Myths about Helvetica and Mac OS X (since 10.5)

For many years professional graphic designers are used to replace the Helvetica system fonts on the Mac OS with a Type1 version. But with Leopard this seems to be impossible. Whenever you delete the fonts, they will be reinstalled after you reboot the system and you will get a lot of annoying font conflicts.

I looked at several weblogs talking about this issue and they all make a lot of strange statements. So time to shed some light on this subject.

  • Myth 1: It is necessary to replace the system’s Helvetica if you want to make professional printouts.

No! All system fonts on Mac OS X are “professional fonts”. In the early 90’s TrueType fonts could be a problem for some Raster Image Processors, but those days are long gone. Nowadays it really doesn’t matter if you use a font based on TrueType or PostScript outlines.

  • Myth 2: You need to buy Helvetica LT Std.

One weblog, that was quoted all over the internet, claimed you need to buy Helvetica LT Std. Because it has a different font family name, you will not get any font conflicts. That’s true, but why should you buy a font you already have? In fact, the “Std” means you will only get a limited character set with this font, whereas Apple’s Helvetica supports a large number of languages.

The only reason for deleting the Helvetica fonts built into Leopard is if you need more styles. It wouldn’t be a good idea to mix some Helvetica TrueType styles from Apple with other PostScript styles from a different Foundry.

  • Myth 3: You cannot delete the system’s Helvetica in Leopard.

Actually, you can! Just open this folder:

System/Library/Frameworks/ApplicationServices.framework/
Versions/A/Frameworks/ATS.framework/Versions/A/Resources/ProtectedFonts/

This is the folder Leopard uses to reinstall the fonts. If you delete them here and in the system folder (system/library/fonts), the fonts will not be reinstalled. Warning: Mac OS X needs Helvetica! If you delete the Helvetica dfonts, make sure to install your own Helvetica. It needs to have the name “Helvetica” as font family name. No other name (like “Helvetica LT” or “Helvetica Neue”) will be a proper replacement.

  • Update 2011:

The new version 3.x of Linotype’s FontExplorer X Pro include a new option to deactivate the system font protection. This is probably the most recommendable solution to this problem.

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42 Comments

  1. Chris 2008/02/01 at 1:29 AM #

    You may also want to point out that the system “Helvetica” and “Helvetica LT Std” are both licensed directly from Linotype AG. They’re the same curves, basically.

    Helvetica LT Std is a slightly updated design. For instance, the inch/tick punctuation mark is now completely rectangular, some kerning pairs have been adjusted (particularly those involving the apostrophe), and there are some additional kerning pairs, but the downside of those additional kerning pairs is that text justification no longer looks exactly the same as it does with the Helvetica stored on a PostScript 2 or 3 printer. The Helvetica that ships with the OS is the same version of Helvetica licensed for use on PostScript 2/3 printers. Also, the baseline of Helvetica LT Std is shifted upwards by about 2 points for a reason I don’t completely understand.

    However, basically, either face is good. They’re both real, Linotype-licensed Helvetica, not knockoffs.

  2. Watson 2008/02/01 at 1:39 AM #

    Is there any support/evidence behind the idea that Apple is moving to Helvetica as the system font or Mac OS X, replacing Lucida Grande? It’s already the system font on the iPhone and iPod touch, and it’s popping up in more places in Mac OS X.

  3. Chris Christner 2008/02/01 at 2:08 AM #

    Interesting article and timely. We just deleted Apple’s Helvetica from a new iMac because Quark 6.5 wouldn’t print properly. Loaded the Adobe PS version of Helvetica and all problems disappeared.

  4. chotty 2008/02/01 at 3:45 AM #

    Great article.
    However, Helvetica Fractions (Fra) left in System fonts can cause garbled text in dialogue boxes, email & websites in Safari.

  5. Andrew Vit 2008/02/01 at 5:02 AM #

    The problem I have with the OS versions of Helvetica is that they’re incomplete versions of both Helvetica and Helvetica Neue. (The supplied Helvetica Neue also looks terrible on-screen at some sizes by the way.) We wouldn’t need to replace these fonts if they were at least complete sets, but because they’re locked into the system it’s more trouble to fix than necessary.
    Why couldn’t they just stick with “Helvetica” for system use, leaving “Neue” for us designers to install a more complete version without conflict?

