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California License Plate (script, 1993–)

Contributed by Stephen Coles on Jun 26th, 2014. Artwork published in .
    ca2011-2.jpg
    Source: http://www.plateshack.com Photo by Marc Welby. License: All Rights Reserved.

    With the exception of road signs and Starbucks logos, most Californians see this bit of lettering more than just about any other: the script on the current California license plate.

    This general plate design was introduced in 1993 and (with some minor variations) is still in use today. I don’t yet know who is responsible for the script, but the designer clearly began with Ron Zwingelberg’s Rage Italic, a 1984 Letraset font — in the casual handwriting tradition of Mistral — that epitomizes the carefree, convertible drivin’, sun-in-the-hair, California dreamin’ aesthetic of the ’80s to early ’90s.

    See more examples of the plate and its varations at David Nicholson’s extensive license plate index, Marc Welby’s Plateshack, and The Press Democrat’s Road Warrior column who reminds us that “California’s license plates are made by the thousands each year at Folsom State Prison.”

    california-in-rage.png
    License: All Rights Reserved.

    “California” set in the Rage Italic font, without modification. Rage was tamed for the California mark. The typeface’s rough contours were smoothed and letter connections improved (‘al’, ‘li’). The designer also ended the word with a new ‘i’ and swash ‘a’, perhaps stemming from the font’s alternate ‘a’, shown here.

    12227106935_0aae3b3e6c_h.jpg
    Source: https://www.flickr.com Photo by Mark Mauno. License: All Rights Reserved.

    A panel at the Peterson Automotive Museum: “The scripted red ‘California’ was introduced in 1993 and went through three different type sizes, starting with this comparatively small script and settling, in about 1997, to the large script which is seen on plates today.”

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    4 Comments on “California License Plate (script, 1993–)”

    1. Wonder says:
      Sep 25th, 2015  12:10 am

      Does anybody know the exact HEX code of the dark blue color of the characters on the latest California license plate?

    2. Jul 20th, 2017  8:07 pm

      The monospaced sans serif provided the inspiration for California, a custom typeface made by Helmo for the use in their projects.

    3. Martin Runningwolf says:
      Sep 5th, 2017  6:51 pm

      I want to re-paint my license plate but I can’t find the same kind of font. Can anybody tell me where to get it at? Thank you.

    4. Sep 5th, 2017  7:35 pm

      Martin, the script is a slightly modified Rage Italic as described above. For the bigger type, see Penitentiary Gothic, “a digital recreation of the letters used on California state license plates, designed in order to make props for movies and television shows.” The typeface pages have links to sources where you can purchase a font license.

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