Traffic System Typefaces

Typography.Guru's picture

We started to compile a list of official traffic system typefaces. So far we covered:

FHWA Series Fonts/Clearview - USA/Canada
DIN Mittelschrift/Engschrift - Germany
Transport/Motorway - Great Britain
ANWB-Ee/ANWB-Uu - The Netherlands
Mittelschrift/Engschrift Austria - Austria
ASTRA Frutiger - Switzerland
Tratex - Sweden
Trafikkalfabetet - Norway

Who knows more official typefaces?


Richard Hards's picture

They are in the (URW)++ cut.

Typography.Guru's picture

Sure, but that's not the official Transport alphabet used on traffic signs.

core's picture

Interstate in the USA?

berga83's picture

Interstate in the USA?

Core, actually Interstate is the name of Tobias Frere-Jones’ 1993-4 type design.
The alphabeths in use in the US highways are called FHWA Series fonts.

And for what concerns Portugal’s street and highway signs: another “clone” of Kinneir's project, this time not only concerning the font in use, but also the arrows and the layout (together with, it seems to me, the font used for the numbers).

Here are some pictures, fresh from my trip to Porto!


Typography.Guru's picture

Berga83's upper picture shows a truly British design, including the Transport and Motorway fonts.
The fingerposts in the the second picture use the ISO arrow, which is used in several European countries.

The arrows in Great Britain look different though:

Richard Hards's picture

Apparently there is to be a review of traffic signs in the UK, according to this BBC News story.

I dread to think what this is going to lead to.

berga83's picture

Thanks Ralf, ISO arrow, interesting. That’s the one we have on Italian fingerposts, too.
And here are some more of the Portuguese ones:

J N Winkler's picture

Just to add some more information on some previously mentioned points:

* It seems to me fairly obvious that Carretera Convencional, the typeface which is officially specified for direction signs on ordinary roads in Spain, is derived from Kinneir's Transport typefaces. However, I have no direct proof that this is the case. As noted, the stroke width is heavier for Carretera Convencional than for even Transport Heavy. Also, the capital letters and lowercase letters with ascenders are designed to be in a 4:3 ratio to the lowercase loop height, which matches that of Autopista and, for that matter, all of the FHWA alphabet series. This ratio is convenient for design of Spanish traffic signs since it allows a 3/4 size to be used for less important destinations and for parts of long destination names. Examples include "Pola de Siero," where "Pola" is at the altura basica (basic height, often written "Hb" in Spanish construction documents) while "de Siero" is at 3/4 of the basic height, or "Torrelavega" at 3/4 the basic height on a sign where "Lugo" is in the basic height. (North American signing doesn't vary letter sizes to nearly this extent--the main use of the 4:3 ratio is in defining interline spacing on guide signs.)

* Spain carried out a major revision of its standards for traffic signing in 1992. There have been further changes since then, but none related to typefaces (the biggest change came in 2001 with the current version of Norma 8.1-IC, which eliminated the green background for vía rápida signs). The 1992 reform introduced Autopista and Carretera Convencional. Before that time (if the 1986 official catalogue of traffic signing can be trusted, a doubtful proposition since it is clearly not 100% pattern-accurate), there was a typographical distinction between ordinary and high-standard roads similar to that which exists now, but the typefaces were different. Spain used the old French L1, L2, and (I think) L3 typefaces for ordinary roads, and probably straight Series E Modified (not Autopista) for high-type roads.

* Old French L1, L2, and L3 are not to be confused with modern L1-L4. Modern L1 and L2 are essentially the same typeface, with stroke widths varied to accommodate contrast reversal. The same is true of L3 and L4, which are an italic typeface derived from (I think) Roissy or some other similar Frutiger-designed type. On the other hand, old L1 is essentially the same as modern L1, but old L2 is a more condensed version of old L1 (i.e., letters are thinner), while old L3 is a serif typeface which in France was generally used for tourist signing but also appeared on autoroute signs.

* It has, in the past, been possible to obtain copies of the Portuguese traffic sign typefaces which are not oriented toward use with CAD packages. They are available in TrueType format, with filenames 1n_.ttf (JAE - Fonte Tipo 1A Negativa), 2pf.ttf (JAE - Fonte Tipo 2A Positiva), 3n_.ttf (JAE - Fonte Tipo 3 Negativa), and 3pf.ttf (JAE - Fonte Tipo 3 Positiva). They used to be included in the old JAE typeface installer, which was freely downloadable from the Web from the Estradas de Portugal site (in an earlier incarnation) and had the filename ABCTIPO.exe. Unfortunately this distribution no longer seems to be online, though I think it may be recoverable through the Web Archive.