  6. Damjan Mozetič 2008/02/01 at 8:38 AM #

    That was an interesting read. Thanks for tip n.3, it was most useful.

  7. ralfherrmann 2008/02/01 at 8:42 AM #

    We just deleted Apple’s Helvetica from a new iMac because Quark 6.5 wouldn’t print properly.

    That’s because Quark 6 is also a 90′s thing. It can’t handle Unicode fonts properly, which is a shame! Those problems should be gone in Quark 7.

    The problem I have with the OS versions of Helvetica is that they’re incomplete versions of both Helvetica and Helvetica Neue.

    I guess, Linotype didn’t want to give away the whole families. If you need complete sets, it’s a valid reason to replace the system Helveticas.

  8. Marc LaFoy 2008/02/01 at 3:59 PM #

    Agreeing with Andrew over here too - unless you’re prepared to install all 18 million Neue variations, please leave it out of the System…

  9. Patrick 2008/02/01 at 4:04 PM #

    Did you just say “wan’t” in Myth 1?

  10. Matthew 2008/02/01 at 4:40 PM #

    Andrew and Marc have it right, and you identified the issue in item 2 of your article. It is about having a complete set of styles. I’ve fixed my installation as described above, but it’s silly to have to go digging in the system folder like that.

  11. Jimmi 2008/02/01 at 5:03 PM #

    I just wanna know why the hell Apple is going with Helvetica?

    Both Myriad and Lucida Sans are *much* more legible thanks to their open counters and friendly humanist lettershapes.

    Helvetica’s closed counters and rigid, uniform design makes it a poor choice for longer runs of text, and it’s even worse for screen use.

  12. Thomas Phinney 2008/02/02 at 2:22 AM #

    Chris wrote: “the downside of those additional kerning pairs is that text justification no longer looks exactly the same as it does with the Helvetica stored on a PostScript 2 or 3 printer. The Helvetica that ships with the OS is the same version of Helvetica licensed for use on PostScript 2/3 printers. Also, the baseline of Helvetica LT Std is shifted upwards by about 2 points for a reason I don’t completely understand.”

    I hate to point this out, but the fonts built into the printer don’t have ANY kerning. Kerning is done entirely on the application side. So any adjustments to kerning wouldn’t affect the printer font. Besides which, Adobe added the extra kerning as part of the revisions for PostScript 3 in 1997 - those changes were done on the Type 1 side before moving to OpenType.

    Finally, the baseline is the baseline, and doesn’t/can’t shift. If you are seeing a different baseline between two different fonts on the same line, that’s is almost certainly an issue with the particular application you’re using. If you mean that with a given document, using only the OpenType font, the first baseline is about two points lower and subsequent baselines are the same, that must have something to do with how that particular application is calculating the initial baseline position. I’d wonder what application(s) you’re seeing that in, and whether the difference exists between the Type 1 and the OpenType CFF version or not.

    Cheers,

    T

  13. Miguel Soler 2008/02/06 at 11:17 AM #

    About Helvetica Neue in Mac OS X.
    How to activate all Helvetica Neue family with no system conflicts ? (I mean Helvetica Nue Roman, Helvetica Nue Medium and Helvetica Nue Heavy)
    Another problem, How have to replace in my old archives that use Helvetica Neue?
    I agree. We dont need Helvetica Neue in system fonts. Please, Steve. DELETE!

  14. ralfherrmann 2008/02/06 at 3:20 PM #

    How to activate all Helvetica Neue family with no system conflicts ?

    Same procedure. Remove all the Helvetica Neue fonts in the libraries, remove the Helvetica Neue from the ProtectedFonts library (if you’re on Leopard) and install your replacement.

  15. Miguel Soler 2008/02/07 at 11:00 AM #

    What I would like to do is remove Helvetica Neu from system font library and use my complete Helvetica Neue on font explorer. But system rebuild its helvetica every time I try to delete.

