I work as technician in company engaged in industrial automation. Our company need to find suitable typeface for marking of wires in electric switchboard. (Fig. 1) I also like a typography, so I try to combine in useful way my work and hobby together.

Requirement parameters for needed typeface:

  • good legibility of small size and condensed typeface
  • “Industrial look” (Helvetica with fancy “1” is not right)
  • Free for commercial usage or included in windows.
  • Sans-serif and bold

We need CAPS and numbers only. (1F1, +RM1-28KM3:2, FAN, etc.) Our print resolution is 300 DPI.

The typeface should be neutral. We are using Arial Bold so far. Is there any better typeface? Disadvantage of Arial Bold is bad readability when is condensed.

I wasn’t sure where to place my question and I find this site as relevant.

Edit 6.1-1:

IMHO is the most suitable typeface for labeling (from point of view size+length/legibility) Alte DIN 1451 Bold from category of proportional fonts, and Consolas/Hack from category of monospaced fonts

Here is a comparison considered typefaces:

Edit 6.1-2:

Here is extended comparison with glyphs of "zero" and "o" - https://i.sstatic.net/jgZFC.jpg

  • 1
    How about Arial Narrow?
    – Ideogram
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 14:43
  • 2
    What do you mean "fancy 1" in Helvetica? IMO, Narrow + Sans is kind of bad readability by definition. So to your description fits only Arial Narrow and Co. (e.g. Letterica is a bit more elegant). I'd say Franklin Gothic Condensed could be also near the description. But nothing of that would be actually very readable in comparison to many serifs.
    – Mikhail V
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 22:52
  • @MikhailV I'm looking for the typeface with technical look. Regarding of example of Helvetica I showed, that it is necessary to pay attention to this aspect. The glyph "1" in Helvetica is not suitable for marking labels, for its aesthetically attractive appearance.
    – Cooper538
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 8:17
  • Could you create another example with a 0 (number naught) and an O (letter oh) next to each other? I'm afraid both won't be easily distinguishable at first glance in Alte Din 1451. In Hack they are different though, so that might work.
    – PieBie
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 8:41
  • 1
    @joojaa: A desirable feature in fonts for labeling purposes would be to ensure that even if the top, bottom, middle, left, or right third of a character were blanked out, the remainder would be uniquely identifiable. Your digits are mostly good except for the 0, 3, and 8 whose top and bottom are shaped identically. I'd suggest making the top and bottom of the 0 more pointy (losing the slash), flattening out the left sides of the top and bottom of the three, and necking in the sides of the eight.
    – supercat
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 18:31

8 Answers 8


I would suggest some standardized font such as German DIN 1451. This means you find many vendors for the same font and can even implement it on your own if needed for some proprietary system. Its also available in many different forms.

enter image description here

Image 1: One of the available Din fonts

Taking the same thinking further you can chose to use some other standardized font such as a IS0 3098 based lettering font or one based on the American counterpart ASME Y14.5M. Many implementations available.

  • Thx, do you know some open-source/free versions of this font?
    – Cooper538
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 12:50
  • Free variation of the Din font: 1001fonts.com/alte-din-1451-mittelschrift-font.html
    – KoldBane
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 16:40
  • @KoldBane but its not the condensed variant.
    – joojaa
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 17:16
  • 3
    It looks like the 0 and O are identical - not good
    – Zombo
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 23:27
  • IS0 3O98? You must be j0king!
    – bers
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 18:22

Consolas comes installed with Windows as standard, so widely available, and has distinct 0 and 1 glyphs.

enter image description here

  • 1
    Look's good, but I want to avoid using non-proportional font for saving more space on label
    – Cooper538
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 12:48
  • 22
    @vrabec1330 Actually that is a bad idea. With you will never know if the text will fit or not. Use a fixed width font and create a standard for the labels so that the text will never be longer than a certain number of characters. With this you can ensure that the text always fits the labels.
    – MichaelK
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 13:56
  • @vrabec1330 Unfortunately it's almost always monospaced fonts that use the slashed zero by default. I'd imagine being able to confidently distinguish between a 0 and O as being pretty important. The problem with DIN is that those two glyphs are pretty similar.
    – Dre
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 14:28
  • @Dre: Whether distinguishing between O and 0 is an issue depends upon the numbering scheme used. Some schemes limit themselves to a subset of the alphabet which avoids letters that might resemble other characters. If no wire designators include the letter "O" it won't matter what it looks like.
    – supercat
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 21:31
  • @supercat True, but that assumes that 1. anyone inspecting the label is aware of the numbering schema and 2. that the schema doesn't change in the future. My preference would be to avoid ambiguity and ensure flexibility for changing or extending the schema in the future.
    – Dre
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 12:47

Hack is libre/open source and is designed with unambiguous characters. It's meant for editing code on screen even at small font sizes, but label printing isn't exactly high-resolution so lends itself to something nice and clear. Monospacing that holds even when bold/oblique is also useful.

