Category Sans-serif
Classification Neo-grotesque sans-serif
Designer(s) Max Miedinger, Eduard Hoffman
Foundry Haas Typefoundry
Date released 1957
Re-issuing foundries Mergenthaler Linotype Company
Design based on Akzidenz Grotesk

Helvetica Neue
Swiss 721 BT

Helvetica World

Helvetica is a widely used sans-serif typeface developed in 1957 by Swiss typeface designer Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann.[1]


Visual distinctive characteristics

Characteristics of this typeface are:

lower case: square dot over the letter i. double storey a.

upper case: dropped horizontal element on A.


Helvetica was developed in 1957 by Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann at the Haas'sche Schriftgiesserei (Haas type foundry) of Münchenstein, Switzerland. Haas set out to design a new sans-serif typeface that could compete with the successful Akzidenz-Grotesk in the Swiss market. Originally called Neue Haas Grotesk, its design was based on Schelter-Grotesk and Haas’ Normal Grotesk. The aim of the new design was to create a neutral typeface that had great clarity, no intrinsic meaning in its form, and could be used on a wide variety of signage.[1]

When Linotype adopted Neue Haas Grotesk (which was never planned to be a full range of mechanical and hot-metal typefaces) its design was reworked. After the success of Univers, Arthur Ritzel of Stempel redesigned Neue Haas Grotesk into a larger family.[2]

In 1960, the typeface's name was changed by Haas' German parent company Stempel to Helvetica (derived from Confoederatio Helvetica, the Latin name for Switzerland) in order to make it more marketable internationally. It was initially suggested that the type be called 'Helvetia' which is the original Latin name for Switzerland. This was ignored by Eduard Hoffmann as he decided it wouldn't be appropriate to name a type after a country. He then decided on 'Helvetica' as this meant 'Swiss' as opposed to 'Switzerland'.


Comparison of distinguishing characters in Akzidenz-Grotesk, Folio, Helvetica, and Univers 55.

Language variants

The Cyrillic version was designed in-house in the 1970s at D. Stempel AG, then critiqued and redesigned in 1992 under the advice of Jovica Veljovic.[3]

Matthew Carter designed the Helvetica Greek.[4]

Variations of Helvetica

Helvetica Light

Helvetica Light was designed by Stempel's artistic director Erich Schultz-Anker, in conjunction with Arthur Ritzel.[5]

Helvetica Compressed

Designed by Matthew Carter, they are narrow variants that are tighter than the Helvetica Condensed. It shares some design elements with Helvetica Inserat, but using curved tail in Q, downward pointing branch in r, and tilde bottom £.

The family consists of Helvetica Compressed, Helvetica Extra Compressed, Helvetica Ultra Compressed fonts.

Helvetica Textbook

Helvetica Textbook is an alternate design of the typeface. Some characters such as 1, 4, 6, 9, I, J, a, f, j, q, u, μ, and are drawn differently from the original version.

Helvetica Inserat (1957)

Helvetica Inserat is a version designed in 1957 primarily for use in the advertising industry. Sharing similar metric as Helvetica Black Condensed, the design gives the glyphs a more squared appearance, similar to Impact and Haettenschweiler. Strike with strokes in $, ¢ are replaced by non-strikethrough version. 4 is opened at top.

Helvetica Rounded (1978)

Helvetica Rounded is a version containing rounded stroke terminators. Only bold, bold oblique, black, black oblique, bold condensed, bold outline fonts were made, with outline font not issued in digital form by Linotype.

Helvetica Narrow

Helvetica Narrow is a version where its width is between Helvetica Compressed and Helvetica Condensed. However, the width is scaled in a way that is optically consistent with the widest width fonts.

The font was developed when printer ROM space was very scarce, so it was created by mathematically squashing Helvetica by 18% (to 82% of the original width), resulting in distorted letterforms and thin vertical strokes next to thicker horizontals.[6]

OpenType version was not produced by Adobe under the distortion reasoning, and recommended Helvetica Condensed instead. However, in Linotype's OpenType version of Helvetica Narrow, the distortions found in the Adobe fonts are non-existent.

