Helvetica's rival Unica resurrected after 35 years

Helvetica's rival Unica resurrected after 35 years

The Unica font, thought to be lost for over 35 years, has been found and its web version has been released.

It was found when Monotype’s Director of Type, Dan Rhatigan, was looking for old materials to include in an exhibit about the transition from traditional typefaces to digital ones. But, to his surprise he accidentally uncovered a lost typeface.

Monotype is releasing the Unica as a web font this week. The font's main rivals would now be giants like Helvetica & Univers.

The history

The beautiful Unica may not be a household name like Helvetica or Univers because of a “bit of a timing problem.”

In the 1970s, Phototypesetting overtook the traditional metal as the way most foundries started to make their fonts. It worked similarly to developing a photo in a darkroom; the film letters could be enlarged to perfect size, and then light would be exposed to the space around them to create an imprint. It was what we may call, the bridge technology between a traditional metal typesetting and the present digital age, where type is now made up of pixels. However, it did not last long. During its short life, the Phototypesetting reigned, and a foundry called Haas Type set out to design an alternative to the popular monster hits of Helvetica and Univers. The two typefaces enjoyed huge success for many decades, but Haas planned to create a tertiary design based on the two. It then employed three designers known as Team ’77 primarily to create a lovely alternative to two of the most popular typefaces the 20th century has seen.

The outcome was a hybrid called Haas Unica! It was not really as popular as Helvetica; it had fewer finer details that some call it “mannered”, the things that make Helvetica instantly recognisable. But, it had more personality than a cooler look Univers. Its name was a combo of its two predecessors and it was a hit amongst most designers. Sadly, it met with an early death.

Computer Age

The computer not only promoted certain typefaces to household names, it relegated others to history. Unica met the same fate as many other fonts.

Soon, smaller foundries went out of business and their portfolios were taken over by big companies. So decisions were taken on which ones to digitise and which ones to stop using. Typefaces like Unica that were yet to make a mark were axed!

A series of events and change of hands finally landed Unica in the hand of Monotype. The font never really disappeared as most type designers never really forget it, said Rhatigan

After retrieveing the original film, he gave it to one designer by the name of Toshi Omagari. Omagari spent many years on rebuilding it on the lines of the original “intent” of its 1970s designers.

Now, the company is selling its web version called ‘Neue Haas Unica’, in a modified format and it has already started creating a buzz among designers.


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