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fonts for the cockpit

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Vinu Chaitanya's picture
Joined: 6 Jan 2007 - 3:52pm
fonts for the cockpit

I am a graphic design student currently working on airplane cockpit displays. I wanted help with choosing a font that would work well in a cockpit environment. I was wondering if anyone here has information about efforts made in designing fonts optimized for cockpit displays.
The closest thing I could find was - The Design of an Optimum Alphanumeric Symbol Set for Cockpit Displays by the Air Force Institute of Technology, Ohio School of Engineering. While I came to know of its existence through the internet I could not get hold of the document to see what’s in it.

Any information would be helpful. Thank you!

Vinu Chaitanya
National Institute of Design
Ahmedabad, India

ghurman's picture
Joined: 7 Jul 2007 - 7:42am

most typeaces are designed with sharp corners, which is not very suitable for screens, because screens have smaller resoulution then printed stuff. and they use light, which is the opposite to ink. thus, slightly rounded typefaces might be a good solution, if sharp corners don't look good on the cockpit screens.

however, there are typefaces designed for screen use even if they have no rounded corners.

ff unit might be a good starting point:

Gus Winterbottom's picture
Joined: 19 Oct 2006 - 11:46am

You can http://buy the document for US$48 from NTIS.

I don't know if they specifically address fonts, but these are documents are also available from NTIS:

http://Report on Head-Up Display Symbology Standardization

http://Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS). Standard Symbology. Cockpit Display Presentation Formats and Flight Test Symbol Set.

The FAA has a number of documents available for free that might be of interest:

http://Font Requirements for Next Generation Air Traffic Management Systems (313 KB pdf).

http://Technical Annex- An Experimental Methodology for Selecting Fonts for Next Generation Air Traffic Management Systems (286 KB pdf).

Human Factors Criteria for Displays (368 KB pdf), particularly paragraph 5.1.8.

Human Factors Design Guidelines for Multifunction Displays (1 MB pdf). Many good references to other documents.

http://Human Factors Design Guide Update (2.5 MB pdf), particularly paragraph

http://Symbol Development Guidelines for Airway Facilities (8.5 MB pdf), particularly paragraph 3.1.1.

MIL-STD-1787B: DoD Aircraft Display Symbology (4.5 MB zip file), particularly paragraph 4.3.3.

Simon Daniels's picture
Joined: 11 Apr 2002 - 6:37pm

A few years back we licensed Verdana derived bitmaps to the British Air Traffic Control service when the font they were using turned out to be sub-optimal.

Also of interest - http://www.tradingmarkets.com/.site/news/Stock%20News/1532474/

Cheers, Si

Vinu Chaitanya's picture
Joined: 6 Jan 2007 - 3:52pm

Thank you ghurman, guss and sii for the help.

Gus, thanks for the detailed post. I have read some of the documents you have listed but there are a couple that I have not. Do you have a special interest in aviation or did you just happen to know a lot about it?


Gus Winterbottom's picture
Joined: 19 Oct 2006 - 11:46am

The abstract for the "Optimum Alphanumeric" thesis you mentioned refers to a Lincoln/Mitre font, which is a dot matrix font. http://These are the results of a Google search for 'Lincoln/Mitre font'.

http://This NTIS document refers to a comparison of Lincoln/Mitre to another font named Leroy. Lincoln/Mitre was not found to be better than Leroy. I found a zip file for Leroy, but it's in Autocad shx format.

Apart from all that, I found a source that names fonts that probably aren't dot matrix. MIL-M-18012B (324 KB pdf), "Markings for Aircrew Station Displays," says this (spelling variations in original):

Letter design:

a) Fonts for engraving:(1) Gorton extended (2) Groton normal (3) Gorton condensed

(b) Fonts for printing and other reproduction methods: (1) Airport semibold (2) Futura demibold (3) Vogue medium (4) Lining Gothic No. 66 (5) Alternate Gothic No.3

Numeral design:

a) For engraving: (1) Gorton extended (2) Gorten moderne

(b) Fonts for printing and other reproduction methods:(1) Futura medium (2) Futura tempo

Gorton may never have been digitized, but a font called Technic may be similar.

Some other miscellaneous stuff:

http://True 3-D displays for avionics and mission crewstations:

"...true three-dimensional (T3D) display. The concept of font describes the approach adopted here, but whereas a 2-D font comprises pixel bitmaps, a T3D font herein comprises a set of hologram bitmaps. The T3D font bitmaps are pre-computed, stored, and retrieved as needed to build images comprising symbols and/or characters. Human performance improvement, hologram generation for a true 3-D symbol font (see-through 3-D stick images), projection requirements, and potential hardware implementation schemes are described."

http://An innovative tool for designing fault tolerant cockpit display symbology:

"This research focuses on the design and development of a software package to aid display designers in creating fault tolerant fonts and symbology for monochrome dot-matrix displays....The software package developed for the design of fault tolerant fonts, referred to herein as FontTool, operates on an IBM PC..."

You might also try the ICAO human factors site.

Re getting a copy of the "Optimum Alphanumeric" thesis from NTIS, US$48 is pricey. Is there such a thing as an international interlibrary loan? Alternatively, perhaps the AFIT library would photocopy or scan the thesis for you.

Gus Winterbottom's picture
Joined: 19 Oct 2006 - 11:46am

> Do you have a special interest in aviation or did you just happen to know a lot about it?

Nah... It's all research. I have a special interest in avoiding work. :-;