The FE-Schrift or Fälschungserschwerende Schrift (forgery-impeding typeface) is a sans serif typeface introduced for use on licence plates. Its monospaced letters and numbers are slightly disproportionate to prevent easy modification and to improve machine readability. It has been developed in Germany where it has been mandatory since November 2000.
|Foundry||Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen|
|Also known as||FE-Schrift |
Schrift für Kfz-Kennzeichen
The abbreviation "FE" is derived from the compound German adjective "fälschungserschwerend" combining the noun "Fälschung" (falsification) and the verb "erschweren" (to hinder). "Schrift" means font in German. Other countries have later introduced the same or a derived typeface for license plates taking advantage of the proven design for the FE-Schrift.
The motivation for the creation of the typeface arose in the late 1970s in the light of Red Army Faction terrorism when it was discovered that with the then-standard font for vehicle registration plates—the DIN 1451 font—it was particularly easy to modify letters by applying a small amount of black paint or tape. For example, it was easy to change a "P" to an "R" or "B", a "3" to an "8", or an "L" or "F" to an "E". Modifications to FE-font plates are somewhat more difficult, as they also require the use of white paint, which is easily distinguished at a distance from the retroreflective white background of the plate, in particular at night.
The original design for the FE-Schrift typeface was created by Karlgeorg Hoefer who was working for the Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen (Federal Highway Research Institute of Germany) at the time. The typeface was slightly modified according to the results of tests that lasted from 1978 to 1980 at the University of Giessen (Department of Physiology and Cybernetic Psychology). For example the initial slashed zero Ø letter could be mistaken for an 8, so it needed to be replaced quickly with Karlgeorg Hofer to propose a design with a reduced white slash in the upper right corner. Whilst the DIN typeface was using a proportional font, the FE-Schrift is a monospaced font (with different spacing for letters and numbers) for improved machine readability. Faked FE-Schrift letters (e.g., "P" to "R") appear conspicuously disproportionate.
Another motivation for the new typeface came from a spike in the theft rate of license plates in the early 1970s. And despite the requirement to hinder falsification, the scope document did list that point only in the second place. The first priority was a requirement for readability by humans and machines as the decade was the same that saw the development of other typefaces for optical character recognition, namely OCR-A and OCR-B. The RAF terrorism however allowed to fund a project over a couple of years — running from the functional scope document being created in 1977 to the final decision of 1982 to not introduce the design on license plates. It ended up in the drawer.
The final publication in German law for the usage on license plates includes three variants – normal script (Mittelschrift) with 75 mm high and 47.5 mm wide letters and 44.5 mm wide digits (2 15⁄16 in × 1 7⁄8 in × 1 3⁄4 in), narrow script (Engschrift) with 75 mm high and 40.5 mm wide letters and 38.5 wide digits (2 15⁄16 in × 1 5⁄8 in × 1 1⁄2 in) and a small script (verkleinerte Mittelschrift) with 49 mm high and 31 mm wide letters and 29 mm wide digits (2 5⁄16 in × 1 1⁄4 in × 1 1⁄8 in). The legal typeface includes umlaut vowels as these occur in German county codes at the start of the license plate number. The narrow font allows nine characters to be put on a standard Euro license plate — shorter numbers are supposed to be printed with larger spaces between characters as to fill the available space on the plate.
The German law defines the font in "Anlage 4" (appendix 4) of the "Fahrzeugzulassungsverordnung" (vehicle admission ordinance). In section 2.1 it shows three names for it as "fälschungserschwerende Schrift", "FE-Schrift" and „Schrift für Kfz-Kennzeichen“ (font for license plates) with the latter to be used for requesting templates from the "Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen" (Federal Highway Research Institute / BASt). Digital variants have never been published by them but there exist third party digitilizations for free download, for example the font "Euro Plate". The Swiss foundry Lineto has published an extended script that covers the full range of Latin letters inspired by the FE Schrift under the names FE Mittelschrift and FE Engschrift.
When the FE-Schrift was finished in 1980 the pressure for its adoption had lessened already. Its distribution was furthered by another event being the introduction of the Euro license plate. With the fall of the iron curtain there was again a spike in the theft rate of license plates, including cars being stolen and moved to Eastern Europe. Again there was a motivation to prevent that with new regulations on license plates. In the new process the officials found the FE-Schrift which was fully developed and a perfect match for the automatic number-plate recognition technology that had developed to a usable state at the time.
