HelveticaGrave.pngOBITUARY: After a prolonged battle with Mac OS X, Helvetica — along with younger cousin Helvetica Neue — was finally pronounced dead on October 28, 2007 with the release of Leopard, by Apple, in California.

For years, print-based graphic designers and prepress professionals have fought to replace certain Mac OS X default fonts with their existing PostScript Type 1 fonts of the same name — Helvetica being a primary example.

It’s been a losing battle.

Now with Leopard, the war for control of Helvetica is done, and Mac OS X won.

Why does Leopard change the fight over Helvetica?

With the release of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, Apple hammered a final nail in the Helvetica coffin for print designers. Try removing Helvetica.dfont or HelveticaNeue.dfont from System and Leopard puts it right back:

The system font Helvetica.dfont was removed. This font files is required by Mac OS X to display onscreen text. It has been restored.

Apple is serious. Don’t mess with Helvetica.

So what is a Helvetica-loving print designer to do? The answer is easy — although you’ll need to do the unthinkable and actually buy a font.

The problem: Is Helvetica a System font or a Creative font?

For graphic designers, there are two types of fonts on your computer:

System Fonts which include a core set of fonts your Mac requires for the computer itself to function properly.

Creative Fonts which include a large, varied, and ever growing assortment that creative teams use to keep their designers happy and productive.


At the heart of this battle over Helvetica is a somewhat philosophical question. Is Helvetica a system font or a creative font? When Mac OS X was new, designers attempted to maintain their old ways of working in Mac OS 9. We’d strip out Apple’s Helvetica.dfont, drop in our old Postscript standards and work away.

The problem with this solution is that it took a lot of work. Every time a new copy of Mac OS X was installed, we’d have to go in and strip out all the unwanted Helvetica.dfont files again. It became a never-ending battle.

Then new problems started surfacing. With multiple copies of Helvetica in different formats, the font caches become corrupt and we start seeing ongoing problems with garbled text in Safari, Mail and Entourage.

With Mac OS X Leopard, Apple has made it clear. Helvetica is a system font. Period.

Helvetica is dead. Long live Helvetica LT Std.

Here it is: We at Creativetechs strongly recommend that designers stop using the fonts named “Helvetica” or “Helvetica Neue” in print production.

If your studio relies on Helvetica or Helvetica Neue, it is time for you to purchase Adobe’s new OpenType versions of those core fonts. The appearance is the same, but the names in your font menus are different from Apple’s default fonts. No longer will you design with “Helvetica” instead it is time to start using “Helvetica LT Std.”


Our battles all along have never been with Helvetica the typeface — all our fights with Apple and Mac OS X have been over who uses the name of “Helvetica” in the font menus. Thus, because Adobe’s newest OpenType version — Helvetica LT Std — is not named the same as Apple’s default Helvetica system font, the problems go away.

By the way, Helvetica LT Std stands for “Helvetica Linotype Standard.”

In our testing, the letterform outlines are identical to the old Postscript version of Helvetica that designers have used for years. However there does appear to be some slight variations in character spacing, so check your documents’ text rag when you update them.

Yes. You need to buy a font!

We know this solution goes against a long-standing tradition of graphic designers not buying their fonts. In an online survey last year, half the designers responding admitted they had purchased almost none of their fonts. With only 6% saying they had purchased all their fonts. (The graphic below comes from our Fonts & Mac OS X 2007 Update talk hosted by Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts last January.)


Survey: How many of your fonts did you pay for?

We joke around with designers about this. But, in this rare case, if you use Helvetica or Helvetica Neue in your studio’s design projects, we argue strongly that it is worth stepping up and buying Adobe’s updated OpenType fonts. You’ll be fighting a losing battle otherwise.

Okay, okay. So where do I buy Adobe’s OpenType Helveticas?

Adobe’s online store does not make it terribly easy or inviting to quickly buy an updated collection of Helveticas. For now, here is a link to the “H” section of Adobe’s online font store:


We’ll update this tip with links to individual collections shortly.

Please, talk back: tips@creativetechs.com

This essay has been a long time in coming. We’ve been actively moving clients away from their old Postscript versions of Helvetica for about a year now. But we know there are going to be a lot of different opinions and suggestions.

We’ll have comments on this tip blog back up sometime early next year. In the meantime, we want to hear from you. Please help your own thoughts about Helvetica and Mac OS X to us at tips@creativetechs.com.


Nov 28, 9:30-11am — Font Management in Mac OS X. Want a fast, stable, healthy Mac? You’d better get a handle on your fonts. Join Creativetechs’ Craig Swanson for an in-depth look at font management for graphic designers. We’ll help you understand what’s going on with all those odd font folders scattered around your Mac — and we’ll help you slim down your system fonts so InDesign doesn’t take forever to scroll to Zapf Dingbats. And as a bonus we’ll reveal what’s changed about font management in Mac OS X Leopard!