Here's a sample from their own website: Hack sample


First thing which comes to my mind is Arial Narrow or Letterica Condensed. The latter is IMO a better variant of Arial Narrow, but I am not sure about the weight, if there is a medium variant.

Another font which fits in the description, more or less, is Franklin Gothic family. Here is the "medium condensed" variant:

enter image description here

This particular font has a more legible "1" and variable stroke widths, which kind of slightly remedies the readability. Note that any sans-serif font cannot achieve the readability level of a good serif font. So if it really matters, consider a serif font.

FI: if one needs a slashed or dotted zero, there are ways to do it manually, e.g. in InDesign one can even combine it from two character using manual kerning or draw an outline glyph and paste it instead of zeros.

Note, I cannot give any comments regarding licensing of that fonts.


This might sound like asking the Pope if he's catholic, but do you know the site Fontsquirrel? It has a large collection of fonts that can be used for free even for commercial use. Many of them are of great quality.

Instead of suggesting one particular font, I would suggest using the tags and classifications FontSquirrel provides to narrow their collection down to your requirements, e.g.:


Based on this list, I could suggest 'Bebas' and 'Antonio'. And their might be more if you scroll down the list.



Allright then… Let's throw some examples in:


enter image description here

Antonio: enter image description here

OSP DIN: enter image description here

  • I am familiar with web catalogs of fonts. I'm looking for concrete experiences
    – Cooper538
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 8:21

I would suggest you these great fonts, many of them come with lots of variants.

  1. Open Sans
  2. Montserrat
  3. Raleway
  4. CooperHewitt
  5. Roboto
  6. EXO
  7. Inconsolata
  8. Anonymous (PRO)
  9. Droid Sans
  10. Bitstream Vera Sans Mono

some useuful links: google fonts | fontsquirrel dafont-com | free-fonts-com (I could not post more than 2 links)


You might want to try Roboto, which also includes a Condensed version. This typeface is a nice looking sans-serif which looks a little bit "squared", but not too much.

The standard version has several weights while the condensed version only features Light, Normal and Bold. They all come in Italic as well:

roboto and roboto condensed


Another possibility not yet mentioned would be OCR-A. While it is ugly, it is designed to be readable, or at least decipherable, in the presence of significant defects or distortions. Further, most characters have enough unique features that a small portion of a character may be recognizable even if most of the character is missing or obscured. I don't know that any versions of Windows includes an OCR-A font, but such fonts are widely available from many free or low-cost sources.

  • OCR-A is ugly indeed
    – joojaa
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 21:39
  • @joojaa: It is, but for how many fonts have digits that can be identified by looking only at the top 1/4 or bottom half of each character (distinguishing 0 from 6 or 8 requires seeing up to cross-bar height). I think one could design a font that was less ugly and could be deciphered with only the bottom 1/4 of each character, but given that wire labels can easily get torn the ability to be deciphered even after such damage would seem a big plus.
    – supercat
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 21:44
  • Then make one its not like it takes very long to make the glyphs. Now keening and hinting is another thing entirely. Anyway i think something like both ends of middle is a good start though
    – joojaa
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 21:52
  • @joojaa: BTW, I don't know if a full set of letters would be available, but the font used for the numbering on Interstate signs in the USA would probably be pretty good, all of its digits are distinctly shaped--perhaps to deal with the possibility of signs being partially obscured by snow.
    – supercat
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 22:55
  • @joojaa: PS--Another approach which isn't pretty but can also help is to use different fonts for different characters. Someone who's trying to decode a badly damaged label might need to have a reference of what all the different characters are supposed to look like, but a suitable choice of fonts may make it possible for almost every part of every character to be unique.
    – supercat
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 23:49

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