Welcome to Typophile
Please Sign in.

What is Helvetica Medium and where did it come from???

When I use the Adobe CS programs on a PC and I am trying to use Helvetica, what looks like the standard roman version of Helvetica is labeled as Helvetica Medium? But when looking to see if Helvetica Medium is a font that can be purchased online I cannot find it?
So what is Helvetica Medium? Where did it come from? and is it an actual font that can be purchased?

And no, I'm not getting this confused with Helvetica Neue 65 Medium, I understand that they are separate typefaces.

Any thoughts???


Helvetica Medium = the standard roman version of Helvetica.

Adobe's apps get their name info from other parts of the font than traditional Windows apps. And in fact for PostScript Type 1 fonts that Adobe has in their library, they have a table to look up the "correct" typographic name. So it doesn't necessarily match what you see in other apps.



Thomas, thanks for your response!

Do you know if there is any specific documents written that describe this?

I inquire because I a have a Client that would like to use their old typographic standards on their new signage system. The font is spec'd out as Helvetica Medium in their graphic standards. And now they are looking online to find and purchase Helvetica Medium and I need to make an argument that Helvetica Medium and Helvetica Roman are the same.

Any advice would be great, thanks.

There is a difference between Helvetica Medium and Helvetica Regular. Helvetica Medium is actually a semibold face that achieved fame in the Modernist era where it was used as a display face over and over. The regular weight is actually more of the text weight. Helvetica Medium was frequently specified for signage across the globe. The very early personal computers, sometimes would deliver Helvetica Medium" which was named by them as "Bold". Part of this was a screen resolution issue since true bold would not resolve well on screen in the 80's. To get the "True" weights of Helvetica, go to the Linotype site and see the originals.

I take that back about the Linotype set. They have since rearranged their naming system. What was popularly known as Helvetica Medium when dozens of 20th Century design Standards were written is seen by looking at the work of Rudy DeHarack Müeller-Brockmann, and certainly, Massimo Vignelli. Also see Paul Shaw's book on the New York Subway signage.


Here is a bad sample of the real Medium:

It's not surprising that there is some confusion over what weight "Helvetica Medium" is because, historically, there were differences in the names of the weights between Linotype and Haas Foundry.

Haas Name -- Linotype Name
Helvetica Light -- Helvetica Light
Helvetica Regular -- Helvetica
Helvetica Medium -- Helvetica Bold
Helvetica Bold -- Helvetica Black

Source: The Type House (Minneapolis) Helvetica specimen booklet, c. 1975, which displays versions of Helvetica available for Linotype (hot metal), Foundry (hand-set metal), Linofilm (phototypesetter), and Typositor (VGC film headline setter).

Linotype Helvetica Bold was a bit bolder than Haas Helvetica Medium because it was designed for smaller size ranges (6pt to 14pt and 14pt to 72pt, respectively, are shown in the booklet I have). For circumstantial reasons, the Linotype names are the ones that have predominated in the digital type era.

(Chris, looks like you edited your post while I was writing mine. Sorry for the overlap.)

No problem, Mark. As an old geezer, I remembered what WAS medium but when I saw the Linotype page, I knew it was all changed. I can't find any of my old original Type 1 postscript files--who knows if they even would work?

I am glad you were "in the Haas" Mark ;-)

Here are two samples from the early 1980s

@Bojev, Did you per chance know Hobart Jackson from your Carbondale days?

Here are the different versions from the booklet I have:

It's interesting that some of the Typositor italics are simple slants.

BTW, these are all set at about 14pt. on the original.

The early phototype stuff on typositor was frequently just slants. Later, after customer complaints, they used redrawn versions.

How does Swiss 721 Medium compare?

I see this version in lots of signage.

Swiss 721 is more or less the same as the Linotype version. The only version I know of that is close to the old foundry Helvetica Medium (and Typositor version) is URW's Nimbus Sans D Bold (the "D" is for "display"--it's the display cut that Linotype never had).

Ah yes, thanks Mark.

My bad, I got it scrambled. I should have remembered this from my Adobe days, a whole bunch of Linotype fonts that were called "Medium" instead of bold.

In other words, Medium is the new Bold. At least for Linotype.