What is the difference between Helvetica and Neue Helvetica? First, a bit of history.
The original Helvetica design was created by Max Miedinger and released by Linotype in 1957. The second, Neue Helvetica, was a re-working of the 1957 design and was released in 1983 by D. Stempel AG, Linotype’s daughter company. More recently, Linotype released the Neue Helvetica Pro design in 2004, which is an OpenType version with expanded foreign language support.
In 1983, the original Helvetica was redrawn and expanded to rework some of the design characteristics that were the results of the technological limitations of the times – from hot metal to photocomposition to digital. As technologies improved, these limitations were removed, allowing total design freedom. The outcome was Neue Helvetica, a fusion of aesthetic and technical refinements and modifications that resulted in improved appearance, legibility and usefulness.
Some of the changes made to the original Helvetica design include:
- A number of characters were subtly altered to be more consistent with the overall design, as well as to improve legibility.
- Figures have been widened to better harmonize with the overall design characteristics of Helvetica.
- Some of the punctuation has been reworked and strengthened.
- The cap heights are now consistent throughout the family, correcting subtle differences in the previous version.
- The x-height has been adjusted to appear visually the same in all weights. In previous versions, the x-heights were all the same actual height, but since type tends to look shorter as it gets heavier, the new x-heights compensate for this optical illusion.
- Each weight in Neue Helvetica is identified by a number in addition to the weight name for easy reference (similar to Univers and Frutiger).
- The Neue Helvetica family was expanded to a total of 51 weights, include eight weights plus italics for the regular, obliques for the expanded versions, nine weights plus obliques for the condensed, as well as a bold outline version for the regular width.