Highway Gothic

Highway Gothic
Category Sans-serif
Designer(s) Ted Forbes
Foundry N/A

Highway Gothic (formally known as the FHWA Series fonts or the Standard Alphabets for Highway Signs) is a set of sans-serif typefaces developed by the United States Federal Highway Administration and used for road signage in the U.S., Canada, Turkey, Mexico, Australia, Spain, Venezuela, the Netherlands, Brazil, Chile, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Mongolia, Ecuador and New Zealand, and some signs in Saudi Arabia, when written in English. The typefaces were created to maximize legibility at a distance and at high speed. Versions known as Highway Gothic or Interstate, which are for sale to the general public, include punctuation marks based on a rectangular shape. However, on signage the official FHWA Series punctuation is based on a circular shape.

The set consists of six fonts: "A" (the narrowest), "B", "C", "D", "E", "E(M)" (a modified version of "E" with wider strokes), and "F" (the widest). The typefaces originally included only uppercase letters, with the exception of "E(M)", which was used on large expressway and freeway guide signs.


The typefaces are officially defined by the FHWA's Standard Alphabets for Traffic-Control Devices, originally published in 1948 (reprinted 1952). Changes to the specifications were published in 1966, 1977, and 2000. The 2000 specifications differ from earlier versions in the shapes of a few letters and in the inclusion of lowercase letters for all alphabet series.

FHWA Series A, B, C, D, E, and F were developed by the Public Roads Administration (which later became FHWA) during World War II. Draft versions of these typefaces were used in 1942 for signs on the Pentagon road network.[1] In 1949–50, as part of a research program into freeway signing carried out by the California Department of Transportation, Series E Modified was developed from Series E by thickening the stroke width to accommodate button reflectors for ground-mounted signs, while a lowercase alphabet was developed to allow mixed-case legend (consisting initially of Series D and lowercase letters) to be used on externally illuminated overhead signs.[2] The lowercase letters, paired with Series E Modified, later became the basis of a national standard for mixed-case legend on freeway guide signs with the 1958 publication of the AASHTO signing and marking manual for Interstate highways.

Series "A" has been officially discontinued in the U.S. due to poor legibility at high speeds, though it continues to be specified for certain signs in New Zealand. In 2004, the FHWA published lowercase letters for all of the typefaces and made changes to the Manual on Uniform Traffic-Control Devices, which allows their use.[3]

There was an expectation that over the next few decades, the new Clearview typeface, also specifically developed for use on traffic signs, would replace the FHWA series on some new signage.[4] However, the FHWA announced in 2016 that it was rescinding its 2004 interim approval of Clearview in the United States; while existing Clearview signs can stay up, new signs must once again use the FHWA series.[5] On June 7, 2016, the United States House of Representatives has introduced a bill to challenge this decision, ordering the FHWA to suspend enforcement its actions of the termination of the interim approval.[6]

Tobias Frere-Jones designed the typeface Interstate, based on the FHWA series, during the 1990s.[4] Overpass is an open source replacement for Interstate commissioned by Red Hat.[7]


United States

An example roadsign

Typically, one- or two-digit Interstate, U.S. Highway, and U.S. state route signs use the Series D font for the numbers, while signs with three or more digits use either a narrower font (Series B or C) or have smaller numbers in the Series D font. Series E and F is most commonly used on U.S. speed limit signs, although older signs often use narrower fonts. Signs that show the names of streets usually feature white Series B, C or D letters (which may either have all capital letters or a combination of capital and lowercase letters) on a green background (which can also be substituted for other colors, such as blue or brown). Georgia uses both Series C and D fonts for the Interstate highway signs. Beginning in 2016 when the interim approval for Clearview was rescinded, the Arizona Department of Transportation is now using mixed case (non-Modified) Series E for freeway guide signage, mixed case Series D for guide signage on non-freeway roads, and mixed case Series C for street name signs.[8]

By the mid-1990s the FHWA series of typefaces was used as a source of inspiration for a multi-weight print typeface designed by Tobias Frere-Jones of Font Bureau. Frere-Jones made accommodations for smaller print reproduction and Font Bureau released the face under the name Interstate. It has been adopted by many companies for branding; for example, NBC used it for NBC Sports graphics packages from 1997 to 2006, and TV Guide uses the typeface on its cover. Also, The Weather Channel utilized this typeface extensively, both on its weather maps and for its local forecasts. The logo of the premium cable channel Epix also uses a lowercase version of this typeface. NESN uses this typeface for on-screen graphics. The New York Mets use this typeface at Citi Field. The gossip magazine InTouch is now using this typeface since 2012. Films like 8 Mile also use this font. Entertainment Tonight is using this typeface since its 34th season.


