I need to send some professional/commercial e-mails, my design currently look like this:

screenshot of a web browser version

Helvetica is very widely used in printing, and according to Wikipedia:

Miedinger and Hoffmann set out to create a neutral typeface that had great clarity, no intrinsic meaning in its form, and could be used on a wide variety of signage.

But many people state that its use should be limited to printing as it makes a poor web font with the two main reason being:

  • The font looks ugly (but they don't talk about Helvetica Neue and its 51 versions)
  • Most users don't have the font, and Windows systematically redirect its call to Arial via registry key (but they don't talk about embedding legally a subset). In the case of e-mails they also tell support to@font-face is very poor (which is true, but they don't talk about the combination of several other fall-back methods which "solve" this issue).

The second reason is the most important, because the suggested replacements I saw : widely available on users computers, which means "using non-professional typefaces" but which are safe value (still without considering embedding).

So, does HelveticaNeue is a good typeface strictly in terms of legibility?
Or a different typeface would be better... even a serif one?

  • 3
    Well, the e-mail program of the receiver of the e-mail can be figured to show the e-mail with fonts the receiver wants to see. That's the reason I spend more time for the content of the e-mail and less for the layout.
    – Mensch
    Oct 30, 2014 at 12:32
  • 4
    Assume that people will not "click here to view in a browser". They don't — if they can't get what they want when opening the email, they'll delete it and move on with their lives. Oct 30, 2014 at 14:11
  • 4
    "professional emails", IMHO, should be plain text.
    – DA01
    Oct 30, 2014 at 15:26
  • 2
    Also, if I'm on my phone, I appreciate email not sucking down more of my data plan than necessary.
    – DA01
    Oct 30, 2014 at 15:27
  • 1
    Is there that much of a difference with Helvetica Neue that you really absolutely honest-to-smurf have to have that font rather than just "Helvetica/Arial"? We're not even talking a huge distinction like Trade Gothic, Avant Garde, or Futura. You're talking about two different kinds of Helvetica. Why are you opening yourself up to so many kinds of technical difficulties for so little difference? Oct 30, 2014 at 15:57

1 Answer 1


When designing for emails, I go for the lowest common denominator.

If a particular font is important, limit it to a few words and make it a graphic. Otherwise, just assume "serif/sans serif" and don't try to design with fonts.

There is no way to control or predict what the user will have installed, what email client is being used, or what version of what email client is being used. That's not even counting desktop vs. phone vs. tablet.

You can make a case for "Helvetica/Arial" vs. "Times," but not for "Helevetica Neue." And you can do all sorts of things with embedded fonts on the web. But in emails? Design as simply as possible with as much flexibility as possible, so you don't risk breakage.

  • e-mails have more support than @font-face. You can also use @importand even fall-back to a classical <link rel=...>. So I'm getting a large % support, even for webmail clients (checked with commons clients of both type). Sorry, if t was unclear, but I'm planning, to embedded subsets of HelveticaNeue : that was because of that I was talking about font-embedding. So if I use HelveticaNeue (Roman 55 or Light), I'm sure it that that font which will be displayed in near all cases. Oct 30, 2014 at 11:23
  • 5
    @user2284570 Won't that bloat the emails file size substantially? Have you looked at the file size of an email with an embedded font? I'm not sure if it matters with emails but I figure it's a good idea in general to keep file sizes as low as possible.
    – Dom
    Oct 30, 2014 at 15:29
  • @MrE.Upvoter : I don't write my e-mails in an Asian writing system :). The subset I use add 5 to 18 Ko. It depends on the number of different characters I use in the e-mail. This result in a ~98Ko e-mail with attachments included. Oct 30, 2014 at 15:43
  • 2
    @user2284570 yes but you just sent that 100k to a thousand persons and now it is 100 megs
    – joojaa
    Oct 31, 2014 at 5:43
  • @joojaa : Yes, but this is for formal e-mails : I send a different text for each recipient : so I write them manually. It make sending 1k unlikely. The best way to decrease the size of my e-mails would be to remove the forms which are send as an attachment, but it can't be. Also, I was using regular printed postal mails some years ago to do this (helvetica was the best font here for sure). Oct 31, 2014 at 14:13

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