Number Plate Fonts of Europe (cont.)

License Plate Fonts of the Western World    Page:  Intro  |  North America (1)  |  North America (2)  |  North America (3)  |  North America (4)  |  North America (5)  |  North America (6)  |  Europe (1)  |  Europe (2)  |  Australia & New Zealand

Click font name link or image for a full character showing, additional information, and download links.

Legend:  Font Name  |  Year Designed, Designer, Permitted Use. Additional notes follow if applicable.

Netherlands

The Dutch registration plate font utilizes Gill Sans as its basis, although with numerous modifications. Gill Sans, in turn, was based on the well-known Johnston signage typeface, which was designed for the London Underground railway system early in the 20th century during World War I.

Kenteken  |  2004, LeFly, free. The Netherlands’ typeface based on Gill Sans.

Norway

Until 2002, Norway used a font for their license plates (that’s still used on highway signage) called Trafikkalfabetet, which is similar to the font used on U.S. interstate highway signs. Then they decided to switch to a more squarish techno font, which was designed by the factory producing the plates. However, while futuristic in appearance, it caused problems for toll-road and police OCR cameras. So in 2006 they changed again, this time to Adobe’s Myriad typeface.

Myriad  |  1992, Robert Slimbach and Carol Twombly, commercial. Semibold Condensed weight as used on Norwegian passenger cars shown.

Poland

Since the 1970s, Poland’s font has been fairly closely modeled on DIN 1451 with some differences. See DIN 1451 page for noteworthy character changes.

Romania

Current plates since at least early 1990s are based on DIN 1451.

Slovakia

Uses a font closely based on DIN 1451 with some differences. See DIN 1451 page for a couple of specific changes.

Spain

Current font is modeled after DIN 1451.

Sweden

Mainly DIN 1451 derivative, but some plates since the mid-1990s appear to be Helvetica.

Switzerland

The Swiss number plate font is a bit of an odd duck compared to those of other European countries. Perhaps as would befit this quintessentially neutral country, the alpha characters are a mixture of traits from around Europe, while the numbers contain the oval-shaped curves often seen on U.S. license plates.

Numberplate Switzerland  |  2000–2004, Stephan Müller, commercial. Includes regular straight cut plus an alternate font with rounded corners for embossed appearance.

United Kingdom

In September 2001, the font known as “Charles Wright 2001” was mandated for use on British plates, an update to the previous standard font that had been designed by Charles Wright several decades earlier, in 1935. (See font links and samples below to compare.) Sometimes the previous font is called the “old Charles Wright font” by those in the plate-making trade, while the new font is called the ”new Charles Wright font” or just the “Charles Wright font,” for short. (Oddly, research for this article turned up no information about who Charles Wright was — or if Charles Wright was in fact an individual at all, or perhaps the name of a company instead. If you know more, we’d like to hear. Email us at: .)

There were several reasons for this legislated font change, including a font more easily recognized by OCR (optical character recognition) software used by speed cameras and video devices, as well as characters that would be easier to read by accident and crime witnesses. For example, serifs were added to letters B and D, to make them less easily confused with 8 and capital O, respectively. Also, anti-tampering features such as changes to the P and 9 were implemented to make them difficult to falsify and alter into, respectively, R and 8.

Vehicle owners responsible for getting plates made, which had introduced font variation. Also, while the old Charles Wright font was considered the standard font prior to 2001, it seems as though there was no strict enforcement. Muddying the font waters is that the British DVLA (the central licensing authority) — even today with the newer legally mandated font — requires vehicle owners to have plates made themselves, and this is often handled apparently by garages and/or car dealers. This would account for the variations often seen in examples of the old Charles Wright font. (It will be interesting to see how much font variation may creep back in despite today’s mandated font, with vehicle owners still being responsible for having plates made and the DVLA opting out of it themselves.) Any type of reliable information about the origin of the old Charles Wright font has been very difficult to come by, so if you have any insight about this, email .

Highly non-standard fonts an issue prior to the 2001 change. Complicating matters further, prior to the new rules, some vehicle owners would purposely use completely non-standard fonts such as italic or blackletter typestyles as a form of personal expression. Because of this, over the years more plates used fonts that were hard to read, or creative spacing was used to form unintended acronyms out of the original plate numbers, making plates read differently (nicknames, funny or memorable phrases, purposely misleading numbers, etc.), and this had become a minor irritant to authorities. For that matter, while people conform much more closely to the new 2001 legally mandated font standard, there still seems to be room for a bit of variation even with it, which is inevitable with many different plate-makers not under the direct command of the central licensing authority.

Anonymous typeface predating the old Charles Wright font. In addition to the new and old Charles Wright fonts, there is another, anonymously designed font of uncertain origins (see Lutz Headline below) that has been used on British number plates as well, though infrequently in modern times, and which apparently predates the old Charles Wright font. (See these examples, each indicated by the plate number: EMP 636C, 246 D 168, PYL 483F, Q85 JBW.) Most examples and variations of this font seem to occur on replacement plates for older or classic vehicles with plate numbers first issued earlier in the 20th century, presumably as a way of maintaining the ”classic” or ”vintage” look and feel of the car, down to and including the the number plate itself.