* Theodore Watson Forbes is commonly associated with the FHWA alphabet series, but strictly speaking he was only the co-author of a key paper in 1950 which demonstrated the viability of using mixed-case legend consisting of Series D all-uppercase and the lowercase letters of what eventually became Series E Modified. This was for overhead signs only at first. The uppercase letters of Series E Modified were developed separately, to allow button reflectors to be fitted to the letters on ground-mounted signs (the overhead signs were, at that time, illuminated but not retroreflectorized). The combination of the fat uppercase letters and the lowercase letters was a later development. Initially Series D was used with the lowercase letters at a 3:2 height ratio, versus the current 4:3 ratio. I have seen no direct evidence that Forbes designed the lowercase letters which were tested in his paper or even chose them from vernacular usage, although loose claims to this general effect have been made in the current edition of Standard Highway Signs and by the designers and testers of the competing Clearview typeface. The real reason Forbes is venerated as the god of US highway signing is that, in the late 1930's/early 1940's, he wrote an important paper relating the minimum height of legend to be used on a sign to the intrinsic legibility of the typeface used, the amount of legend on the sign, and the speed of traffic going past the sign. American guide signs continue to be designed to Forbes' conservative assumption that drivers need to be able to read a sign twice in the time that it is visible to them.

* Mexican traffic sign typefaces give the impression of being at least loosely based on the uppercase-only FHWA alphabet series. They are available in different levels of condensation, like the FHWA series, and there is just one series which has an accompanying lowercase alphabet, as used to be the case in the US prior to release of the Series 2000 alphabets. Some of the letter and digit shapes are very similar, though not precisely identical. The R in Mexican series tends to have a fatter and lower loop than the R in similarly condensed FHWA series. Also, Mexican series count up with increasing condensation, instead of down as with the FHWA Series (Mexican series 0 being visually similar to FHWA Series E/F). Dimensioned drawings of the letters are available in the Mexican Manual de dispositivos para el control del tránsito.

* Peru uses the FHWA alphabet series without change, but follows Mexico in reversing the progression of the series identifiers.

* As I understand it, only New Zealand uses the Transport alphabets, and only in limited contexts--usually signage for parking in urban areas. Pattern-accurate dimensioned drawings for these are available in the Manual of Traffic Signs and Markings, and possibly also in the Land Transport Safety Authority's recently compiled index of traffic control devices. I don't think the Transport alphabets are used in any of the Australian states, but I do not have complete information for all of them.

* The position of South Africa with regard to typefaces is rather strange, since the country has changed its traffic signing system twice since 1950. The pre-1970's South African system was essentially similar to Britain's pre-Worboys signing system. Then, from around 1970 to around 1990 (I don't have specific dates), South African signing seems to have been similar to that used in modern Australia (FHWA alphabet series, but on British-style map-type signs). This has since been abandoned in favor of a new system, now (in theory) rolled out to the other SADC member states, which uses the DIN-Schriften and borrows heavily from RWB and RWBA but has a multitude of details to meet specific South African situations.

Now, a question: can it be fairly said that type conformity is generally poor in countries like Israel, India, China (including HK), and Greece where multiple languages are used with multiple scripts (not just Roman) on signs?

R51's picture

I just got back from my first trip to Ireland, and I loved the face being used for the text in Irish as illustrated by Richard Hards months ago. So, I took the step of emailing Rennicks, and they promptly responded and described that face as:

Transport Heavy - Eire Heavy 10

Which makes sense, as it does appear to be more or less an "Irish" take on the standard Transport.

However, the person I talked to did not give any indication as to where the font could be purchased or even *if*; so, with that in mind, I thought I'd bump this thread in the hopes that either the information would help the curious or (even better!) help someone find it so that I could eventually get my hands on it as well.

Typography.Guru's picture

You might ask here:
But I don't think the font is available to the public.

BTW: There is also a full Wikipedia article for Irish road signs:

R51's picture

Thanks, Ralf. I have an email out to already, sent just before I contacted Rennicks; all appearances indicate that you are correct in saying that the font is likely unavailable to the public. I hold out some measure of hope nonetheless. :)

Samuel Stanislas's picture

Eriks, I was looking at the "Trans European road network dynamic signs" and I realized you mixed a lot of alphabets in there. You have Greek, Russian, Romanian and the alphabets used by some North European countries. Were you trying to get all the alphabets in one sentence?
Samuel Stanislas, part of the Traduceri Legalizate team.

berga83's picture

Here is an example of an Egyptian road sign (written in a font derived from the British Transport, but with confusing widths and heights) — also the right diagonal arrows look pretty awkward and thick; I took this picture in Cairo last week.

And here is a picture taken in the Cairo Metro: not a street sign, but still uses the "Egyptian Transport"

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