Number Plate Fonts of Australia and New Zealand

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

Background

Number plate sizes. Up until about 2003, both Australia and New Zealand used number plates intermediate in size between U.S. and European plates: wider than U.S. license plates but less so than Europlates, and taller than Europlates but less so than U.S. tags. Standard Australian size is 14.5x5.3” (372 mm by 135 mm), and continues to be used there. This appears to have been the same size New Zealand once used for standard passenger-issue plates (although personalized plates were taller from top to bottom).

However, since 2003, New Zealand has adopted the Europlate size standard for its passenger cars. Europlates are 520 mm wide by about 110 or 120 mm deep (roughly 20.5x4.5”), the latter of which can vary a bit. Some Australian jurisdictions such as New South Wales and Victoria also now offer Europlates as an option for general passenger issues for people with European cars. “Slimline” plates are also now offered in some jurisdictions that are the standard Australian width of 372 mm but 100 mm in height.

Australian Number Plate Fonts

Most plates produced by private sector rather than prisons. The number plate font situation in Australia is similar to the United States in one respect, in that plates are administered separately by each state or territory. However, there the basic similarity ends. Whereas in the U.S. most plates are made in prisons, with only a few states subcontracting plate manufacture to private corporations, in Australia the situation is the reverse. Except for Victoria and the Northern Territory which utilize prison labor, most Australian plates are contracted out to the private sector.

Same font used for regular passenger plates across all jurisdictions but Victoria. Also unlike the U.S., for general passenger issues there is a shared font design between almost all states and territories. Except for Victoria, all the other jurisdictions use a condensed, strongly squarish design with modestly rounded corners. This is all the more interesting in that this font design does not seem to have been legislated, and there seem to have been numerous different manufacturers responsible for the embossed plate dies used to produce plates in this font style over the years and across these jurisdictions. It may be, however, that the push by the federal government to establish a nationwide numbering scheme in 1951–1952 — which was partially implemented by some states/ territories although rejected by others — carried with it a recommended font standard as well that was voluntarily adopted at that time. (If you have further information about this, and we’ll include that info here.)

The earliest versions of this squarish font style began appearing in the 1930s, but evolved in form until sometime around 1953–1955, by which time the font had by and large assumed its current design, other than a very few minor modifications since. Dion Rinaldi’s site of Australian plates shows most of the alphabet here on a number of adjacent plates.

  • The somewhat trapezoid-shaped bowl of the letter D in this font, with two slight kinks in the curve (one on the upper right and one at lower left), is an intriguing characteristic unique among number plates as far as we know. Occasionally one will see a more normal D in some plate examples, with simple (and smaller-radius) curves on the upper right and lower right, but they’re deviations from the norm for this font.
  • The interesting 6 and 9 are earmarks of this font as well, with their angled and slightly hooked finishing strokes (reminiscent of Garage Gothic) that stop well short of flush with the lateral character edge.
  • M and W. Since the post-1950s period began, letters M and W tended to have a sharper central vertex early in the period, but over time the vertex was truncated slightly so its junction now has the same cross-sectional width as the main character stroke widths. (Some plates show this change early after the 1950s, however.)
  • Numeral 1 has been completely serifless for many decades, as contrasted with capital I which has top and bottom serifs. But since the late 1990s two jurisdictions have added a serif at the top left for regular passenger issues (Western Australia in 1997, New South Wales in 2004). Some other jurisictions also make use of the serifed numeral 1 on non-passenger issues.
  • The numeral 3 in the font normally has two squarish bowls on both top and bottom. However, on some non-passenger plates one occasionally sees a numeral three where the top half of the character uses a straight top stroke at the cap height, connected to the midline vertex by a straight diagonal stroke.

Victoria has since 1977 used a typeface with oval-shaped curves that appears to be based on the U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s FHWA/“Highway Gothic” Series B font. (The FHWA Series is equivalent to URW’s SAA Series.) The primary difference is that Victoria’s font is somewhat lighter in weight. Aside from that, one of the few other noticeable differences is the very odd-appearing “floating” Q, where the main bowl is smaller than normal — about 3/4 of cap height — but aligns on the cap height so the tail hanging down extends just to the baseline and no further.

