This is probably more of a graphic design question than aviation but maybe a few hangar rats around here know the answer.

What type fonts were used on the old instruments in aircraft from the 1930s like Lockheed Vegas, Electras, Beech Staggerwings, DC-3s, etc.? I need it for a web site I’m working on.

  • $\begingroup$ No doubt that'd depend heavily on the specific aircraft and instrument, different manufacturers will use different fonts. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Jul 31 '18 at 4:32
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    $\begingroup$ Is "font" even a meaningful concept here? I would guess that a draftsman (or woman) simply drew a master for the dial face. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 31 '18 at 17:14

I've seen a few times that even hand-written markings were used. This suggests that there hardly was any consistency.

Photo from Darwin Aviation Museum:



I'd suspect DIN 1451 in European aircraft of that era. This typeface was standardized originally in 1931, but has origins in 1905.

Notably, Airbus uses DIN 1451 in its labeling today, and Boeing uses Futura.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure why you'd extrapolate DIN to be European - it's a German specification and the Germans weren't exactly on a hugely friendly footing through that period... I doubt many other European countries used it and definitely not Britain and France! $\endgroup$ – Dan Aug 1 '18 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Dan Because it's true. Look at this Fokker D.XXI cockpit, it looks like DIN 1451 on the airspeed and distance gauges. Why is the SU-95 in Airbus blue with DIN font? Same reason: common suppliers and de-facto standards. $\endgroup$ – user71659 Aug 1 '18 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ I really don't buy it to be honest. Germans didn't have some kind of hold on Pre-War aviation that would mean their standards became defacto, Maybe Fokker did use some German gauges, but again, that doesn't extrapolate to 'European aircraft'. $\endgroup$ – Dan Aug 1 '18 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Dan There's clear evidence that DIN font was used on German and non-German aircraft of that era. The font shows up in a lot of technical applications. The font is still being used on European aircraft 80 years later. Like today, there's limited suppliers for instruments. It's the first place to look, maybe not for British aircraft (which seem to be more US-aligned), but for everybody else. $\endgroup$ – user71659 Aug 1 '18 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ Is there clear evidence? I mean, you've found 2 gauges (out of however many) on a neighbours aircraft that may have done. It just feels a bit over-simplistic to me - Europe is a big place and I don't think it's right to presume that a random sample of gauges from that era would be centred around DIN 1451. I'm not sure it matters what's used today especially as Airbus wasn't founded until the 70's $\endgroup$ – Dan Aug 1 '18 at 16:04

For instrument faces, my bet would be Futura; a sans-serif typeface introduced in the 20s and one of the most widely used in graphic labels. Possibly Univers, but that was introduced in the 50s.


Old Soviet aircraft had pretty standardised fonts, I believe. I shall try and find some to put up here. They were similar to COURIER NARROW but we'll have to see.


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