Helvetica™ is everywhere. Still, we can’t deny its status as a classic. It truly deserves the title role in the first feature-length documentary about a typeface, and it’s no surprise that it took the #1 spot on FontShop Germany’s Best Fonts of All Time. But Helv isn’t always the right sans for the job. This week on the FontFeed we offer 13 alternatives to Helvetica. Here are a few of our favorites from that bunch.
Schulbuch™ — A series of fonts based on the historical
textbook types used in Northern and Southern Germany, and Bavaria. The Nord
(North) variant is the closest relative of Helvetica.
Why it’s not Helv: A single-story ‘a’ and tailed ‘l’. Vintage Deutsch cachet.
Univers™ — Univers is widely considered Adrian Frutiger's masterpiece. Its 27 styles range from Ultra Condensed Thin to Extra Extended Black, but still feel uniform when combined.
Why it’s not Helv: In some ways, even more spare (no beards or tails). Uniformity across a broad spectrum of styles.
Paralucent™ — The first text sans serif from Rian Hughes, a master of stylized display faces. It still shows signs of his distinctive hand, from the big round ‘i’ dots and wedge terminals to the daring lowercase ‘g’. Paralucent was designed to be more consistent than Helvetica, and a solid modern workhorse of a font, elegant enough for headline and robust enough for text.
Why it’s not Helv: More square than round. Extra large x-height. Extra tight spacing (loosen it up for small copy). A stencil version!
FF Bau™ — Helvetica is cold and calculated, but its roots lie in much quirkier material. Its earliest direct ancestor was first introduced around 1880. Christian Schwartz updated the family for contemporary needs without removing the spirit and warmth of the original.
Why it’s not Helv: A double-storey ‘g’. Lowercase ’a‘ keeps its tail in all weights. Optional oldstyle figures.
Monotype Grotesque™ — A British type from the 1900s, MT Grotesque’s ten very different styles read like a timeline of grots to come — Bell Gothic®, Trade Gothic™, Helvetica — but none of them match its warmth and character. See it big and you’ll understand what we mean.
Why it’s not Helv: Delightfully irregular, a type that shows signs of rough cut metal.
Basic Commercial™ — Appearing in hot metal at the turn of the 20th century, Basic Commercial (like Akzidenz-Grotesk®) is based on designs that influenced all the modern grotesques that followed. Basic Commercial was distributed for many years in the United States under the name Standard Series which is seen most notably in Massimo Vignelli’s signage for the New York City subway.
Why it’s not Helv: Angled stroke endings (‘S’, ‘C’, ‘e’) open up the counters and add life. Taller ascenders lend elegance.
Neue Helvetica™ — Despite all the alternatives, sometimes the old reliable is still the best bet. Neue Helvetica (German for “New”) is the most complete and usable set of Helvetica fonts. Over the years, the Helvetica family was expanded to include many different weights. In 1983, D. Stempel AG redesigned and digitized the “Neue Helvetica” typeface for Linotype and made it a self-contained font family.
Free Font of the Month
Preface™ — Nick Shinn's reaction to Helvetica is a sans serif that is also sans diagonals. Preface combines the effects of a sober grotesque with a few truly original lettershapes.
Free offer no longer available but you can still test and purchase Preface.
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