|Category Sans-serif||Designer(s) Karlgeorg Hoefer|
|Foundry Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen|
Similar Pay by plate parking, Electronic license plate, Vanity plate
The FE-Schrift or Fälschungserschwerende Schrift (forgery-impeding typeface) is a typeface introduced for use on license 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.
The abbreviation "FE" is derived from the compound German adjective "fälschungserschwerend" combining the noun "Fälschung" (falsification) and the verb "erschweren" (to hinder). 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 was spun 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). 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.
The final publication in German law for the usage on license plates includes three variants – normal script ("Mittelschrift" - 75 mm high and 47.5 mm wide letters and 44.5 mm wide digits), narrow script ("Engschrift" - 75 mm high and 40.5 mm wide letters and 38.5 wide digits) and a small script ("verkleinerte Mittelschrift" - 49 mm high and 31 mm wide letters and 29 mm wide digits). 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.
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. Some federated states of Germany introduced the new design during 1994 and since 1 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 false-hindering 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.
Some countries allow the FE-Schrift as an alternative to the standard typeface especially in combination with a Euro-style license plate. This is used often for vanity plates for German car models, e.g. in Australia.