  16. ralfherrmann 2008/02/07 at 11:05 AM #

    The system will stop reinstalling Helvetica and Helvetica Neue once you delete them in
    System/Library/Frameworks/ApplicationServices.framework/
    Versions/A/Frameworks/ATS.framework/Versions/A/Resources/ProtectedFonts/

  17. Miguel Soler 2008/02/07 at 11:35 AM #

    It works! Thank you Ralf. I love Helvetica Neue and I love you. Fantastic blog. I’ll recomend.

  18. Chris 2008/02/08 at 1:12 AM #

    The above comments contain legitimate complaints about the fonts installed in Mac OS X. They really aren’t professional quality sets-but that’s OK, because the default OS installation isn’t made to suit professionals with high expectations and specific needs.

    What it seems these people have forgot is that Apple doesn’t sell its computers to graphics professionals. The vast majority of Apple’s customers will _never_ buy a typeface in their lives. In fact, if Apple didn’t include licensed copies of fonts with their OS, there wouldn’t be Helvetica, Times or Garamond in the hands of the general public at all. Those not paid to design would be forced to use cheaper font clones like Arial.

    Apple does well to include these great fonts with its computers. It may well be inconvenient for publishing experts to have to replace fonts in the uncharted backwaters of their systems. These people should keep in mind, however, that managing fonts is their job, and that they shouldn’t complain about Apple making an effort to provide the masses with fonts vastly better than the ones its competitors ship. Even if the fonts don’t represent a complete typeface for every possible character, the do put the power of high-quality fonts in the hands of consumers.

  19. Marc 2008/02/18 at 11:52 PM #

    What it seems these people have forgot is that Apple doesn’t sell its computers to graphics professionals.

    What planet are you living on?

    It may well be inconvenient for publishing experts to have to replace fonts in the uncharted backwaters of their systems. These people should keep in mind, however, that managing fonts is their job, and that they shouldn’t complain about Apple making an effort to provide the masses with fonts vastly better than the ones its competitors ship.

    You’re damn right it’s inconvenient. publishing experts are in the business of ‘publishing’, not dealing with the headache of conflicting fonts because Apple has decided to include an extremely widely used version in the system.

    If, as you seem to imply, most people don’t even know what a font is, they should have just changed their system version to ‘Helvetica APPL” and us graphics professionals (the apparent minority of Mac users) could install Helvetica Neue CE Ultralight to our hearts content.

  20. sioux 2008/04/22 at 12:13 AM #

    The average consumer doesn’t know one font from the next, but the average Mac user usually does. Every new OS has it’s issues, but this one could of been avoided. It reminds me of my iBook keyboard. Why do my keys rub off? Because someone AT APPLE did not do their due diligence, and used an inferior process on one of the most used component. Why does my beautifully designed document cause me to cry out in anguish? Because someone at Apple took the low road.

  21. TJ 2008/04/30 at 12:45 AM #

    The past few days spent reading and attempting to fix this annoying Neue system font issue. I have left the Helvetica.dfont in the protected fonts folder, deleted/removed all HelveticaNeue.dfont from machine and activated my own set of Neue (T1) fonts thru Suitcase. This resulted in mail and iCAL displaying some weird character baseline shifts, esp. Mail (header area of emails To: Subject: fields)
    Reinstalled the Helvetica.dfont into protected and library locations: not the Neue version. This has fixed the Mail app screen display. Looks like iCAL uses HelveticaNeue Bold from the results. Adobe version of HelveticaNeue T1 I am using shifts the baseline up on the Bold version used by iCAL. Not so much as to be illegible, and I can prob live with it. Still, all in all a large pain in the rear. A full set of Neue.dfont would have been appreciated on this new OS!!

