Kabel belongs to the "geometric" style of sans-serifs, which was becoming popular in Germany at the time of Kabel's creation. Based loosely on the structure of the circle and straight lines, it nonetheless applies a number of unusual design decisions, such as a delicately low x-height (although larger in the bold weight), a tilted 'e' and irregularly angled terminals, to add delicacy and an irregularity suggesting stylish calligraphy, of which Koch was an expert. A variety of rereleases and digitisations have been created.
Kabel shows influence from Expressionism as much as from Modernism, and may be considered as a monoline sans-serif companion of Koch's Koch-Antiqua, sharing many of its character shapes and proportions. This is visible in its low x-height and its two-storey 'g' with a large, partly open lower loop, similar to William Morris's Troy Type, and its 'e' with a tilted centre-stroke, similar to early Renaissance typefaces and also seen in Morris's type designs. The termini of vertical and horizontal strokes are cut an angle, often at right angles to stroke direction, suggesting writing with a pen. This gives Kabel the effect of not quite sitting on the baseline and makes for a more animated, less static feeling than Futura. The capitals vary considerably in width and show influence of Roman square capitals, for instance in the wide 'M' and narrow 'E'. The capital 'W' has a four-terminal form. In the book/regular version, the uppercase 'U' has a stem to the right, which is especially noticeable in the light weight. The capital 'Y' forms a continuous stroke with its tail.
Koch marketed Kabel with a specimen showing the capitals supposedly derived from a construction grid of perfect rectangles and circles, but Walter Tracy and others have noted that this graphic does not really resemble the letters of the printed type, which were clearly drawn freely rather than by uncorrected geometry: "Koch probably drew [his] letters without constraint, and then 'rationalised' them afterwards...Koch was evidently not a man to be bound by arbitrary rules. In Kabel Light the arms of E are actually three different lengths, the bowl of R is deeper than that of B, and in P it is deeper still...and Y does not have the vertical stem shown in the diagram. In short, Koch's sense of style is in command, rather than any geometric formula. The result is an alphabet of capitals that relate perfectly without need [of] 'mathematical harmony'...they are, for my taste, the most attractive of all sans-serif capitals."
Of the name, Adobe's release notes for their version of Kabel comment: "Kabel was not named after any specific cable, although the Zugspitze cable car been completed in 1926, and a Berlin-Vienna facsimile telegraphy line opened in 1927. The name had techie cachet in its day (Piet Zwart's NKF kabel catalogue of 1927 is well-known) and is primarily metaphorical and allusive, a pun referring to both the monolinear construction of the face, and the role of type as a means of communication."
The original release of Kabel was in four weights: Light (released first), Medium/Book, Heavy, and Black. The latter has a redesigned structure to fit the thicker strokes, with an enlarged x-height and more regularity, without the angled terminals of the lighter weights. Also released was an inline design, "Prisma", a headline weight "Zeppelin", and condensed weights.
Some metal type releases offered stylistic alternates, alternate characters with a different design. Many reduced the eccentricities of Kabel and in particular made it more resemble Futura, which was very dominant in printing of the period. (This offering of Futura-like alternates such as a single-storey 'a', which historian Paul Shaw has called a "Futura-ectomy", was common among other sans-serifs of the time, including Monotype's Gill Sans, Linotype's Metro and Erbar.)
Originally released by the Gebr. Klingspor Foundry, the design continued to be made available by the Stempel Foundry (which bought Klingspor in 1956, having already owned some shares) and briefly for phototypesetting systems. Linotype continues to sell Kabel in digital format. Owing to Kabel's popularity, many adaptations and simple knock-offs were sold by other companies, such as Phil Martin's Alphabet Innovations. This particularly occurred in the phototypesetting and digital type periods, taking advantage of the lack of international copyright protection for typefaces.
Victor Caruso's 1975 adaptation for phototypesetting was created for the International Typeface Corporation, licensing the design rights from Stempel. It follows the standard ITC approach of a dramatically increased x-height accompanied by a unified set of weights from Book to Ultra, for instance retaining the angled-terminal motif into the bold weights.
ITC also sold ITC Grizzly, an adaptation of the bold weight.
A 2016 release by Marc Schütz with an x-height between the original and the ITC digitisation in 9 weights with italic styles to complement them. Another distinction that Neue Kabel has are stylistic alternates such as lower-case letters "a", "g", "e" and "l", circular and 45° square tittles.
Bhikkhu Pesala created the open-source revival Kabala, named after a P?li word meaning 'a morsel of food' due to its intended use in Buddhist religious publications. This release is inspired by the ITC weight set and structure, but adds a number of features including italics, small caps and combined characters.
Ray Larabie's Canada 1500 was based loosely on the original Kabel, with its low x-heights. Commissioned with a full set of characters to support the languages of Canada, he donated the original version, "Canada 150," to the government of Canada upon its 2015 completion for use in Canadian sesquicentennial celebrations, then released it into the public domain shortly before Canada Day 2017 (the day of the sesquicentennial) as what he described as a "birthday gift" to his native country.
Google's corporate typeface, Product Sans, has some similarities to Kabel, in particular the angled 'e', but other features such as the 'M' and 'g' are very different, resembling Helvetica or Futura. Product Sans is a proprietary design not available for licensing.