed to have angled terminals—how slightly they might have turned out.

And I still don't quite understand why you think Helvetica Forever “is pumping the myth” here. The source for my research was mostly Alfred Hoffmann, maybe in your opinion not the most un-biased person? But at least the material I got left no doubt for statements like these.

Nick Shinn's picture

...it seems unlikely that several foundries would import horizontal terminals...

Which typefaces are we talking about?
Akzidenz Grotesk had horizontal terminals in some sizes, prior to Helvetica.
But again, if one were to pick out a face as model for this feature, surely it would be Univers.

I still don't quite understand why you think Helvetica Forever “is pumping the myth” here.

It follows the "great man" approach to history, which mythologizes famous people (or fonts) as the agents of change, rather than examining the interplay of technology and society, which accords individual agents less importance.

So the book is named "Helvetica Forever," rather than "Grotesque Forever," simultaneously cashing in on the myth, and reinforcing it. Such is the feedback loop by which myths thrive.

Another element of myth-making is the marginalization of secondary players.
With the Helvetica myth, its relationship with the grotesque continuum is minimalized, hence its knocking-off from Akzidenz Grotesk is downplayed. This involves eulogizing Helvetica's color, spacing and refinement as the key qualities of Helvetica's design and success, which is no doubt correct, but does that really constitute enough design to be considered an original typeface? perhaps then, but shouldn't we know better now?

Excuse me while I get back to working on my latest typeface, Gotham with the terminals straightened out, to be named Cabotia.

Angus R Shamal's picture

Excuse me while I get back to working on my latest typeface, Gotham with the terminals straightened out, to be named Cabotia.

Gotham, another knockoff in itself. :)

1985's picture

There are, I think, two other typefaces included in the appendix to Indra's book showing replacement characters. Unfortunately I do not have my copy to hand but I'm sure Indra can fill in the blanks. The point is that it is not just AG that received similar changes.

I disagree that the Helvetica process was 'knocking off' and or that it is downplayed by Helvetica Forever. The whole published document shows a continued comparison to AG, there are no attempts to hide these comparisons in this book at least. This is perhaps a myth that you are pumping! I sympathise with the great man idea of history and the title, Helvetica Forever, does lend itself that way, but the actual content continually refers back to AG. It is easy to celebrate Univers independence as a project, and rightly so, but I don't find that this degrades Helvetica, nor Haas Unica for the same reason. For me this celebrates the split-hair nature of the task and makes me less cynical, not more.

Nick, I believe you have taken on challenges before, after a Typophile thread, which resulted in the drawing of a font? I challenge you to take AG's 'e' and 's' and manually change them with pen, paper, paint or appropriate historical technique, to those of Helvetica. According to your own assessment it should not take too much time away from your much simpler project, the digital Cabotia :-)

Nick Shinn's picture

This is perhaps a myth that you are pumping!

Well, I've only glanced at the book, so perhaps I should shut up about it.

I challenge you to take AG's 'e' and 's' and manually change them with pen, paper, paint or appropriate historical technique, to those of Helvetica

That's not really necessary, as there were certain sizes of AG which already had those features:

Nick Shinn's picture

Here is another scan from the 1954 Berthold specimen, the bottom setting below, which I have duplicated above digitally, with a Helvetica font, with no letterspacing adjustments.

Indra Kupferschmid's picture

Andrew, do you mean Record-Gothic and Monotype-Groteque? Those got alternative characters in the Swiss style (to avoid the »great man« fairytale) in 1961, Forma and Linea in 1966 while the major redesign of Akzidenz-Grotesk by GGL I was referring to was issued in 1969.

New characters of Monotype Grotesque:

Record Gothic as reissued in 1961:

Akzidenz-Grotesk Buch from 1969 (above) and Old Style (below):

We never downplayed the »knocking-off« from Akzidenz-Grotesk (or rather the wishful mimicing of its sucess) anywhere in the book. It was prominently mentioned as a key source right in the first paragraph of the essay, page 21 (unfortunately I only have the German version at hand) and I explained her role in detail again in the captions to Hoffmann's sketch book reprint as well as in the later chapters. Nonetheless—Breite Halbfette Grotesk, respectively Französische Grotesk and Normal Grotesk were just as influencial.

1985's picture

Indra those are indeed the amended typefaces that I was referencing from your book, thanks.

Nick, I confess I hadn't seen the versions of AG other than Series 57 that featured horizontal terminals throughout, so thanks for taking the time to upload. That aside, I still think the challenge to take the version of AG examined in Helvetica Forever, to Helvetica itself, would be fairly intense, especially with the available technology. That is what the design record at the centre of the book charts over many drawings and reflections. Even if these are within a finite ballpark, they are quite searching. Unsurprisingly there are plenty of exacting comparisons between the two faces, much like the one you have created!

I have a feeling it is in a type designer's interest to reserve the terms 'knock off' for faces containing the exact same information, passed off under different names, than to describe the story of Helvetica, Haas Unica or other review based work.

Corey Holms's picture

We've gone a bit over my head at this point, but I'll throw this into the ring. Not certain I'd call New Rail Alphabet a knock off either, but a rethinking??? Regardless, it's a damn handsome typeface.
http://www.newrailalphabet.co.uk/

Nick Shinn's picture

I have a feeling it is in a type designer's interest to reserve the terms 'knock off' for faces containing the exact same information, passed off under different names, than to describe the story of Helvetica, Haas Unica or other review based work.

So if someone were to take Gotham, make the x-height a bit smaller, straighten up the terminals, and rename it, that wouldn't be a knock-off, but legitimate "review based work"?