A few plate numbers produced in this font style that can be seen in photos of remade plates were number sequences first issued in 1904, which was the year legally required number plates in Britain were introduced. (Other examples of the font we’ve seen date back to plate number sequences from the 1950s/ 1960s.) This timing would mesh with the observation that the anonymous font’s design is characteristic of the early ”Grotesque Sans” style typical of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, while the “old Charles Wright” design from 1935 is a more modern-looking squarish typeface. Again, however, we’ve seen no information on this. What information we’ve mentioned here has been inferred from studying plate collector photos, but might not be competely correct.

For further information:

Below are replicas or “inspired-by” versions of the two different font eras:

U.K. Fonts for the Era Up Through 2001

Alpha Headline  |  Cornel Windlin, 1991, updated to 4 weights with lowercase in 2002. Inspired by the 1935 Charles Wright font. Design exclusive to Mitsubishi Motors for a 10-year period ending in 2012.

No alphabet sample available. Click font name above for further explanation and link to offsite font sample at Lineto.com. Once there, click on the links at the upper right numbered 2 through 5 to cycle through the font samples.

Carplates  |  Christian Küsters and Sandy Suffield, 1998, commercial. Based on the 1935 Charles Wright design.

Lutz Headline  |  1997, Cornel Windlin, commercial. Based on an early font style used on British plates around the beginning of the 1900s.

U.K. Fonts for the Era After 2001

Charles Wright 2001  |  2001, based on the 1935 Charles Wright font but updated/ modified according to British DVLA requirements, designer unknown.

No alphabet sample available — but see replicas below. Or click font name above for link to offsite font sample, purchasing information, plus a diagram showing the required character size and spacing for use on number plates.

Since September 2001, use of this typeface is mandated on U.K. number plates. The typeface consists of two character sets, one called Charles Wright Mandatory containing just numbers and capital alpha characters for license plate use. The other set called Charles Wright Regular adds a full Central European accented character set plus punctuation characters, though no lowercase.

Most noticeable modifications to the earlier Charles Wright 1935 design are:

  • The typeface was condensed to allow for the 7 digits in the plate number plus the new “Euroband” or European country identification code at the left side to all fit on the plate.
  • The new design was made substantially bolder.
  • Serifs were added to B and D to make them less easily confused with numeral 8 and capital O respectively.
  • The previous sharper central vertexes of M and W were truncated, making them flat. This change combined with the more condensed widths of the new M and W have ended up making the angled strokes forming their central vertexes more difficult to distinguish from a distance. The net result is actually a decrease in legibiilty for these two characters.

Disallowed characters: Since the capital I and numeral 1 share exactly the same design (a straight vertical stroke with no serifs), only the numeral 1 is used on number plates to avoid confusion. Also, the Q is not used on plates registered after the 2001 mandate, but is included for updating older plates.

“Look and feel” of old vs. new Charles Wright fonts. As some other commentators versed in typography have noted, the earlier 1935 Charles Wright font is actually more aesthetically pleasing from a design perspective. Its features adhere more closely and harmoniously to the basic design motif across the entire character set for a sleeker look. Also, whether or not the 2001 version is more legible than the previous one, its legibility could be improved further, given the design as it is. It’s really too bold for optimum legibility at a distance — the current overly thick strokes reduce counterspace (interior white space) too much. An additional side effect is that since the emboldening was done without the optical compensations for human perception normally incorporated by professional type designers (where horizontal strokes are made a little thinner than verticals), the thickened font appears clunkier at the same time. (See our discussion about the problems with 3M’s default font for U.S. flat digital plates for more about the boldness vs. counterspace tradeoff.)

Additional note: The ”mandatory” use of this font is a bit more flexible than it sounds. What is actually mandatory are the character height and width, stroke width, and spacing between characters. Exact adherence to the letter shapes themselves is not required as long as the basic shape of each letterform as depicted in the Charles Wright font is followed.

Licenz Plate  |  Levi Halmos, 2001, free for personal use. Replica of Charles Wright 2001 font.

Mandatory  |  Keith Bates, 2004, free for personal use. Replica of Charles Wright 2001 font, with a few slightly altered/ improved characters for better appearance and legibility, but still compliant with DVLA rules.

UK Number Plate  |  2002, Gareth Attrill, free for all uses. Replica of Charles Wright 2001 font.

European “Grunge” Number Plate Fonts

Destroyed License Plate  |  2010, Damien Gosset, free for personal use. A reworked and updated version of the previous F**ked Plate from 2005 (just below). Grittier than before, and now with accented characters for the major European languages.

Destroyed License Plate font specimen

F**ked Plate  |  2005, Damien Gosset, free for personal use. Yes, that’s the F-word in the font name, disguised here so this web page doesn’t get screened out by overzealous “kid-safe” search engine filters. Based on pictures of broken number plates from vehicles in France.

F**ked Plate font specimen

Next: Australian & New Zealand Number Plate Fonts

Previous: European Number Plate Fonts (First section)

License Plate Fonts of the Western World    Page:  Intro  |  North America (1)  |  North America (2)  |  North America (3)  |  North America (4)  |  North America (5)  |  North America (6)  |  Europe (1)  |  Europe (2)  |  Australia & New Zealand