SAA Series A  |  1980, designer unknown, digitized by URW staff, commercial.

SAA Series 'A' font specimen (full alphabet)

Font family contains: Six all-caps weights in increasing widths from Series A through Series F, plus a Series EM which includes a lowercase. Series A (shown above) and B are the two narrowest weights and most suitable for license plates.

About this typeface: Of commercially available fonts, SAA Series “A” may be the closest in overall design to the look of traditional embossed license plate lettering in America for states using typefaces whose characters have oval curves. Note that the curves in SAA have more gently rounded or oval-shaped contours compared to SNV Extra Condensed, which are more squarish, another very similar font in URW’s Sign Collection.

SAA Series a clone of the FHWA Series of highway signage fonts. There are no design background notes on German foundry URW’s font site, which produced the font, about any of its fonts. (A significant deficiency for a top-tier international foundry.) However, “Technical/ Traffic” is the classification they’ve assigned it to in their font database. In addition, the SAA Series of fonts (Series A through F) appears identical to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s “Highway Gothic,” used on highway signage throughout the United States, so that would clear up what the fonts are intended for. Highway Gothic, as it’s commonly referred to, is known officially as the “FHWA Series,” whose weights/ styles are labeled with the same designations Series A through Series F, just as with URW’s SAA series.

May have been adopted as a model by license plate makers in mid-1900s. Series A, the narrowest of the FHWA family, has been discontinued for use on U.S. highway signs, with Series D and E becoming the main workhorses, while the narrower Series B and C see occasional use where space on signs is tight. Since the FHWA Series became an official nationwide standard for highway signage in 1945 to help ensure legibility at a distance, a logical guess would be that the typeface may also have been adopted for that reason around the same time as a model in its narrow form (Series A) for license plate-making. Though of course, certain modifications for monospaced use (alterations to numeral 1, capital I, and M and W being most typical/ noticeable) would obviously have been incorporated.

On a related note, Series B, the next wider style in the FHWA Series, appears to have been the basis for the font currently in use on the state of Victoria’s number plates in Australia.

For more information on the FHWA Series typefaces, see Richard Moeur’s Standard Sign Typefaces at his Manual of Traffic Signs site, and Wikipedia’s entry on the FHWA Series fonts. Also of related interest here is the typeface Clearview, recently developed as a better, more highly legible alternative to the FHWA Series, and slated to gradually supersede it in the U.S. in the coming decades as traffic signs undergo replacement.

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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