Some of the federal states in the eastern part of Germany introduced the new design during 1994 in anticipation of the national resolution. In January 1995 it was introduced nationwide by a federal law that came to include the FE-Schrift as well as it had been in the planning since the 1970s. The shift in legislation matches with the first Schengen zone to lift borders during 1995. With the extension of the Schengen zone in 1998 the new license plate design found EU-wide acceptance (even for non-Schengen countries) thereby lifting the older requirement of adding an extra country code plate on the car when roaming to other countries which constitutes an advantage to citizens. Shortly later the option to be issued an old (non-Euro) license plate design were dropped on 1 November 2000 and the legislation dropped the older typeface for license plates alongside. The FE-Schrift is mandatory in Germany since that time although older license plates continue to be valid. There is an exception for historic cars to get a new license plate in the DIN typeface, and the Bundeswehr armed forces continue to generally issue their plates in the DIN typeface.
Other countries have begun to introduce a forgery-impeding script as well, either taking over the FE-Schrift or using a derivative variant. Taking over the original design, including the Euro license plate format, is generally cost effective – while in many countries the car license plates are produced by the state it is not the case in Germany. In Germany the car owner has to pay for a new license plate which gets a license stamp to be valid on the road (the round stamp is placed between county code and the local registration code). In the vicinity of the vehicle registration offices several small shops compete to press a license plate on the spot – their printing machines are highly standardized and the German license plate design is tailored to allow for cheap production in high quality.
Specifically in Europe some countries started to adopt the style of registration plates of the European Union even before becoming full members. The main difference is that EU registrations plates may bear a circle of stars as present in the Flag of Europe. The usage of stars is however completely optional, even after becoming a full member. The license plates may not need to be changed to be valid but new license plates may be issued with that hint to the EU membership.
In October 2014 the members of the Mercosur South American trade bloc agreed to introduce a common design for license plates. The size of the license plates is similar to the EU license plates but only 40 cm wide on a regular basis. The design uses the narrow script "Engschrift" FE-Schrift design to show the registration code with 7 elements. The FE-Schrift was found to perform better against alteration and falsification in comparison to the Brasilian Mandatory script as shown in a test at the INTI. The design also includes a blue strip above the registration code with the Mercosur emblem in the left upper corner, the national flag of the member state in the right upper corner, and the country name printed in the center. It was agreed to introduce the Mercosur design by 2016. The actual introduction was delayed until 2018.
The early adoption in Africa is based on proposals against falsified and stolen license plates made by the German Utsch AG, which had also developed the retroflective plates for Germany, and which was able to deliver the embossing machines for plates with FE-Schrift as they were already in mass production for the national market in 1994/95. In South Africa the empty license plates had been delivered with a special certification mark from the beginning, which would tell if a plate is authorized for embossing by licensed plate makers (today the certification mark contains a QR code). In other regions the car owner will get a third "license plate mark" being a sticker for the front window that can not be removed non-destructively and where the sticker does also contain all the license plate information (some of latest variants even integrate an RFID chip containing the information).
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- On Euro-style license plates with the country code in a blue section on the left:
- Germany – introduced in 1995 on Euro license plates only, these are mandatory since 2000
- Bosnia and Herzegovina – in 2009 the new Euro-style license plate design was introduced along with the FE-Schrift typeface. The new design (dropping the national crest from the old Euro-style license plates as it was used since 1998) is more similar to the Euro license plate.
- Malta – since 2004, the Euro-style license plate design was introduced in 1995 without the FE-Schrift
- Cyprus – since 3 June 2013
- Georgia – since 3 June 2013
- Latvia - only for tractors and tractor trailers. On car, car trailer and motorcycle plates they use DIN 1451.
- Cuba resolved a law on a new license plate scheme in 2013 which opted for the Euro license plate format and the FE-Schrift. The reasoning is to lower the cost while increasing the quality of the plates with the change to be completed by May 2016.
- Moldova – since 1 April 2015
- Common design in CIS countries with a region code section along with the country name / flag:
- Common design of Mercosur countries with the country name in a blue strip above the number:
- Uruguay – the old numbering scheme with three digits was exhausted in 2001 leading to a new scheme in 2002 in Montevideo which included four digits and came to use the FE-Schrift as well. The new license plate design is mandatory for Uruguay since 2011. Uruguay did pick up the blue strip of the Mercosur design by March 2015 for new license plates.