Neue Helvetica (1983)

Varying Helvetica Neue typeface weights

Neue Helvetica is a reworking of the typeface with a more structurally unified set of heights and widths. It was developed at D. Stempel AG, Linotype's daughter company. The studio manager was Wolfgang Schimpf, and his assistant was Reinhard Haus; the manager of the project was René Kerfante. Erik Spiekermann was the design consultant and designed the literature for the launch in 1983.[7] Other changes include improved legibility, heavier punctuation marks, and increased spacing in the numbers.

Neue Helvetica uses a numerical design classification scheme, like Univers. The font family is made up of 51 fonts including 9 weights in 3 widths (8, 9, 8 in normal, condensed, extended widths respectively), and an outline font based on Helvetica 75 Bold Outline (no Textbook or rounded fonts are available). Linotype distributes Neue Helvetica on CD.[8] Neue Helvetica also comes in variants for Central European and Cyrillic text.

Neue Helvetica W1G (2009)

It is a version with Latin Extended, Greek, Cyrillic scripts support. Only OpenType CFF font format was released.

The family includes the fonts from the older Neue Helvetica counterparts, except Neue Helvetica 75 Bold Outline. Additional OpenType features include subscript/superscript.

Helvetica World

Also called Helvetica Linotype,[9] Helvetica World supports Arabic, Cyrillic, Greek, Hebrew, and Vietnamese scripts.

The family consists of four fonts in 2 weights and 1 width, with complementary italics.

The Arabic glyphs were based on a redesigned Yakout font family from Linotype. Latin kerning and spacing were redesigned to have consistent spacing.[10] John Hudson of Tiro Typeworks designed the Hebrew glyphs for the font family,[11] as well as the Cyrillic, and Greek letters.[12]

Neue Haas Grotesk (2010)

Neue Haas Grotesk is the most recent digitisation of Helvetica, based on its initial version.[13][14]

Similar typefaces

Comparison of Helvetica, Arial, and Bitstream Vera.

Generic versions of Helvetica have been made by various vendors, including Monotype Imaging (CG Triumvirate), ParaType (Pragmatica), Bitstream (Swiss 721), URW++ (Nimbus Sans).

Monotype's Arial, designed in 1982, while different from Helvetica in some few details, has identical character widths, and is indistinguishable by most non-specialists. The characters C, G, R, Q, 1, a, e, r, and t are useful for quickly distinguishing Arial and Helvetica.[15] Differences include:

  • Helvetica's strokes are typically cut either horizontally or vertically. This is especially visible in the t, r, f, and C. Arial employs slanted stroke cuts.
  • Helvetica's G has a well-defined spur; Arial does not.
  • The tails of the R glyphs and the a glyphs are different.
  • The number 1 of Helvetica has a square angle underneath the upper spur, Arial has a curve.
  • The Q glyph in Helvetica has a straight cross mark, while the cross mark in Arial has a slight snake like curve.

"Helv", later known as "MS Sans Serif", is a sans-serif typeface that shares many key characteristics to Helvetica, including the horizontally and vertically aligned stroke terminators and more uniformed stroke widths within a glyph.


Helvetica used on signs in Vienna, 1973
Helvetica is used on signage on the Chicago 'L'
Helvetica used in the logo of the National Film Board of Canada

Helvetica is among the most widely used sans-serif typefaces. Versions exist for the following alphabets/scripts: Latin, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, Urdu, Khmer and Vietnamese. Chinese faces have been developed to complement Helvetica.

