Road Sign Fonts and Typefaces

I don’t even remember how it happened anymore but somehow a few weeks ago I ended up reading about the various typefaces (fonts) used on highway and road signs. Traditionally road signs, specifically on federally funded roads but often on on local roads as well, have used a series of Gothic typefaces specified in Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) documents. It’s my understanding that the original specification called for all uppercase lettering but eventually some of the series were modified to provide for lowercase. As an interesting aside I hadn’t ever really thought about it but if you drive around you’ll still find a great many roadsigns that use uppercase lettering only.

A fairly recent and interesting development is that a private company has received FHWA approval for a new typeface which they developed called Clearview and which supposedly allows for better recognition at a distance without increasing sign size. It’s also interesting to note that this new typeface “natively supports” lower case lettering. Although not yet allowed by all states the Clearview typeface does seem to be gaining momentum and may be coming to a sign near you. The Clearview people have some interesting documentation on their website about the research they did to design the font.

While not officially approved for use on signs and some licensing restrictions apply there are some free fonts such as the Roadgeek set which provide an excellent approximation of the FHWA Gothic and Clearview fonts. The same site points out that the Minnesota DNR makes available a font with the recreation symbols often found on state maps and highway signs. Both of these would be handy resources if you were trying to create a road sign graphic for say a web page. Interesting stuff.

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