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FE-Schrift: forgery-impeding typeface (wikipedia.org)
227 points by chki on Sept 3, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 51 comments

The Wikipedia page didn't seem to mention other similar systems created historically to impede modification/miscomprehension.

China has a separate set of accounting number glyphs specifically for this purpose, as the regular numbers 1-9, 100, 1,000 and 10,000 (一二三四五六七八九十百千萬) are obviously easy to change, for example 一 to 十 or 千, 二 to 三, 八 to 九, etc. The replacements are 壹貳參肆伍陸柒捌玖拾佰仟萬.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_numbers#Standard_numbe... for background.

Also check out also a mistranscription error database I defined in BNF at https://raw.githubusercontent.com/globalcitizen/php-iban/mas... to help with rebuilding errors made by humans from invalid checksum IBANs.

Most typefaces are designed for regularity, so this is quite the purposeful twist. I found a comment from Erik Spiekermann that makes the point

> While nobody could simply turn one of them into another one, now they all look totally forged in the first place. No policeman would notice if you invented new characters instead.[0]

[0]: http://www.printmag.com/article/hot_type_feschrift/

[1]: http://spiekermann.com/gefalschtes-nummernschild/

The goal of this system is too make faking license plates using a bit of black tape hard/impossible. So I have some trouble getting the point of Erik Spiekermann's comment.

Erik is just trying to position himself as the only one in Germany who knows something about typography...

Just bullshit talk imho, as the FE Schrift does exactly what it´s supposed to.

I flipped the bozo bit on him when he flatly denied the existence of the capital sharp s. Spiekermann is and remains an ignorant blowhard.

Well, that's one thing where he's right. Agree to disagree, I guess. ;-)

I had two online interactions with him that formed my opinion of him.

When I started being interested in typefaces, but not really able to discern one from another, I wrote him an email asking for the title of one or two books where I could see his FF Meta used for the body text. He's a busy man, so I only half expected him to reply, but I certainly didn't expect his condescending abusive email that he wouldn't help a lazy student with his homework. Great way to inspire people interested in your work!

The other time was in a type aficionado web forum where I mentioned that I had bought the Adobe Type Classics collection CD for much less than retail price (second hand). He accused me of piracy, again in pretty abusive manner.

Taken together with his holier-than-thou attitude, riling against "spec work" (https://www.nospec.com/), but then asking designers for spec work, because "it's for the UN" (and he was on the jury).

Or with his blatant lie in a Fontshop brochure I have on my shelf, claiming that there is virtually no intellectual property protection for fonts in Germany, and how it would have been impossibly expensive to register for type protection… but somehow a lot of hobbyists and small fish managed to do it.

Erik Spiekermann is a very important designer who did lots and lots of outstanding work, but I've found him to be a deeply unpleasant person.

claiming that there is virtually no intellectual property protection for fonts in Germany, and how it would have been impossibly expensive to register for type protection… but somehow a lot of hobbyists and small fish managed to do it.

What kind of protection is there? I've read that claim before.

Back then there was the "Schriftzeichengesetz" which offered protection roughly similar to a design patent called "Geschmacksmuster" (but with its own registry). It has since been subsumed by the "Designgesetz".

Typeface protection has always been weaker in Germany than copyright protection, but it existed and exists.

As an aside: Fontshop used to claim at every opportunity that they had achieved a verdict in a lawsuit that gave fonts full copyright protection. That only worked because nobody on the forums and the web had ever seen the verdict. It wasn't secret, just behind a paywall of a legal database. A friend who's a lawyer retrieved it for me and I was much amused: The verdict said precisely the opposite!

I´m no big fan of the capital sharp s myself, but he´s just another level. Probably was great at his time, but that time is over.

Because all the letters already look weird. The fact that the style of B and D are very different doesn't matter because the reader doesn't know what the other letter ought to look like.

Yes, if you compared them side by side with an official and the fake it would be easy to see. But when just reading, all the letters already look weird.

But Germans do know very well how they _should_ look like, because they see those characters thousands times every day.

A policemen knows this font very well.

In Germany maybe, but I doubt a Swiss or Austrian police officer would know that.

If standing out as a foreigner somehow isn't a problem for your plate-faking needs, then you could just as well make up a fantasy country that uses comic sans plates. Nobody would be really sure that it does not exist.

Right. So cost and use will have to be weighted here. I'd guess a foreign car gets inspected closer anyways.

If the Red Army Faction is modifying license plates in Switzerland or Austria, that's their problem, not Germany's.

It's not modifying plates in either country. Th RAF was active when that font did not exist.

Dutch license plates have similar properties. Not by changing the proportions of the letters, but by cutting out parts of letters. For example, the R is missing a piece so you can't make it from a P and some black tape: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Netherlands_licens...