  22. cus 2008/05/01 at 2:49 AM #

    I dispute some of the “myths” in this article or the comments section, or even on other forums dealing with this topic.
    Myth 1: It doesn’t matter if you use a TrueType or Postscript font!
    Try telling that to real world production environments. In Australia the majority of publishers refuse to accept advertisements supplied in PDF format if they have TrueType fonts embedded in them. This information is published in the mechanical specifications of the publishers and goes as far as to only allow Postscript fonts - no mention of OpenType being acceptable for the RIPs.
    Myth 2: Apple don’t sell Macs to graphic professionals!
    As already noted by others’ here, on what planet was this observation made? Let’s face it, there is a good argument to be made that Apple may not even exist today if not for the support of graphic and design professionals in the late 80s/early 90s. At one stage in those “dark ages”, Apple had 10-12% market share of all personal computers, largely driven by sales to the design industry. Design-based applications drove advances in those early year’s - the likes of Adobe, Macromedia, Aldus Corporation, etcetera, and even some games designers such as Bungie (a Mac-only games pioneer).
    If not for that support back then Apple could well have folded long before it had the chance to be popular with the masses.
    Myth 3: Just buy the new OpenType set of Helvetica Neue fonts and stick those into Leopard to make it work as it has been designed!
    Great, so in order to make my $150 upgrade of the Apple operating system OS X Leopard work as it has been designed and still allow graphics professionals to have unhindered use of their Helvetica font family, I will need to spend $1,500 buying the complete OpenType Helvetica Neue font family to replace the Postscript font family I already have paid for and own. Doesn’t seem to make sound financial sense.
    Actually sounds more like a Microsoft Windows kind of solution!

  23. TJ 2008/05/02 at 12:09 AM #

    Helvetica madness… have resorted to re-installing the HelveticaNeue.dfont that came with Leopard for system font usage - as the iCAL font issue was looking ugly. Back to square one really with 2 versions of HelveticaNeue - deactivating the correspondingly / conflicting named fonts of my own HelveticaNeue set…

  24. Karl 2008/08/09 at 3:16 PM #

    I think it was a tremendous blunder for Apple to make and incomplete family Helvetica Neue part of the system. Like others have stated, they should either include the entire family or name it differently. What they’ve done is created a big headache for the market segment which is arguably their base. Thanks, Ralf, for the workaround. Since I don’t use iCal I guess it the fact that I have T1 rather than OpenType HelveticaNeue won’t matter so much (I hope!).

  25. Zoltan 2008/11/26 at 3:46 PM #

    Okay - I must have missed something. My problem is that my Helvetica Neue conflicts with the built in Neue. I need all the 43 light, 45 light extended etc. When I open my neue I get conflicts. that’s what I’d really like to see an article about.

  26. ralfherrmann 2008/11/26 at 3:52 PM #

    Zoltan,
    that’s what the article is about. Follow the description of Myth 3 to get rid of your Helvetica problem.

  27. Doug 2008/12/01 at 5:39 PM #

    The helvetica neue conflict is a crippling problem for designers.

    The workaround for the Helvetica Neue conflict (at least as described in detail by the folks at Extensis in their best practices guide) will eventually allow you to use your font versions in your documents, however:

    1. It is a incredibly long, sketchy patch job for a company the prides itself on software that “just works”.

    2. It causes NUMEROUS application issues. Since the “fix” I’ve experienced font display issues with the System, Dreamweaver, Outlook, Calender, and Safari as well as application instability with InDesign.

    I’ve got my fingers crossed that someone at Apple glances away from the i-whatever they’re focused on at the moment and notices the deluge of comments like mine all over the web.

  28. Eric 2009/01/27 at 11:56 AM #

    I’ve been looking over this topic and find it interesting but I’m a bit puzzled. I have Leopard installed on my Mac, and am using Font Explorer to manage my fonts. I really haven’t had most of the problems I’m reading about here. My only problem has been that when I launch my computer in the morning, after Font Explorer loads it cautions me that there is a conflict with Helvetica Neue - but I counter that by telling Font Explorer to only activate the Fonts that are not active - so it leaves the system version of Helvetica Neue running for the system, and activates all the other Helvetica Fonts in my complete set, so I wind up with all the HelveNeue fonts active anyway, and they all work fine. The only time I have difficulties is with a few websites which seem to substitute an outline font for Helvetica Neue, which can be annoying. It also on occasion causes my browser to slow down a bit as it decides which font it really wants.

