The difference between Helvetica and Neue Helvetica

schaffs's picture

Hello Typophiles,

We have numerous enquiries from customers who are using old style Helvetica. They in turn are then advised by their design agency's to use Neue Helvetica instead, but then they always ask the question about what are the differences? I am sure to the untrained eye the fonts do look very similar, but I am hoping that the Typographic community here can expand further.

What I am particularly interested in is

Difference in character shapes
Any difference in kerning
Any pro's/cons of upgrading to Neue Helvetica.

I have searched the web for answers, but I would feel more confident in the information that I can receive here.

I thank you for your time.

Kind regards

Nickel's picture

Hi there Neil.

Linotype had updated the Helvetica family to with the width and weights similar to Univers by Adrian Frutiger.

There are slight differences between the shapes and Neue always seems to be slightly more rounded with p d q b.

The tail in t for Neue is slightly longer.

With your other two queries its probably better someone else handles them.


blank's picture

O is drawn better in Neue—it doesn’t look like it wants to fall over.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture


One of the big differences is that whereas the various weights of Helvetica were drawn by different type designers at different times, Helevetica Neue was conceived as a large family from the get-go (it also has more weights than Helvetica), and has consistent variations from one weight to the next. The series of weights are named and organized in a manner similar to the Univers family; that is, using two-digit numbers (i.e., 55=Roman, 65=Medium, 75=Bold, etc. Numbers ending in 5 are upright weights; those ending in 6 are Italics; numbers ending in 7 are Condensed; numbers ending in 3 are Extended).

More info here...

...and here:

schaffs's picture

Many thanks to those of you who have commented so far.

All points are most welcome.

Kind regards

timd's picture

Compare the rt and rm combinations, Neue is awful in this regard.


Uli's picture

> the various weights of Helvetica were drawn

The various weights of "new" Helvetica were not "drawn", but generated mechanically. You can trace this mechanical generation by the foot serif of the right stem of the capital R, comparing them with obtuse and petering foot serifs of old Helvetica.


The expression "new" Helvetica was a publicity stunt.
The "new" Helvetica was definitely not a new design.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

The various weights of “new” Helvetica were not “drawn”, but generated mechanically

Ulrich, if you pay more attention you will see that I was talking about the original Helvetica when I said "...the various weights of Helvetica were drawn..."

The “new” Helvetica was definitely not a new design.

No one here has claimed that. If it were a new design it wouldn't be named Helvetica, would it?

Uli's picture

> If it were a new design...

"Neue" means "new".

blank's picture

Neue Helvetica also corrects some the weird little things that people who like to nitpick would notice. Compare the shapes of upper-case O in the original and neue and you will see what I mean. Combining those little tweaks with the weight adjustments and consistency fixes produced—at least in my opinion—a typeface that’s much more attractive than the original, especially in the lighter weights.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

“Neue” means “new”.

Yes, thanks, I am aware of that. On the subject of terminology I recommend an enlightening essay by John Downer, Call It What It Is.

Uli's picture

“Neue” means “new”.

The only important question is this one:

Was "Neue Helvetica" ("New" Helvetica) registered as as "new" design at the German design office?

As only "new" ("neue") designs are eligible for registration, it is forbidden and punishable to cheat the design office by registering a non-new design as "new" design.

PS added: I now found out whether the German design office was cheated, but Typophiles prefer publicity ( to facts.

Nick Shinn's picture

advised by their design agency’s to use Neue Helvetica

Why do companies need design agencies to tell them this stuff?
Everyone knows Helvetica is the best font software to use--there's even a movie about it.
Smart companies should get rid of their agencies and licence the latest version of Helvetica.
Helvetica Neue now, and Helvetica Pro 1.0 next year.
Then Helvetica Pro 2.0 the year after, and so on.

blank's picture

Why do companies need design agencies to tell them this stuff?

I’m just amazed that the design agencies are telling them to use Neue Helvetica and not trying to keep them away from typesetting everything in Arial, TNR, and/or Comic Sans. But Neil is in the UK—I guess they’re just smarter about this sort of thing than most of my countrymen.

canderson's picture

Why do companies need design agencies to tell them this stuff?
Once a design consultant has been paid a lot of money, it's nearly impossible to argue against them. Many companies don't want their internal decision making process to degrade into a Typophile thread. Linotype should sell Helevetica subscriptions.

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