- Argentina – using the Mercosur design since 2016
- Paraguay - was scheduled to use the Mercosur design for new cars by 2016, but delayed the start to 2019.
- Brazil - using the Mercosur design since September 2018, first state was Rio de Janeiro
- with introduction date in the former Mercosur member state Venezuela being unknown (membership suspended since 2016)
- Countries in Africa:
- South Africa – the numbering scheme and license plate design were changed in 1994 which did also introduce the FE-Schrift.
- Namibia since 1994, following south-african style but with new registration codes that start with "N"
- Tanzania started to introduce a new design in the 1990s using FE-Schrift, registration codes start with "T"
- Uganda since 1999, registration codes start with "U"
- Sierra Leone - probably since 1999
- Botswana probably around 2000, registration codes start with "B"
- Mozambique probably around 2000, registration codes start with "M"
- Zambia since 2000
- Ethiopia - probably since 2002, only numbers
- Cameroon since 2005
- Zimbabwe since 2006
- Rwanda since 2007, registration codes start with "R"
- South Sudan - probably since 2007, initially only used on government vehicles
- Mali - probably since 2008
- Congo since 2009
- Burundi – since April 2009
- Malawi - probably since 2011
- Other countries:
- Sri Lanka – since August 2000, with a variation of the FE-Schrift developed by a German company
- Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates - probably since 2006, only numbers
- Sierra Leone - since 2007
- Kuwait - probably since 2007, only numbers
- Guatemala - probably since 2008
- Bahrain - since 2010
- Peru – since 2010
- Colombia - since 2016 only for diplomatic cars
- Philippines - Since February 2018, used for personalized plates since 2010.
Some countries allow the FE-Schrift as an alternative to the standard typeface especially in combination with a Euro-style license plate. Some license plates in Ghana have been issued using an FE-Schrift style. In Australia personalized plates may be issued with an FE-Schrift using a special design of vanity plates.
- Schrift für Kfz-Kennzeichen. Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany.
- StVO, FZV – Anlage 4
- Susanne Schaller (2002-05-14). "The German EU Numberplates: A Typographic Road Accident?". 'Usefuldesign' by Fabrizio Schiavi.
- Benjamin Tiven (2014-08-23). "Fälschungserschwerende Schrift". Scribd. / also in the servinglibrary / and the layout in the fall issue of the magazin
- see Vehicle registration plates of Germany
- "Einunddzwanzigste Verordnung zur Änderung straßenverkehrsrechtlicher Vorschriften (21. ÄndVstVR)" (PDF). Bundesgesetzblatt Jahrgang 1995 Teil I Nr.1. 1995-01-06.
Einführung des Euro-Kennzeichens
- "Zweiunddreißigste Verordnung zur Änderung straßenverkehrsrechtlicher Vorschriften (32. ÄndVstVR)" (PDF). Bundesgesetzblatt Jahrgang 2000 Teil I Nr.34. 2000-07-20. p. 1093.
Artikel 13 (e) [..] Euro-Kennzeichen [..] spätestens ab dem 1. November 2000 [..] anzuwenden, die [..] mit einem neuen Kennzeichen ausgerüstet werden. Kennzeichen [..] in der vor diesem Termin geltenden Fassung [..] gelten weiter. [..] (f) Die Übergangsvorschrift §60 Abs. 1b (Einführung des Euro-Kennzeichens) wird aufgehoben.
- Marcel Kunzmann (2013-05-22). "Kuba modernisiert seine Kfz-Kennzeichen". Cuba Heute.
- Maschinen und Werkzeuge zur Herstellung von gepägten Kfz-Kennzeichen (in German). Autoschilder Sievers. 2014-05-10.
/ dubbed as Machines and tools for the assembly of automobile number plates. Autoschilder Sievers. 2014-05-12.
- "Nueva patente para los vehículos del Mercosur". Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Industrial (Buenos Aires). August 2015. Archived from the original on 2018-03-23. Retrieved 2018-03-22.
- "Schlaue Schilder". Die Zeit (in German). 2014-04-04.
- "South Sudan to have unified number plates for cars". Gurtong. 4 February 2016. Retrieved 2 October 2016.