  29. Piper 2009/02/13 at 9:44 PM #

    I find it so absurd that Apple, not content with upsetting thousands of prepress shops and designers with the original Helvetica muddle, then just had to compound it by adding Helvetica Neue with Leopard. Was there really no other font that they could have used for system functions? That said, the current situation is here and real and I decided a while back not to mess with the dfonts and just live with the startup conflict message. In reality it hasn’t caused me any problems in applications.
    I use Font Explorer X to manage fonts and once you learn to distinguish in the font list between Apple’s version and the Type 1 version, it’s irritating but liveable with.
    Just in case this is any use to anyone, you see the following Helveticas in Quark 7.5, exactly like this:
    Helvetica Neue Light (Apple’s)
    45 Helvetica Light (Linotype Type 1)
    Helvetica Neue (Apple’s)
    55 Helvetica Roman (Linotype Type 1)
    Helvetica Neue Bold Condensed (Apple’s)
    HelveticaNeue BoldCond (Linotype Type 1)

    As well as the plain old Apple “Helvetica” which is always present, occasionally a “Helvetica CY” will appear.

  30. Mario 2009/02/23 at 3:25 PM #

    So now what do we do if we want iPhoto 09? I installed iLife this morning and iPhoto simply will not work. I searched Apple support and turns out iPhoto will not run without the original that comes with the system.

  31. Tom Paice (Photographer, Bristol) 2009/06/17 at 4:02 PM #

    Interesting read. I found that if you disable the “Alert me if system fonts change” feature in Font Book, you can remove the Helvetica fonts being used by the system and activate your own versions without conflict.

  32. Steve 2010/01/30 at 10:34 PM #

    I think I may have found an alternate way to deal with this. I work in an environment where we receive design files from many other sources. Often files will have a mix of PS Helvetica and Neue as well as DFont versions (yeah, I know). So the fact is we have to deal with them. Together. We don’t always have the option to sub one or the other and reconfigure.

    But the good news is, someone accidentally combined the PS and DFont Neues in the same folder on our Suitcase Server. And they co-exist fine. We generate PDFs for press with both in the files as they came to us. If you take some care to note the differences in naming between the PS and DFont versions, you can easily design with both active, and avoid the DFonts if that is your need.

    So, I am going to try and recreate this setup for the plain 4 weight Helveticas. I’m also going to try it on my test Mac at home but in this case, I’ll just add the PS versions to my System/Library and see how that goes. I’ll post back if I get it together…

  33. Draz 2010/04/29 at 10:42 AM #

    Just say NO to Helvetica!

    Seriously though, regardless of my personal opinion on Helvetica, the problem is (relatively) easy to fix on one computer. The issue gets real ugly when you have to resolve conflicts across multiple computers. My designer doesn’t want to change his Mac because “it’s just right”, layout guys are freaking out ’cause different publications using different variants of Helvetica, some are fine, some not, than there is adverts that come from clients… It’s a mess.

    It’s really just the name that causes the issue. fonts are the same… and it’s just Helvetica.

    As it happens, we have a new design coming up and designer wants Helvetica soooo, I am looking for material to steer him away, that’s how I came across this article.

  34. grom 2010/11/22 at 3:23 PM #

    “I find it so absurd that Apple (…) just had to compound it by adding Helvetica Neue with Leopard.” (Piper).

    I entirely agree.
    Things even get worse when using a soft like Illustrator CS4 on Snow Leopard, since you waste an astounding amount of time scrolling up and down through the font list in order to get the different versions of the Helvetica Neue.

    Is there a stronger word than “absurd” in english, to describe such a filthy aberration? How comes that such a major company can legaly annoy people that way? That’s outrageous.

    Whenever Steve Jobs might have been inspired by the past, now the fruit defintely smells rotten. Incoming worms…

  35. Kilian 2011/07/13 at 7:10 AM #

    @grom and it’s Apples fault that Adobe’s software sucks? I could never understand why the font menu in all of Adobe’s Software stinks so badly like the 90s.

