Font for DEC indicator panels

Toby Thain toby at
Tue Nov 13 08:31:14 CST 2018

On 2018-11-13 8:38 AM, Paul Koning wrote:
>> On Nov 13, 2018, at 8:08 AM, Toby Thain via cctalk <cctalk at> wrote:
>> On 2018-11-12 9:51 PM, Fred Cisin via cctalk wrote:
>>> [Top posted to avoid trimming information that might be useful to many]
>>> IFF DEC used a commercial font, then it should be possible to find it.
>> Another plan of attack could be to find the corporate standards manuals
>> that applied during the period.
>> DEC is known for strict publication standards and typographic attention
>> to detail so it's likely that there existed an internal written design
>> standard for front panels that spelled out the information we are
>> looking for. Are the DEC archives accessible?
> It would be great to find those but I haven't heard that they exist.
> The information might not be clear even if it's found.  For example, there is a copy of the DEC color standard online.  But the color references it gives are largely in obsolete systems, not the well understood Pantone system.  So even if they can be translated the job is not easy.
> As for fonts, one comment says that those panels are "typeset".  Don't count on that.  Those that come from the era of phototypesetting might be, but phototypesetting was only just starting to appear when the earlier of those panels showed up.  And while a phototypesetter might be used in the documentation department, it would seem like an expensive and underused tool for the department responsible for panel lettering.  Standard templates seems more likely.

These panels are not drawn by lettering templates. They MAY be set by
dry transfer, but phototypesetting is the more likely possibility (which
was nearly 20 years old by 1970; an entire industry existed around piece
setting, servicing graphic designers and print shops, and costs would
have been quite reasonable; there was no need for DEC to have an inhouse
typesetting system).

Whether dry transfer or photoset, the layout was likely pasted up entire
then photographed by process camera for purposes of mask making.

> Consider the history of the "digital" logo, as documented in the PostScript reconstruction of it.  That's clearly an example where the lettering was done by a draftsman and reused ever since.
> Re Guy Dunphy's images: font_2 looks a lot like Microgramma, one of my favorite fonts.

Yes, it's labelled Eurostile, and Microgramma is a clone of that. Looks
to me like the correct identification.

  But it's not an exact match because the horizontal and vertical
segments are curved in letters like O rather than being straight.
font_3 looks like the "digital" blocks logo without the blocks, so you
might grab the PostScript file to see if that works.

Bitstream Square 721 is also Eurostile. Another correct identification,
in essence.

Guy's font 1 is likely the same as some of the PDP-10 panels. It's in
the grotesk family, but not Helvetica (the "R", "S" are the clearest
proof). As I said, Akzidenz Grotesk is the closest I've found to this so

> On font names: "grotesk" (or "grotezk" in German) is a technical term for sans-serif fonts, so it applies to things like Helvetica and Futura. ...
> If you can't find a good font, you can definitely trace the original images and make your own.  That's more work than you might expect but with modern tools it isn't hard.  I've done that with the DEC custom font that is used on the covers of the earlier PDP-11 handbooks and manuals, a long time ago with CorelDraw which isn't a good tool for that job.
> 	paul

More information about the cctalk mailing list