carplate type basic info : thoughts and ideas : presentation half way :
First, a story from inside the rock...
Metal on metal
The only plateshop in Finland produces ca. 50 000 licence plates per month. Need of the market shifts, but there is no need to lay off employees even in the most quiet periods: plates are manufactured in the prison of Helsinki, part of the city called Hermanni.
'Metalshop employs 40-50 people, licence plates two dozen and in addition we have men working on traffic signs.' tells Raimo Peltonen, head of the plateshop.
Finnish licence plates are manufactured like this: A roll of aluminium and a roll of reflecting sticker with European union marking are driven together in the beginning of the manufacturing line. The slip then runs to the die-cutting and is sliced into plates (119 by 445 mm) with rounded corners.These pieces are carried to the next room where prisoners set metal-cast letters and numbers by hand into trays and punch-press the plates by machine force; licence plate now has identity, registration number of the finnish automobile registry embossed onto it.
Embossed marks are not visible alone. Punch-pressed plates are put through heatstamping machine similar to large mangler along with roll of black paint which sticks to embossed parts that is, the numbers and the letters. Out comes instant-ready plate, the material and the paint are prefabricated to withstand weather and stress with no additional finishing. It's a fast-paced, noisy process!
The Final Presentation
After the last update, we started to look into the official finnish plate type that has been in use since around 1935, with minor modifications. Several problems with the spacing and the differing optical sizes from letter to letter tell a tale of engineer design; this has been a functional typeface, carved in metal and as such it has served well as long as no-one has put it under the microscope.
Because of the punching techinique letters such as A are problematic: the narrow parts become easily too heavy (see illustration). We decided to use some intense trapping to get rid of this problem.
The letter visibility was one of our main concerns. During the final testing the traps which were implemented keeping the industrial processes in mind proved to improve visibility as the white spaces are consecutively larger than in the finnish type. Our letterblock is not as high as the current, leaving more space over and below and resulting in optimal black/white balance.
Although a limited workshop production, we feel that in Laatta Sans functionality, readability, attention to the processes of manufacturing and playfulness have been balanced out to create our vision of a sensible typeface for specific purpose.
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