Linux Mint - Free and powerful

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Web Designers and fonts like Helvetica Neue

Yesterday I had to install Helvetica Neue on my Linux Mint system as it was part of the corporate "look and feel". I was creating and editing some videos using the latest version of kdenlive, my favourite linear video editor in Linux so had to change the title screen from Orbitron to Helvetica Neue but in the end opted for Liberation Sans to stay away from law suits.

Helvetica Neue is an OpenType font owned by Microsoft and Adobe and is based on the TrueType fonts that was developed by Microsoft and Apple (hence being used on all Microsoft systems and Apple Devices for free) to supersede (kill) Adobe type 1 fonts. The mind boggles.

Lucky for humanity we won't be sued by Apple any longer for using "hinting" because as of May 2010, all patents related to bytecode hinting have expired worldwide, so FreeType 2.4 now enables these features by default. Unluckily you can always be sued by Microsoft.

Here is our corporate guidance.

Here is the central issue: Not all fonts are equal and not all fonts are free!

You are allowed to use most fonts on your personal systems without penalty. However, consider this; You create a nice website that people really like, whoo hoo. You get a letter from Stempel via the Haas Type Foundry of Switzerland informing you that you are being sued for using Helvetica Neue without paying! Not so Whoo hoo.

For clarification:

To clarify, there are two different licenses: desktop and web.

If you have the font on your desktop (legally) you can create graphics for your site with it. You can even specify it in your CSS with fall backs so that it displays for those who also have it on their desktop but degrades gracefully for those who don't.

When you choose to embed the font on your site so everyone can see it with @font-face you'll need the additional licensing complexity for the web.


So how much does a font cost? A few dollars? That sounds fair. Wrong!

That reminds me. I did buy a font once. It was the official original Startrek Font. I used it in a report I did for GSK around 1989 that I saw a while ago, somewhere. I must go and look for it. (Found it! - Thanks Reubs!)

So who cares anyway. I have access to the Internet so I will just go and get the font. In Linux all you need to do is download the font, extract it and add it to the ~/.fonts directory. Simples. You can also use Linux Font Manager.

Sudo apt-get install font-manager

Back to Helvetica Neue. Eric Silva created a web site called EPHI Fonts with quite a few fonts that can be downloaded. Unfortunately due to haste I downloaded helvetica-neue-ultra-light.

This had a real impact on my systems hence this quick blog post.

It turns out that many sites actually use helvetica neue. Last night quite a few of the web sites I accessed looked terrible! Yahoo, Tumblr, etc. The font was very light and basically unreadable. I reset all the fonts in Chromium but that did not fix the issue. It turns out that helvetica neue.* is all part of the helvetica neue family of fonts so where a web site has helvetica neue listed as a primary font helvetica neue ultralight was used!

Here are some examples of the code from Yahoo.

body {
margin: auto;
font: 13px/1.25 "Helvetica Neue",Helvetica,Arial,san-serif;
color: #000;
background-color: #fafafc;

Basically a browser will check if the users computer an display the primary font, if not it will go down the line and choose the font available. If no font is available the browser will default to either a Roman typeface like Serif or the more popular San Serif type of typeface. ;-)

Here is a snapshot of a site with helvetica-neue-ultra-light.

And here it is with Helvetica Neue installed.

And here is one without the font installed.

And here is an example using a terrible site. (Arghhh)

Now I am already annoyed. Why signon to see a page?

 And if you think I am a bit anal about this take a look at this web site:

Fonts are a minefield. Use Open Source fonts and systems.

Kablamo! You have been warned "designers" and corporate people.


  1. Hi,

    Awesome posing buddy..
    We can get beautiful looking with Font also, with out any images
    Keep posting like this


    Immersive Media
    Web Design Kingston

  2. You made some good points there. What a commendable work you have done, I really appreciate your efforts. Keep up the great work.

    Funeral homes website design by OPTIMIZED360.COM

  3. Thanks for informative article, yeah you are right logo is a brand recognition symbol,i agree with you,here i am introducing best Logo Designer, which consist a professional team to make a perfect logo for your business or product.


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