The FHWA typefaces are also used predominantly on road signs in Canada (The province of Ontario used an in-house modified version until the late 1980s that featured slightly different characteristics, such as flat-top numeral 3's and numeral 1's without a serif), Peru (under different series labels), Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico[9] and other countries. Still others use typefaces that are either derived directly from the FHWA series or very similar in appearance. There are a few of them in South Africa, Lesotho, the Philippines, and Thailand.

In mainland China, the font has been adopted for use in signs on new Chinese national expressways, beginning with the Jingjintang Expressway, which uses the font for the first 17 kilometers in Beijing. In Taiwan, the FHWA series of typefaces are also used on English text.

Indonesia formerly using the typeface since 1993, regulated by Ministry of Transportation's law No. 62 year 1993.[10] However, in 2014 Ministry of Transportation passed a regulation to introduce new road signs, including new Clearview typeface.[11]

In Spain, series E is the base for Autopista typeface, used in motorways and freeways.

The Netherlands historically used a derivative of the FHWA Alphabet Series typeface designed by the ANWB and the Dutch highways and waterways authority. The original set included three of the six series in the original typeface - RWS-Ee (wide, based on Series E (M)), RWS-Dd (medium, based on Series D), and RWS-Cc (narrow, based on Series C) - which were reduced to two by the ANWB, ANWB-Ee (regular) and ANWB-Cc (condensed). Both have progressively replaced by a new typeface, ANWB-Uu (except the "Stop" sign which remains in ANWB-Ee).

In the United Kingdom, the font has been adopted for signage by companies such as supermarket Sainsbury's and railway company c2c.

In Russia, Channel One used this font for its clock ident from 1996 to 2000.

In addition, the font has been adopted for runway and taxiway signs at most of the world's airports.


FHWA Series B

FHWA Series C

FHWA Series D

FHWA Series E

FHWA Series F

See also


  1. Loutzenheiser, D.W. (1943). "Design of Signs for the Pentagon road network". Proceedings of the Highway Research Board. pp. 206–35.
  2. Forbes, Theodore W.; Moskowitz, Karl & Morgan, Glen (1950). "A Comparison of Lower Case and Capital Letters for Highway Signs". Proceedings of the Highway Research Board. pp. 355–373.
  3. Moeur, Richard (April 22, 2005). "Sign Typefaces". Manual of Traffic Signs. Retrieved May 18, 2006.
  4. 1 2 Yaffa, Joshua (August 11, 2007). "The Road to Clarity". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved August 11, 2007..
  5. Nadeau, Gregory G. (25 January 2016). "Notice of Termination of Interim Approval IA-5". Federal Register. Office of the Federal Register. 81 (15): 4083–4084. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  6. Diaz-Balart, Jose (June 7, 2016). "Report 114-606: Report Together with Minority Views [To Accompany H.R. 5394]" (PDF). 114th Congress 2d Session. United States House of Representatives. p. 31. Retrieved September 26, 2016.
  7. "Red Hat releases free/libre Overpass font family". libregraphicsworld.org.
  8. "Arizona Manual of Approved Signs". Arizona Department of Transportation. Retrieved February 9, 2016.
  9. "Chapter 8: Letras y números para señales" (PDF). Manual de dispositivos para el control del tránsito en calles y carreteras (in Spanish) (5th ed.). Mexico: Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes. 1986. pp. 425–486. ISBN 968-803-140-2.
  10. "Ministerial Regulation Number 62 of 1993". Indonesia: Minister of Transportation.
  11. Ministerial Regulation Number 13 of 2014 about Traffic Signs. Ministry of Transportation of the Republic of Indonesia. Retrieved 7 February 2015.

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