Typefaces on Ordnance Survey 1:50K and 1:25K maps

Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   Text © Copyright October 2021, David Hawgood; licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence.


Most names on Ordnance Survey (OS) Landranger 1:50,000 (50K) scale map are in Univers typeface, most names on OS Explorer 1:25,000 (25K) scale map are in Gill Sans.
 Quedgeley 50K Univers typeface for place name on 50K map.
 Quedgeley 25K Gill Sans typeface for placename on 25K map.

 Quixhill 50K curly Q  Quoisley Meres 50K curly Q Some 6pt and 8pt names on 50K have a different typeface with a curly Q and lower-case L hooked at bottom.

My basic source describing typefaces on Ordnance Survey maps in Gill Sans typefaces on OS mapsExternal link Article by David Millbank Challis in the journal Sheetlines of the Charles Close Society, April 2017, p2 to 8. This includes a table of OS 7th Series 1" to 1 mile map typefaces which is also in "Ordnance Survey Maps - a Descriptive Manual" by J B Harley (Ordnance Survey, Southampton, 1975). It gives the main typeface for place names on 2nd Series 50K maps as Univers, on 25K maps as Gill Sans.

Most examples displayed in this article are from the Landranger 1:50,000 scale map Second series. The 1km square grid reference is shown as a link with each map extract, click it to open the Geograph page for the square, click map on that to show current OS maps at other scales; the page also has links to other mapping. There are also a few extracts from Explorer 1:25,000 scale maps to show differences.

Placenames and land features

Towns are in Univers capitals, size increasing with population; village names and parts of towns have lower case. For natural features type size increases with extent, some are in Gill Sans.

[map SE3332]
SE3332 LEEDS 22point capitals

[map SK3635] SK3635 DERBY 18 point capitals

[smallmap SJ7194] SJ7194 IRLAM 12 point

[smallmap NT5347] NT5347 LAUDER 12 point, a former Royal Burgh with a population around 1800. Even small towns are in capitals.

[smallmap SJ9283] SJ9283 Poynton 10 point with lower case, population 2001 around 14,000 but a village when map was laid out

[smallmap SO9337] SO9337 Westmancote, 8 point

[smallmap SO9335] SO9335 Kinsham, 6 point

Some 6 point and 8 point words are in a different typeface, note curly tail on Q in the next three examples. This typeface also has a hooked tail on the lower-case letter L, see Quixhill in third example:
NN8122 curly Quoig [map NN8122]

SM9637 curly Quay [map SM9637]

SK1041 curly Q, hooked small L [map SK1041]

District and parish names

[map SP0398]
SP0398. On 50K administrative district name is in italic capitals. In this example the placename is adjacent in 18 point capitals.

On 25K, district name is shown in grey capitals.
 OS25K font Walsall district

On 25K Civil Parish name (in England) is shown in grey capitals, stroke width of letters less than that for district name.
 OS25K font for civil parish Bredon

Water features, blue letters

[smallmap SZ4590] SZ4590 narrow watercourse, blue letters with lower case

[smallmap SX9355] SX9355, sea area, blue letters with lower case

[smallmap SU4807] SU4807 wide watercourse, blue letters in capitals

Blue letters are also used for inland lakes, ocean bays and channels, type size varying with extent of feature.

As for 6pt and 8pt place and feature names, some watercourse names are in a typeface with a curly tail Q, here in Quarters,
TL9911 [map TL9911]


Roman antiquities and sites in capitals, a different sans serif typeface from the Univers used for most names, but mainly looking similar. Pre- and post-Roman antiquities are in a Gothic typeface

[smallmap NY 72 66] NY7266
TURRET is Roman, Mare & foal in Gothic are pre-Roman standing stones

Danger area, red lettering

[smallmap TL8382] TL8382
Coastal footpaths which can be dangerous through tide or mud may have red warning notes on maps, for example around SD4075 Morecambe Bay

Road numbers and services

Most road numbers and service area names are the same colour as the road, but brown B-roads have red numbers (example see SO9335 Kinsham above).
[map NZ 3037] NZ3037

Names run along features and routes

[map SO7642]
SO7642 shows the HILLS of MALVERN HILLS along the crest

[smallmap SP0633] SP0633 shows Cotswold Way along the path

Large features

On 50K names of a large feature like a peninsula, island or range of hills is spread out along the feature.
[smallmap NR6921] NR6921 Letter K of KINTYRE, the rest is spread for 40 km along the peninsula. The image below is a photograph of the strip of Landranger map 68 South Kintyre and Campbeltown showing the KINT of Kintyre spread out, the rest in the margin of the map.
 Kintyre 50K name on paper map

On 25K a large feature name is compact and generally on a horizontal line rather than along the feature
 OS25K font for large area Kintyre

Margins of paper map

County names are in the margin of paper maps, but usually not within the map area.
[map NS0258]
Some detached areas have county names on map, e.g. island of Inchmarnock at NS0258.

Administrative area names are shown in the margin; the subdivisions of countries have changed several times so what is shown depends on revision date.
Names and destinations of roads and routes are shown in the margin, also some features like Cotswold Hills or North Sea. The continuations of names of large features are in the margin, for example Strathmore has ATH on map 54 around NO4254, the STR and MORE in margins.

Capital I, small L, number 1

Capital I on map is a vertical stroke, small L is sometimes the same, sometimes has a curved foot, number 1 has a horizontal stroke at the top.

[map NC1850] NC1850
"Iosal" has capital I and lower-case l with curved foot. In top left of map extract, "Eilian" has a straight lower-case l. The spot height "71" on Eilian Ard has a serif at the top of the number 1.

1st Series 1:50,000 and 7th Series 1" to 1 mile maps

The type sizes on Second Series are similar to the hierarchy of typefaces on 1" to 1 mile maps, also used on 1:50,000 1st Series. Again see Gill Sans typefaces on OS mapsExternal link Article by David Millbank Challis in the journal Sheetlines of the Charles Close Society, April 2017, p2 to 8.
This includes a table of OS 7th Series 1" to 1 mile map typefaces which is also in "Ordnance Survey Maps - a Descriptive Manual" by J B Harley (Ordnance Survey, Southampton, 1975). This shows typeface for towns increasing in size for populations under 10 thousand, then over 10, 30, 100, 200 and 500 thousand. The town examples are Leeds at SP0398, Cardiff ST2278, Brighton TQ3203, Caerphilly ST1787, Penarth ST1970, and Penistone SE2303. Other places include Rhigos SN9205, Harston SK8331, Coity SS9281, sizes down to the (rems of) for example at TL7280 .

OS Vector Map typefaces

A note about recent larger scale digital mapping. Description and access see OS Data HubExternal link. A paper from OS Cartographic Design & Development Ordnance Survey’s cartographic design principles: An approach to promoting good map designExternal link includes (Section 4.5) "We have chosen all of our fonts based upon their on-screen legibility and ensured that the various fonts work in harmony yet are still distinguishable from one another. Camphor Pro has been chosen as our main font due to its light crispness and readability at all sizes. Arial is used for water as it works well for curved text. Verdana is used for road names because it is heavy enough to stand out above road fill yet complements the other fonts."

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