A Guide to ADA-Compliant Fonts for Signage
Table of contents
- General Rules for ADA-Compliant Fonts for Signage
- FAQs about ADA-Compliant Font Guidelines
- Examples of Popular ADA-Compliant Fonts
- Resources for Finding ADA-Compliant Fonts
There are several specifications a sign must meet to be considered ADA compliant. One of the most critical and often misunderstood elements is font. Getting a firm grasp of ADA-compliant fonts for signage can be difficult for those who aren’t as familiar with ADA rules and regulations.
At Erie Custom Signs, we get it.
That’s why we’ve created a helpful guide that addresses the following:
- General rules for ADA-compliant fonts for signage
- FAQs about ADA-compliant font guidelines
- Examples of popular ADA-compliant fonts
- Resources for finding ADA-compliant fonts
With this information, sign fabricators and end-users can determine exactly what font case, style, and size are needed on signage. That way, noncompliance issues can be avoided. More importantly, those with visual impairments can easily read ADA signs, which is the ultimate goal.
General Rules for ADA-Compliant Fonts for Signage
In the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, the ADA outlines various criteria that must be met for compliance, including those related to signage. In fact, the rules for ADA-compliant fonts on signage are very strict. ADA signs are required to use sans (without) serif fonts (fonts that include a smaller line to finish off the main stroke of a letter, as at the top and bottom of “M”). In short, block characters (i.e., letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and typographic symbols) are required by law.
However, the requirements are even more detailed than that. They also factor in character style, size, case, height, and more.
Here are the general rules for raised characters on identification signage:
- 703.1 General. Signs must comply with 703. Where both visual and tactile characters are required, either one sign with both visual and tactile characters or two separate signs—one with visual and one with tactile characters—shall be provided.
- 703.2 Raised Characters. Raised characters must comply with 703.2 and be duplicated in braille complying with 703.3. Raised characters shall be installed per 703.4. Advisory 703.2 Signs designed to be read by touch should not have sharp or abrasive edges.
Besides limiting the style of characters one can use on ADA-compliant signs, character stroke and spacing are also regulated:
- 703.2.2 Case. Characters must be uppercase.
- 703.2.3 Style. Characters must be sans serif. Characters shall not be italic, oblique, script, highly decorative, or of other unusual forms.
- 703.2.4 Character Proportions. Characters shall be selected from fonts where the width of the uppercase letter “O” is 55 percent minimum and 110 percent maximum of the height of the uppercase letter “I.”
- 703.2.5 Character Height. Character height measured vertically from the baseline of the character shall be 5/8 inch (16 mm) minimum and 2 inches (51 mm) maximum based on the height of the uppercase letter “I.”
- 703.2.6 Stroke Thickness. The stroke thickness of the uppercase letter “I” shall be 15 percent maximum of the character’s height.
- 703.2.7 Character Spacing. Character spacing should be measured between the two closest points of adjacent raised characters within a message, excluding word spaces. Where characters have rectangular cross sections, spacing between individual raised characters shall be 1/8 inch (3.2 mm) minimum and 4 times the raised character stroke width maximum. Where characters have other cross sections, spacing between individual raised characters shall be 1/16 inch (1.6 mm) minimum and 4 times the raised character stroke width maximum at the base of the cross sections, and 1/8 inch (3.2 mm) minimum and 4 times the raised character stroke width maximum at the top of the cross sections. Characters shall be separated from raised borders and decorative elements at a minimum of 3/8 inch (9.5 mm).
- 703.2.8 Line Spacing. Spacing between the baselines of separate lines of raised characters within a message shall be 135 percent minimum and 170 percent maximum of the raised character height.
FAQs about ADA-Compliant Font Guidelines
Although there are many rules regarding proper font application with ADA signage, they’re relatively straightforward. Still, it’s not uncommon to have lingering questions about ADA-compliant fonts. To help you out, we’ve addressed a few FAQs below.
1) Is larger font ADA compliant?
The short answer is yes. A larger font is required on all ADA signage to achieve compliance. However, it’s important to highlight that the font size for raised characters should be between 5/8 and 2 inches.
2) Does all text have to be sans serif?
Under 703.2.3 of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, all important text on signage (such as the name of the room being identified by the sign) must be sans serif with no italics or overly decorative lettering. However, if a business desires to add a logo containing a unique font, this is acceptable.