Helvetica is a popular choice for commercial wordmarks, including those for 3M, American Airlines, American Apparel, BMW, Jeep, JCPenney, Kawasaki, Lufthansa, Microsoft, Mitsubishi Electric, Motorola, Panasonic, Philippine Airlines, Target, and Verizon Wireless.[16] Apple Inc. has used Helvetica widely in iOS (previously iPhone OS), and the iPod. The iPhone 4 uses Neue Helvetica.[17]

Helvetica is widely used by the U.S. government; for example, federal income tax forms are set in Helvetica, and NASA uses the type on the Space Shuttle orbiter.[1] Helvetica is also used in the United States television rating system.

New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) uses Helvetica for many of its subway signs, but Helvetica was not adopted as the official font for signage until 1989. The standard font from 1970 until 1989 was Standard Medium, an Akzidenz Grotesk-like sans-serif, as defined by Unimark's New York City Transit Authority Graphic Standards Manual. The MTA system is still rife with a proliferation of Helvetica-like fonts, including Arial, in addition to some old remaining signs in Medium Standard, and a few anomalous signs in Helvetica Narrow.[18]

The Chicago Transit Authority uses Helvetica on its signage for the Chicago 'L'. The former state owned operator of the British railway system developed its own Helvetica-based Rail Alphabet font, which was also adopted by the National Health Service and the British Airports Authority. Additionally, it was also adopted by Danish railway company DSB for a time period.[19] Canada's federal government uses Helvetica as its identifying typeface, with three variants being used in its corporate identity program, and encourages its use in all federal agencies and websites.[20]

CNN used Helvetica as its main font for much of its history; they recently switched to Univers. The NBA on TNT used Helvetica from 2002–05; NBA on ABC used the font during the 2003-04 NBA season. CBS Sports programs have been using Helvetica since 2006, particularly during its broadcasts of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament and the NFL. The U.S. adaptation of The Office uses Helvetica in its graphics.

Media coverage

In 2007, Linotype GmbH held the Helvetica NOW Poster Contest to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the typeface.[21][22] Winners were announced in January 2008 issue of the LinoLetter.

In 2007, director Gary Hustwit released a documentary, Helvetica, to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the typeface. In the film, graphic designer Wim Crouwel said, "Helvetica was a real step from the 19th century typeface... We were impressed by that because it was more neutral, and neutralism was a word that we loved. It should be neutral. It shouldn't have a meaning in itself. The meaning is in the content of the text and not in the typeface."

From April 2007 to March 2008, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City displayed an exhibit called "50 Years of Helvetica",[23] which celebrated the many uses of the typeface.

In 2011, one of Google's April Fool's Day jokes centered around the use of Helvetica. If a user attempted to search for the term "Helvetica" using the search engine the results would be displayed in the font Comic Sans.[24]


Helvetica was rated number one on FontShop Germany's list, "Best Fonts of All Time".[25]


