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I'd like to use something similar-but-different for my poster project.

I've already ruled out:

  • Arial
  • Avant Garde/Futura - too geometric
  • Frutiger - too humanist /'friendly'

I guess I'm looking for something that will be a close match in most of its shapes but will have enough points of difference to make people (OK, other designers) wonder what I've used. e.g. a single story 'a' or distinctly different 'g'.

Please include a visual example if possible, and include some reasons why each font would be a good choice; I'm after a smallish number of well-thought-out suggestions, and definitely not a bare list.

NB this is a 'seed' question and I'm happy to edit it to make it a good fit for the site.

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5 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Folio Medium

  • counters in C, c and e have similarly closed feeling
  • bowls in a, b, d, g, p & q are relatively wider
  • arches in m & n are sharper
  • x-height slightly lower
  • slightly more condensed
  • distinct Q
  • has the Helvetica arrowyness in G and overall many similar letters

And as Philip Regan already pointed out:

Univers Medium

  • slightly wider, except a
  • x-height slightly lower
  • wider tracking
  • overall more modern, especially the distinct G and Q
  • counters in C and c are more open

Both have the same Helveticy firmness in the capital letters. Both also come in different flavours.

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Don't you dare call Univers 'helveticy'! BLASPHEMOUS! –  DA01 Dec 1 '11 at 3:49
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I like Myriad, and I've been using it a lot lately in my layouts. It is what Apple is currently using for all of its header text in their branding, and by casual observation I see it a lot in advertising in the UK.

alt text

Myriad specimen

I think it offers the same readability and clean style as Helvetica, but with a bit of character that is more restrained than some of the others you mention in your question so it doesn't stand out too much. A good Myriad font will also offer nearly as many weights as Helvetica, so it has a lot of versatility.

UPDATE: I did a quick web search (slow morning) and came across an good article full of Helvetica alternatives that reminded me of some excellent alternatives that we use in my company's books all the time:

Univers:

alt text

Franklin Gothic (I see this a lot in newspapers):

alt text

Interstate (It has character, but is still very neutral in tone):

alt text

Now I'm a little disconcerted that I forgot about these.

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Thanks - I'll check it out, although it's quite close to Frutiger and probably a bit too 'friendly'/'warm'. –  e100 Jan 23 '11 at 12:53
    
+1 Is Myriad and Myriad Pro the same? I like the latter. :) –  JFW Jan 23 '11 at 13:14
    
@JFW: I think the difference there is who the foundry for that particular font is. We have both in-house, but one is Adobe and the other is another foundry I don't recall at the moment. Myriad Pro is most likely Adobe's OTF implementation, and that's the one that I use all the time. –  Philip Regan Jan 23 '11 at 13:16
    
oh you just added the Univers while I was typing my answer. I think I'll keep it for the sake of my notes. –  koiyu Jan 23 '11 at 14:15
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Myriad and Myriad Pro are both Adobe; "Pro" is used to indicate an OTF (OpenType) version which uses the extra features allowed of that format, e.g contextual alternates. –  e100 Feb 8 '11 at 16:50
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There's a few hints, but not a lot of information in your question as to why you're wanting a Helvetica-like typeface but not Helvetica. You want something "generic" looking? But yet you want type aficionados to wonder what you chose? Sounds like conflicting goals. But nothing too geometric and friendly…

I'm going to go with the "ubiquitous" look. News Gothic is a classic used for much of the early 20th century in advertising, newspaper and magazine publishing, etc. It's more compact than Helvetica but I think that's an advantage when making a poster. You'll probably want to use the bold version to look sufficiently Helvetica-ish.

News Gothic Bold Sample

News Gothic Bold was used in ABBA's distinctive logo:

ABBA

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There isn't any real "why" because this was designed as a sample "font recommendation" question! But answer is good. –  e100 Feb 8 '11 at 16:52
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Try Lucida Sans and Verdana - Verdana looks better in small sizes. They're both pretty neat as they don't stick together too much and are easy to read. I don't think they seem Helvetica clones in any way tho' - I'd have to grab my typographers manual for that but I have no idea where I put it ;D

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I think these are more useful as screen fonts, Verdana as you say for small text, and aren't really close enough to Helvetica. –  e100 Jan 23 '11 at 12:32
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Helvetica's closest cousins would include:

  • Helvetica Neue
  • Nimus Sans
  • Akzidenz-Grotesk (this one is maybe more of an uncle)

FontShop has a nice article listing several relatives from their offerings:

http://fontfeed.com/archives/helvetica-and-alternatives-to-helvetica/

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