The new font’s introduction coincided with Victoria’s move to reflective license plates in 1977, so it seems likely the font change may have been instigated by either a new manufacturer or perhaps new plate-making equipment required for the switchover to a new plate type. In the years before this, going back to 1939, Victoria had used the same condensed squarish font used by all other states and territories, and today, many of Victoria’s current special-issue and non-passenger plates also still use the squarish font in common with the other Australian jurisdictions.

Other items of note regarding Australia’s registration plate fonts:

  • Less-condensed version of squarish font in use since the mid-1990s for special issues, personalized, and slimline plates in almost all states/ territories: Australian Capital Territory (since 2001) South Australia (1999), Northern Territory (2000), Queensland (exact date uncertain), Tasmania (2001), Victoria (1996) Western Australia (2000).
  • Australian Capital Territory uses ITC Souvenir Demi for some personalized plates (see the linked examples beginning with serial “999”) with flat, nonembossed printing.
  • New South Wales offers a Eurostyle personalized plate with a font similar to but different from Germany’s FE Schrift (see very bottom of page), based on limited character samples we were able to examine. For example, the zero character does not have the cut-through gap at upper right, unlike FE Schrift’s zero. Also, the 9’s bowl is fully closed whereas a gap is left in FE Schrift’s 9.
  • Victoria: Eurostyle personalized plates are offered with exact version of FE Schrift font.

Collectors’ examples for Australia:

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

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

SAA Series “B”  |  1980, designer unknown, digitized by URW staff, commercial. Very similar in design to the font used by Victoria on its number plates. Seven weights, “Series B” shown.

SAA Series B font specimen

New Zealand Number Plate Fonts

After having used a conventional industrial sans font since the 1960s, New Zealand switched to a new design for passenger car plates in 2006 (see replica a little further below) based loosely on Germany’s FE Schrift (see Lineto’s replica), though with numerous modifications for a less quirky look.

Font changes through the years. Looking over collectors’ plates with examples going back to the early 20th century, New Zealand has seen several different fonts used in successive periods. Starting around 1925 a squarish sans was put into use replacing the miscellaneous fonts that had been in use until that point, and lasting through 1931. In 1932 a more rounded humanistic sans with slightly stressed/ flared strokes took over, lasting till the early 1960s. From 1963/64, the typeface was switched to a more conventional industrial non-flared sans, though still more rounded as opposed to squarish in style (notable in particular for the noticeably curved diagonal stroke on the 4). This font remained in use all the way up to 2006, the only change during that time being the introduction of a slashed zero sometime after the late 1980s. (Exact date is unclear, but according to the Wikipedia entry on New Zealand plates, the slashed zero was introduced with plate number sequences beginning with the character P, whenever that occurred.)

Current font inspired by Germany’s FE Schrift. In March 2006, the font was replaced with the intent of making plates difficult to alter, and is based on a German design according to Wikipedia. (Early versions of the new font began appearing on dealer tags and motorcycles plates in 1996.) If one compares Licenz (see example below), a replica of the latest New Zealand font, with the current German font FE Schrift, it’s clear that FE Schrift was the inspiration in terms of overall style. However, the resemblance is loose and there have been numerous changes. While New Zealand’s font is virtually identical in weight to FE Schrift and clearly has borrowed a few characters with relatively minor changes (D, G, Q, W, even the slightly bulged curve of the stems at the junction of the Y), overall the font is considerably more regularized and much less quirky. Also, if one then compares the previous New Zealand font (see plates dated between 1963 and 2004) with the new one, it can be seen that three of the old numerals (1, 4, 8) were retained from the previous font, though perhaps slightly redrawn to fit with the style of the new one.

Collectors’ examples for 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.

Licenz  |  2006, David Buck, free for personal use. A replica of New Zealand’s number plate font used since 2006. Letters and numbers only, no punctuation.

This concludes our exploration of license plate fonts of the Western world, and we hope you’ve enjoyed it. To contact the author, send email to: .

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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