3) Do the above rules apply to all types of ADA signage?
As noted previously, the rules above are specific to raised characters on identification signage. Most of the requirements, including line spacing and proportions, also apply to visual characters on directional and informational signs. But there are some differences.
Here are some additional guidelines for visual characters:
- Visual characters can be in uppercase, lowercase, or a mix.
- Characters must be of a conventional form and not have unusual styling.
- Stroke thickness of the uppercase “I” must be between 10% and 30% of the character’s height.
- Spacing between characters should be between 10% and 35% of character height.
- Character height is based on the uppercase “I” and varies depending on the sign’s placement.
- When the height from the floor to the character is 40 inches to 70 inches, and the horizontal viewing distance is less than 72 inches, the minimum character height is 5/8 inch. When the horizontal viewing distance is 72 inches or more, the minimum character height is 5/8 inch plus 1/8 inch per foot of viewing distance above 72 inches.
- If the height from the floor is 70 inches to 120 inches, and the viewing distance is less than 180 inches, the minimum character height is 2 inches. When the viewing distance is increased to 180 inches or more, the minimum character height becomes 2 inches plus 1/8 inch per foot of viewing distance above 180 inches.
- If the height from the floor is more than 120 inches, and the viewing distance is less than 21 feet, the minimum character height is 3 inches. When the viewing distance is more than 21 feet, the minimum character height is increased to 3 inches plus 1/8 inch per foot of viewing distance above 21 feet.
Note: When visual characters comply with the rules set for raised characters and are accompanied by suitable braille, the above rules don’t need to apply.
4) Is bolder better when it comes to font?
Actually, no. Most people assume a bold font would help text stand out more. However, choosing one that’s too bold can make the text appear blurry, especially to those with limited vision. That’s why business owners and sign fabricators are cautioned against selecting an overly bold font.
A good example of a bold font that doesn’t meet ADA guidelines is Bauhaus 93.
5) What are the consequences of not using an ADA-compliant font?
Though the misuse of font may seem like a minor issue regarding ADA compliance, it can negatively affect a business. By installing a sign that doesn’t have the appropriate font, businesses can be hit with ADA-related lawsuits or fines. That’s why it’s so important to choose a suitable font for ADA signage in the design phase.
Examples of Popular ADA-Compliant Fonts
Despite providing detailed visual and raised character requirements for signage, the ADA doesn’t explicitly state what fonts are permitted. The only style guideline is that fonts must be sans serif and not italic, oblique, script, highly decorative, or otherwise unusual. However, that’s enough to provide a good idea of what can be considered ADA-approved fonts.
Sans serif fonts are as plain and straight as possible, increasing the ease of readability.
Examples of recommended fonts for ADA signage that meet the above criteria include the following:
- AvantGarde Md BT
- Avenir LT Std
- Century Gothic, Regular
- Franklin Gothic
- Frutiger LT
- Futura Std
- Futura MdCn BT
- Gill Sans Std
- ITC Stone Sans
- Myriad Pro
- Rotis Sans Serif Std
- Swis 721 BT
- Trebuchet MS
- VAG Rounded
Resources for Finding ADA-Compliant Fonts
If you’re wondering where to find ADA-approved fonts, the good news is you don’t have to look very hard. There’s no shortage of resources online to download fonts if you need additional sans serif options. Just look through the choices available and determine which best fits your or your client’s branding.
Here are some resources worth checking out:
If downloading fonts to a computer running Windows, make sure to save all fonts to the C://Windows/Fonts folder on your computer. They will automatically install when saved to that location. That means you will be able to use them on any program that fetches fonts from your computer, from Microsoft Word to Photoshop and InDesign.
The rules surrounding ADA-compliant fonts may be complex, but failing to use the correct size, style, spacing, and type could result in a sign failing to meet compliance. That’s why it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with ADA guidelines. In doing so, you can avoid leaving your business or your client’s business vulnerable to non-compliance issues. If you’re still unsure about the types of fonts you can and cannot use for your next signage project, rest assured you can count on Erie Custom Signs. In addition to being ADA experts, we use state-of-the-art software that automatically spaces letters and notifies us if a font is not compliant. Plus, we offer various sign options that include a list of available ADA-approved fonts, making your decision that much easier. Check out our sign families today!