One could also use white tape as well...

They address this in the article, pointing out that white tape would look different under headlights from the reflective background paint.

I'm pretty sure you can get retroreflective white tape. Extra effort though.

I believe "extra effort though" is entirely the point.

I really wonder how common this trivial faking of license plates is. The UK have printed plates that can be easily faked and seem to be doing well.

The FE font is still hidious even years after it was introduced.

It's an issue in China. As an anti-congestion and anti-smog measure, Beijing has rules which rotate the vehicles permitted on the roads according to the plate number (for example, on Fridays a vehicle whose number ends in 5 or 0 cannot be driven). And of course some people don't want to follow the rules, so they develop all sorts of ways to try to temporarily change their plate to one that's allowed to drive.

It's probably not a huge issue, otherwise it wouldn't have taken decades from font creation to implementation in licence plates. But if the font change is timed with other plate changes the problem is fixed extremely cheaply. I think it's totally worth it (maybe because I don't dislike the font as a licence plate font. Just don't use it for text)

I'm surprised there's so much effort to make faking plates by using black tape harder.

Let's assume somebody successfully does that. After the accident or whatever, they check the plate and it belongs to different kind of car. I would imagine there would be no more than 10 options of plates which could result in this one + black tape. And you find confirmation by checking if the car color and brand matches. It could actually be automated and should be easy even if there would be hundreds of possibilities.

You might also be interest in ZXX, a typeface made for fooling OCR: http://www.sang-mun.com/zxx

Not just OCR. I read the first word as "Growing"

I don't get how this font makes hard to fake a plate. (yes, upon close inspection you'll get busted, but cameras are an easy target)

You can get the font and then 3D print your plate or invent your own process in the kitchen.


3D printing an entire new plate and making it retroreflective seems quite a bit harder than "putting some tape on it" to me, so it seems like it's successful?

what about having a blank retroreflective tape and just getting vinyl lettering to stick on and change it when you want a different one?

My "James Bond" idea was to have a car with cameras front and back that could read the plates of the vehicles to either side. Then, the plate would be a retroreflective panel with an active LCD overlay.. you could change your plates to whatever you wanted, and the car could have a 'stealth' mode, where when you drove behind a car, your rear plate would match theirs.. and from the front, your plate would match the car behind.

The point was to make it hard for 'common criminals' to do it. Your average guy that's going to rob a convenience store isn't going to have a 3D printer or whatever.

And when this typeface was introduced, 3d printers didn't exist at all.

Did they forget about C and G? Surely the top of one should be modified otherwise you can add the "tail" to a C to make G??

There's a notch on the bottom of the G and the end of the top of the C has a different angle.

I see it now, thanks for the correction.

I wonder why they chose monospace. Wouldn't a proportional font be more tamper-resistant?

German licence plates are designed to be cheap to produce in high quality. Tiny licensed shops can just stamp them for you. That's much harder with proportional fonts.

And of course OCR, as everybody else already mentioned.

I'd guess that's because it's designed for a fixed number of letters to a plate.

Monoscpace doesn't have spacing issues and possibly make the plates easier to recognize.

One of the peculeraties of german license plates is that the number is not fixed length at all. Another one is that the dash in the plate number (which is not printed on the FE ones and only implied by position of the inspection stickers) is significant and there could be two plates with same characters that differ only in placement of said "dash".

The linked article says "FE-Schrift is a monospaced font (with different spacing for letters and numbers) for improved machine readability"

License plate recognition would be harder if they used a proportional font.

Keming is hard.

Doesnt prevent taking two or more plates, splitting them vertically and re-combining them.

It also doesn't prevent you from stealing (or buying) a machine that can make licence plates.

You can't defend against everything, but any criminal who defeats the current license plates wouldn't have been caught based on his license plate anyway.

The font is enough to make plate manipulation not worth the effort for average criminals and for people trying to defeat speed cameras. Going any further than that isn't worth the effort.

a machine that can make licence plates

Isn't that basically any decent sized metal press?

If it only has to look the part, 3D printing plus paint will likely do it without the outlay.

In any case those would be devices that terrorists (usually kids who excel more in ideology than in training) on the run would not have with them, to quickly change the identity of the car they stole.

This is not a sophisticated anti-forgery scheme, it's a no-cost layer of tamper resistance.

If you can get your hands on raw licence plates you could probably get it done with scrap wood, a hammer and some paint.

If you can find retroreflective foil that looks close enough, a cheapish 3d printer and a good paint job might indeed work great as well.

Sure, but that's much more work than adding a piece of black tape, which you can also simply remove to revert to the legit number.

Yes but that would leave clear evidence you tampered. Will be an interesting conversation with the cop explaining why your plate is sawed apart.

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