    What’s wrong with using Apple’s font panel. Apple have been providing lots of standardised widgets and panels etc. puls APIs for that to developers. Adobe continuously chose to ignore that and act as if they knew better.

    Screw Adobe. Their software is just thick as a brick.

  36. doofus 2011/09/27 at 5:46 PM #

    Yet another problem that Macs have that Windows computer don’t.

    You guys could always install Swiss. No one will ever know the difference, hehehe

  37. Michael 2012/06/27 at 7:59 PM #

    “The new version 3.x of Linotype’s FontExplorer X Pro include a new option to deactivate the system font protection. This is probably the most recommendable solution to this problem.”

    I have FontExplorer X Pro v3.1 Mac but I can’t find the option you describe above. Can you be more specific?

  38. Ralf Herrmann 2012/06/27 at 8:02 PM #

    Tools Menu -> System Font Protection

  39. Michael 2012/06/27 at 8:46 PM #

    Thanks for instant response Mr. Herrmann,

    Hi Kilian, I agree with your take on Adobe and here’s more perspective. Apple has been successful with usability. It has to do with the right balance of open architecture for developers and closed specifications. Apple has the right balance of openness and restrictions to create the best usability alongside innovation. Anyone who has ever worked on the Quantel systems might know what I’m getting at here. Quantel has a very closed system and has fantastic usability that still surpasses Apple and Adobe in many ways. Their color palette and gestural interface is still is the best. It’s too bad these features aren’t shared. They must be copyrighted. But then again I heard Adobe won a lawsuit brought on by Quantel. So even though Adobe won, It seems Adobe never understood the true power of the Quantel interface. Recently they are starting to get it. But it’s been 15 or 20 years since the lawsuit. Adobe menus are starting to sit in one place like Quantels rather than being so completely floating. Too much customization reduces the opportunity for muscle memory to kick in. Of course they still don’t get why Quantel’s gestural interface and palette design were so powerful.

    Quantel has lost almost all the market in motion graphics to Apple because they are too insular. Quantel could not keep up with all the new features offered through innovation found in larger markets. So Quantel lost a lot of business because of being to closed. PC’s are too open and quickly become a kluge, Quantel too closed, I think Apple sits successfully right in the middle. They get it, but they could lose it with improper management.

  40. Andre 2012/06/27 at 11:38 PM #

    Hi Ralf, I came across your blog while trying to get to the bottom of a font issue with Helvetica on my Mac (Lion OS). I don’t know much about fonts but it seems like all the people here are pretty much experts so maybe someone can point me in the right direction. Here’s my issue: I have a Word document on a PC that uses Helvetica 55 and 45 without an issue, but when I save the document as a PDF and try to view in on the Mac I get a bunch of black or red lines instead of text. I figured I’d open the document in Word on the Mac (which renders fine by the way) and then save it locally on the Mac as PDF, hoping to get rid of the issue but when I do that Word for Mac tells me that it needs to substitute the Helvetica fonts with Cambria because “a font used in the document is not installed”. From what I gather reading the comments above, I’d have to change the Helvetica font that comes with the Mac because it’s incomplete (?). Can you point me in the right direction as to what should I do to remedy this issue and be able to view my PDF on the Mac? Also, is there any way to embed the font in the PDF file so that other Mac users won’t have to go through the same ordeal? PS. My document was designed in Word on a PC… no InDesign or anything like that.

    Many thanks in advance!

  41. Ralf Herrmann 2012/06/28 at 6:34 AM #

    Like you said: the point of the PDF is to have everything IN IT, including the fonts. So you need to solve this problem by making sure, you embed the fonts in the PDF.
    As I recall Word has problems with embedding font formats which are not TrueType, but I am not sure which version are affected.

    Of course if you want to transfer a specific layout to another computer, WORD is not the best way to go — its just a Word processor, not a layout application like InDesign.

  42. bert 2012/08/09 at 2:04 PM #

    I think this is going to help me, but one question: WHERE does apple USE Helvetica Neue anyway? I have not seen it anywhere in the OS. If it is just for some websites in Safari, I don’t care as I don’t use Safari.

 

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