There are significant differences between most of the Futura fonts on the market. Some simply have different character sets with varying degrees of language support or extras like small caps and oldstyle figures. And some actually differ in letterform design.
As a brief general reference, here are some key design differences between a few of the major releases:
The most comprehensive digital version, released by Monotype in October 2020. My brief review.
Neufville (Futura ND)
As the owner of the Bauer foundry assets, Neufville claims to have the most accurate digital rendition of the original Futura drawings. This may be true, but Neufville isn’t necessarily the best font maker in the business — they have some spacing issues (see the ro in the Bold above, for example). Still, this release has the largest family of styles, with small caps and italics for nearly every weight and width.
Similar in design to the Neufville. Perhaps with better spacing. Not as large a family with all the extra small caps, but it does have some display weights that could be useful on occasion.
Cornel Windlin’s and Arve Båtevik’s interpretation aims for “a tougher, crisper, and more geometric rendering”. It also offers extra light (Display Choupette) and extra bold (Display Jumbo) variants that are more extreme and well drawn than those from other Futura families. LL Supreme also includes more of Renner’s original stylistic alternates than any other revival.
I read somewhere that this variant appears to be optimized for small text. It is wider, the ascenders are shorter, the counters are larger, and the apertures are more open. On the other hand, the round glyphs (a, g, e,) are more true to the circle than the other URW version. This is especially apparent in the e which looks like it was drawn by an engineer with a compass. This attribute doesn’t make this a great text face, but if you want that strict geometry, No. 2 delivers more of that than most of the others. Only five weights — no Light, the thin Book weight fills that gap. The Extra Bold is unique and I think puts on the weight more successfully than the other Extra Bolds out there.
ParaType (Futura PT)
This version and E+F’s offer the broadest range of weights: seven. (This is because their Heavy is actually usable.) No small caps, though. ParaType is a Russian foundry specializing in Cyrillic, so if you think you might need Russian someday, this is the one to get. Otherwise similar to URW and E+F.
Elsner+Flake (Futura EF)
Virtually the same design as URW and ParaType. A “Heavy New” weight corrects the problems with the original Heavy.
Bitstream (Futura BT)
This Futura is a major redraw from the original. In many ways it is a more successful typeface because it abandons some of the strict geometry in favor of a more harmonious whole, but it may not be the Futura you were expecting. The ascenders and descenders are shorter, letter widths are more uniform, lettershapes between weights are more consistent (note how little the they differ between Light and Bold), and the rounds (a, g, b, d, p, q) and s depart significantly from other Futuras. In short, this is the least true to the source, but may be the most versatile Futura for contemporary design.
This version is unique in that it offers separate families for display (SH) and text (SB) use. The display version is narrower, very tightly spaced, and has no ink traps. Unfortunately, it’s not truly optimized for use at extra large sizes because it still suffers from overshoot distraction (see Why do the points on Futura in letters like A and N rise slightly above the heights of other capital letters?). Each family includes a versatile seven weights.
Avoid this one. Adobe produces some excellent original designs, but many of their early revivals (see also Helvetica) are a bit of a mess. In many weights the round shapes are much more oval than circular. In some cases they are even egg-shaped! The Heavy style is a particular atrocity.
Same design as Adobe’s (I believe it was licensed), though spacing, small details, and character sets may vary.
This overview just skims the surface. There are other design differences (some fonts include the radical experimental glyphs from Renner’s original drawings), other foundry versions and alternatives (check out the early American competitor Twentieth Century and the very useful East German follower Super Grotesk), and many other non-design considerations, such as language support, figure sets, licensing costs, and webfont availability and quality. — Stephen Coles
Header image: Futura 1, Bauersche Giesserei, Frankfurt am Main, Letterform Archive
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Originally posted to Quora in 2011. Republished here because Quora – in their infinite lack of wisdom – now requires an account to read articles.
Update (Oct 13, 2012): Added URW Futura No. 2.
Update (Oct 6, 2020): Added Futura Now.