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I try to setup a light fontseries for phv with

\DeclareCaptionFont{phv_light}{\small\fontseries{el}\fontfamily{phv}\selectfont}

but the series has no effect. Only if I use b, the font turns to regular bold.

1
2

Since you know the font family name, phv, you can look in the TeX distribution for the file t1phv.fd or ot1phv.fd.

From a terminal, with Bash syntax, it's very easy:

less $(kpsewhich t1phv.fd)

and this would show

\ProvidesFile{t1phv.fd}
   [2020/03/25 scalable font definitions for T1/phv.]
\expandafter\ifx\csname Hv@scale\endcsname\relax
 \let\Hv@@scale\@empty
\else
 \edef\Hv@@scale{s*[\csname Hv@scale\endcsname]}%
\fi
\DeclareFontFamily{T1}{phv}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{m}{n}{
   <-> \Hv@@scale phvr8t
}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{m}{sc}{
   <-> \Hv@@scale phvrc8t
}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{m}{sl}{
   <-> \Hv@@scale phvro8t
}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{c}{n}{
   <-> \Hv@@scale phvr8tn
}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{c}{sc}{
   <-> \Hv@@scale phvrc8tn
}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{c}{sl}{
   <-> \Hv@@scale phvro8tn
}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{b}{n}{
   <-> \Hv@@scale phvb8t
}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{b}{sc}{
   <-> \Hv@@scale phvbc8t
}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{b}{sl}{
   <-> \Hv@@scale phvbo8t
}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{bc}{n}{
   <-> \Hv@@scale phvb8tn
}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{bc}{sc}{
   <-> \Hv@@scale phvbc8tn
}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{bc}{sl}{
   <-> \Hv@@scale phvbo8tn
}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{m}{it}{<->ssub * phv/m/sl}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{c}{it}{<->ssub * phv/c/sl}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{bx}{n}{<->ssub * phv/b/n}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{bx}{sc}{<->ssub * phv/b/sc}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{bx}{sl}{<->ssub * phv/b/sl}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{b}{it}{<->ssub * phv/b/sl}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{bx}{it}{<->ssub * phv/b/it}{}
\DeclareFontShape{T1}{phv}{bc}{it}{<->ssub * phv/bc/sl}{}
\endinput

This means that the known series are

m (medium), b (bold), c (condensed), bc (bold condensed)

0

You can use any OpenType or TrueType font from LuaTeX or XeTeX. This includes any font on your desktop, any free font that you download, and any font that you buy with a workstation license.

TeX also still supports Type 1 fonts from the 1990s, and the fonts for use in PDFTeX are still in this format. If you find a copy of Helvetica Light for sale in Type 1 format, the instructions to prepare it for TeX and to install it are in the TeX FAQ.

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