  1. ^ a b c Helvetica (Documentary). 2007-09-12. 
  2. ^ "myfonts: Arthur Ritzel". New.myfonts.com. 1999-02-22. http://new.myfonts.com/person/ritzel/arthur/overview.html. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  3. ^ "Adobe Fonts: Helvetica Cyrillic". Store1.adobe.com. http://store1.adobe.com/cfusion/store/html/index.cfm?store=OLS-US&event=displayFontPackage&code=361. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  4. ^ magazine TYPO.18 December 2005 issue
  5. ^ "Cees W. de Jong, Alston W. Purvis, Friedrich Friedl. Creative Type: A Sourcebook of Classic and Contemporary Letterforms. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0500512299/ISBN 978-0500512296". Thamesandhudson.com. http://www.thamesandhudson.com/books/Creative_Type/9780500512296.mxs/20/11/. Retrieved 2009-06-08. [dead link]
  6. ^ "Type 1 ("PostScript") to OpenType font conversion". Adobe.com. http://www.adobe.com/type/opentype/T1_to_OTF_FAQ.htm. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  7. ^ "Who Made Helvetica Neue?", typophile.com
  8. ^ "Linotype Library presents entire New Helvetica family on a single CD". Linotype.com. http://www.linotype.com/en/2876/linotypepresentsentirenewhelveticafamilyonasinglecd.html. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  9. ^ "The Language Whiz — Helvetica Linotype". Linotype.com. 2007-10-16. http://www.linotype.com/en/1824-18303/thelanguagewhizhelveticalinotype.html. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  10. ^ "Linotype Releases 1100+ OpenType Fonts: Release a Significant Step Towards Format's Acceptance". Typographica.org. August 6, 2003. Archived from the original on 2008-07-04. http://web.archive.org/web/20080704110031/http://typographica.org/000652.php. Retrieved 2009-06-08. "In the Comments Section: The biggest differences are the new Greek, Cyrillic and Hebrew designs, and the presence of Arabic support based on the radically redesigned Yakout Linotype (not a perfect match for the Helvetica, but the most appropriate in the Linotype Library; this is 'core font' Arabic support: not for fine typography). There is also a large maths and symbol set in each font (not complete maths typesetting support, but more than you'll get in most fonts). The only big change in the Latin is that the whole thing has been respaced. The old Helvetica Std Type 1 and TT fonts inherited, via phototype, the unit metrics of the original hot metal type. This led to all sorts of oddities in the sidebearings, which were cleaned up during development of Helvetica Linotype. It is still quite a tightly spaced typeface by today's standards, but the spacing is now consistent. It was also re-kerned. Helvetica Linotype has also been extensively hinted for screen. -- John Hudson" 
  11. ^ "Experimental Arabic Type". Typographica.org. http://typographica.org/000484.php. Retrieved 2009-06-08. [dead link]
  12. ^ Macmillan, Neil. An A–Z of Type Designers. Yale University Press: 2006. ISBN 0-300-11151-7.
  13. ^ http://www.linotype.com/6598/neuehaasgrotesk.html
  14. ^ http://www.christianschwartz.com/haasgrotesk.shtml
  15. ^ How to Spot Arial at Mark Simonson Studio
  16. ^ "BBC News - Helvetica at 50". 2007-05-09. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6638423.stm. Retrieved 2009-02-20. 
  17. ^ "Daring Fireball: 4". John Gruber. http://daringfireball.net/2010/06/4. 
  18. ^ "The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway.". AIGA. http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/the-mostly-true-story-of-helvetica-and-the-new-york-city-subway?pp=1/. 
  19. ^ Eye blog » Rue Britanica.Typeface name changes after Eye magazine goes to press
  20. ^ "FIP Information Design". Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/clf-nsi/fip-pcim/id4_e.asp. 
  21. ^ "Linotype Announces Helvetica NOW Poster Contest". Creativepro.com. http://www.creativepro.com/article/linotype-announces-helvetica-now-poster-contest. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  22. ^ "Helvetica NOW Poster Contest". Linotype.com. 2008-08-19. http://www.linotype.com/helveticaNOW. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  23. ^ "Exhibitions 2007: 50 Years of Helvetica". Museum of Modern Art, New York. http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/38. Retrieved 2008-11-16. 
  24. ^ Pickel, Janet (1 April 2011). "April Fool's Day: Helvetica becomes Comic Sans and Gmail Motion is on the move". The (Harrisburg, PA) Patriot-News. http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2011/04/april_fools_day_joke_for_type.html. Retrieved 1 April 2011. 
  25. ^ "To Helvetica and Back". Fontshop.com. http://www.fontshop.com/features/newsletters/feb2007_a/. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 


  • Lawrence W Wallis. Modern Encyclopedia of Typefaces 1960-90. Lund Humphries Publishers Ltd: 2000. ISBN 0 85331 597 1.
  • Müller, Lars; Malsy, Victor (Ed.); Langer, Axel; Kupferschmid, Indra: Helvetica forever. Story of a typeface. Lars Müller Publishers 2007. ISBN 978-3-03778-121-0 [1]

External links

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