TypeTalk: Helvetica vs. Neue Helvetica

TypeTalk is a regular blog on typography. Post your questions and comments by clicking on the Comments icon above. Q. What is the difference between Helvetica and Neue Helvetica? A. 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. Figure 1. The width of some characters, such as the cap M, has been extended to improve balance and aesthetics. Figure 2. Widened crossbars on the lowercase f and t increase character recognition in text. Figure 3. Rounded characters have been given softer curves to better harmonize with the rest of the design. • Figures have been widened to better harmonize with the overall design characteristics of Helvetica. Figure 4. Widened figures better reflect the characteristics of Helvetica. • Some of the punctuation has been reworked and strengthened. Figure 5. Punctuation has been 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. Love type? Want to know more? Ilene Strizver conducts her acclaimed Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her e-newsletter at www.thetypestudio.com.

Posted on: June 15, 2011

Ilene Strizver

Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer, writer and educator specializing in all aspects of visual communication, from the aesthetic to the technical. Her book, Type Rules! The designer’s guide to professional typography, 4th edition, has received numerous accolades from the type and design community. She conducts her widely acclaimed Gourmet Typography Workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her free e‑newsletter, All Things Typographic, at www.thetypestudio.com.

8 Comments on TypeTalk: Helvetica vs. Neue Helvetica

  1. Good post, but I’d like to see a few phrases juxtaposed. I have to see it in real words to get a feel for it.

  2. Could you comment on the bad fonts that came in this set? Have they been fixed and is it safe to use it again? How to update the old version to the new version if it has been corrected.

  3. Great article. it is also worth looking at Christian Schwartz’s digital revival ‘Neue Haas Grotesk’

    —Marcus Leis Allion

  4. I was involved with the releasing of the Helvetica family which was a hodge podge of older faces from 3 different foundries owned by Linotype.
    For instance Helvetica Bold Condensed figures were taken from an older version of Inserat grotesque and thrown into the original release. The first customer of the old family was Spartan Typographers of Oakland California and it was a success.
    The Helvetica demand allowed this family continued until the digital version for the Linofilm caused the rework name Neue Helvetica.
    The release of Folio and rework of
    Akzidenz Grotesk took care care of the

  5. Very helpful.

  6. Not sure if it is to “improve” “aesthetics”, but yes the differences are correctly observed. Personally I prefer Helvetica to Helvetica Neue.

  7. I’ve always wondered what were the differences and just never got around to researching it. I’ve always used “Neue” for no other reason than it sounded so modern, lol. Thanks for the article.

    Blessings & Prosperity to all,

  8. Hmm some really good fonts up here, personally I do prefer Neue more because it can be used both as for some freestyle presentation and for some a bit more serious documents, like essays maybe. But you can’t use these for any REALLY serious documents of course :) Thanks for the post.

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