1985's picture

Apply only those processes to the AG and you won't have Helvetica.

The reason I advise caution bandying the term 'knock-off' around and suggest it is in your interest not to cry wolf on the issue is so that people take note when someone does manipulate your font in such a manner.

As for Gotham – it is celebrated because it delivers a very smooth version of a flavour we all know.

I quote from H&FJ site: Gotham is that rarest of designs, the new typeface that somehow feels familiar.

Angus R Shamal's picture

So if someone were to take Gotham, make the x-height a bit smaller, straighten up the terminals, and rename it, that wouldn't be a knock-off, but legitimate "review based work"?

no, I would think that would be a direct violation of copyright laws and illegal and punishable by law. :)

and i think a "knockoff" is more of an obvious optical similarity or too similar idea to another contemporary design, isn't it?

1985's picture

Corey, I'm happy to see New Rail Alphabet, and Aktiv and all the rest. Less interested in the sales pitch on the latter, negativity is a bit uninspiring! I was stuck in hospital (United Kingdom) recently and was surprised to see some old signage still using the original Rail design. I was able to identify it from only four letters: B, a, t and h.

Ray Larabie's picture

It's hard not to veer too close Helvetica/AG/Arial because they're balanced, conventional and expressionless. GGX88 was designed as text companion to Avant Garde Gothic headings for a set-top box display system. Designing a balanced, somewhat modular sans serif font with a large x-height, not much expression and conventional shapes can bring you really close to Helvetica unless consciously taking measures to avoid it. In the case of GGX88, my client was interested in sharing some of the characteristics of Avant Garde Gothic while remaining conventional & neutral.

ill sans's picture

Like Ray Larabie said: "If you work on a font long enough it will turn into Helvetica." ;-)

geraintf's picture

1985: there's info about the kinnear and calvert NHS signage in an article in one of the C20 society journals--PM me for more info if interested.

geraintf's picture

so it took me three months to come up with this third-rate photo...

quadibloc's picture

I suppose that Max Miedinger's Neue Haas Grotesk, now known as Helvetica, can be considered to be somewhat illegitimately derived from Berthold's Akzidenz-Grotesk, given that Haas hadn't acquired Berthold at that time or anything like that.

However, while it did use Akzidenz-Grotesk as a source of inspiration, while that face brought some new things to sans-serif faces, it was still not that attractive or inspiring. It was just another sans-serif face in a crowded field.

Helvetica, on the other hand, was beautiful and magical. That's what makes me come down firmly on the side of viewing it as a new creation, not plagiarism. There are many, many typefaces out there - but their existence can't be allowed to prevent the creation of new typefaces, even if almost any new typeface, unless it's a very weird-looking display face, is going to look close to something else out there. Subtleties are not trifles in typography.

blank's picture

I suppose that Max Miedinger's Neue Haas Grotesk, now known as Helvetica, can be considered to be somewhat illegitimately derived from Berthold's Akzidenz-Grotesk, given that Haas hadn't acquired Berthold at that time or anything like that.

This notion that Heveltica is somehow a plagiarism of the brilliant Akzidenz Grotesk is a load of rubbish that needs to be hauled off to a landfill. Akzidenz Grotesk was not some work of pure genius that sprang up in 1890s Germany; its design was no more original than Helvetica was. Akzidenz was a collection of similar grots that were derivatives of older grots that were also derivatives of older grots. A Cincinnati Type Foundry specimen from the 1860s at Butler Library shows a font that’s a dead ringer for the regular weight of Akzidenz and I doubt that one was especially original. We need to avoid creating sloppy narratives that try to show type design as a string of genius moments and ripoffs and accept it for the slow, deliberate, and derivative process that it usually is.

1985's picture

Geraint, better late than never!

James: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11706476

quadibloc's picture

Incidentally, in searching for information about Haas Unica, I found that this face is currently unavailable because of a dispute between two companies about which one inherited the rights to it from Haas.

From an aesthetic viewpoint, it seems to me that indeed it moves away from Helvetica to Univers or Akzidenz-Grotesk, but its lack of success can't be used as evidence of any failings in the face itself, as it is its circumstances that have precluded success.

quadibloc's picture

Also, my web searches turned up another face similar to Helvetica. Like the Romain du Roi, this one was presumably developed to protect against forgery - in this case of signage. The Rail Alphabet, used by British Rail.

type addict's picture

Haas Unica, combining the design characteristics of UNivers and HelvetICA.
A really great knockoff by Team 77, André Gurtler, Erich Gschwind and Christian Mengelt.

David Berlow's Titling Gothic FB is nice.

geraintf's picture

quadibloc: the kinneir/calvert team were behind that one also, IIRC. they branded British Rail, the NHS, the motorways, a big chunk of the welfare state.

blank's picture

David Berlow's Titling Gothic FB is nice

Again with the lazy history.

quadibloc's picture

Here's the Gothic (some other weights are also present) from the Cincinnati type specimen for 1870. Akzidenz Grotesk it isn't, although it has some interesting properties:

It clearly is humanistic rather than geometric, and it isn't horribly ugly like many of the older grotesques, so it could indeed be categorized as a neo-grotesque. But it's not clear to me that this is actually all that far ahead of its time, as Franklin Gothic already existed back then.

Note how capital C and capital U, for example, have varying stroke widths. That's definitely not Akzidenz, but it is very interesting.

Now, the light weight may look a bit more like Akzidenz, but then the basic letter forms have been around for a long time in handprint...

For comparison...

Vinchenzo's picture

Arial - the font designed, made and commissioned so that Microsoft could have a slice of Helvetica.

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