The Art of the Plate: A Guide to Designing and Ordering Custom License Plates




Have you ever been driving along and come across a personalized license plate that caught your eye? Maybe you’ve though to yourself; I’d like to do something like that. Custom license plates on your car can be a fun and creative way to express your personality, interests, and sense of humor. Whether you want to showcase your brand, show support for a cause, or simply make a statement — a personalized license plate is an excellent way to show who you are. The process of obtaining a custom license plate varies from state to state, but in Oregon it is very straightforward. So, here’s a step-by-step guide on how designing and obtaining your very own custom license plate.

What are custom license plates?
Custom license plates, also known as vanity plates, are special license plates that are personalized with a unique combination of letters and numbers. Unlike standard license plates, custom license plates are requested by the car owner and can include a personalized message or slogan but are also issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

There are several types of custom license plates (see here), including:

•  Personalized license plates: These plates allow you to choose your own combination of letters and numbers to create a unique plate number.
• Special interest license plates: These plates feature designs that represent a particular interest, such as a sports team, a university, or a cause.
•  Antique license plates: These plates are designed to resemble the license plates of a specific era, such as the 1910s or the 1940s.
•  Military license plates: These plates are available to military veterans and active service members and feature designs that honor their service.

Here are the steps to getting a custom license plate in Oregon.

  1. Research the availability of the letters and numbers you want to use on your plate.
    Even though you are given a first and second choice when requesting your custom characters, sometimes the plate you want just isn’t available. If this is the case, you are given the option ahead of time to fill out a new custom plate request form or just keep your current license plate as is.When researching availability, how does one come up with a unique idea for a custom plate?There are plenty of hilarious and unique license plates out there across the state. When looking for yours, it might feel like you won’t be able to find a combination of letter and numbers to suit your personality, but they’re out there.
    Start by thinking about your interests, hobbies, and favorite things, such as movies, music, sports, or books. You can also consider combining your name, initials, or significant dates with a memorable phrase or pun. For example, if you’re a fan of classic rock, you might choose a plate that says “LEDZEP” or “ROCKON.” If you have a sense of humor, you can try playing with wordplay and puns, like “L8R-G8R” or “BOOSTN.” You can also think about incorporating pop culture references, such as quotes from your favorite TV show or movie. Finally, consider using symbols, such as smiley faces or sports team logos, to make your plate even more unique and eye-catching—the possibilities are endless.
  2. Choose your plate background.

    In Oregon, there are several unique, state themed plate backgrounds to choose from. You have your design choices of Crater Lake, Cultural, Gray Whale, Salmon, Trail Blazer, Smoky Bear, Trees, UO Ducks & OSU Beavers , Wildlife and Wine Country. Each plate will have separate surcharge at initial issuance.
    Tree: No surcharge at initial issuance, since this is the default license plate in Oregon.
    Crater Lake: $30 surcharge at initial issuance.
    Salmon, Wine Country: $30 surcharge at initial issuance and every renewal. $60 Salmon surcharge at four-year initial issuance.
    Gray Whale, Trail Blazers, Smokey Bear, , Wildlife: $40 surcharge at initial issuance and every renewal.
    Cultural: $50 surcharge at initial issuance and every renewal.

    3. Choose the type of custom license plate you want. Here are the instructions on how: 
    (Click to view DMV Custom License Plate request form)
    a. You can have up to six (6) characters and one extra space or hyphen.
    b. With the exception of the hyphen, NO special characters or punctuation marks are allowed, such as #, !, $.
    c. You must have at least one letter or number. Each block can have a letter, number, hyphen, or be blank.
    d. You cannot use three numbers followed by three letters or three letters followed by three numbers.
    e. Be specific about where you want any spacing. Space accordingly to avoid logos on some plate backgrounds if desired. Otherwise, all characters will be centered on the plate.
    f. If you use all six blocks and want to use a space or hyphen, draw an arrow to show where you want it.
    g. Write clearly, distinguish Z from 2, S from 5, I from 1.

Keep in mind, that you cannot choose just anything you want. The DMV will deny requests for combination of letters and numbers that may be viewed as objectionable. Objectionable combinations include those that would, by means of foreign or slang words or phrases, by use of phonetic, numeric, or reverse spelling, or when viewed as a mirror image, have the effect of alarming, threatening, offending, or misleading a reasonable person. Such choices may include, but are not limited to, combinations of letters and/or numbers that:

• Refer to intimate body parts or to sexual or excretory functions;
• Refer in an alarming or offensive manner to a person or class of persons on the basis of race, color, gender, ethnic heritage, national origin, or other characteristic;
• Suggest that the vehicle to which the custom plate is issued is an official vehicle of a public agency when it is not;
• Refer to illegal acts; or
• Refer to alcoholic beverages or controlled substances or paraphernalia used in the consumption thereof. (This long-standing restriction remains in place for all backgrounds, including Wine Country.)

  1. Submit your request & pay the required fees.
    You can fill your request form out online, but you will need to drop it off in-person at the DMV or you can mail it, along with the fees and any other requirements to: DMV, 1905 Lana Avenue NE, Salem OR 97314. Custom plates cost $50 per year of the registration period at initial issuance and with each renewal. This is in addition to the registration fee, the plate fee and any applicable surcharge for special plate backgrounds. The extra fees you pay for custom plates fund Oregon passenger rail programs.
  2. Wait for your custom license plate to arrive in the mail.
    After you have submitted your paperwork, paid the necessary fees, and your plates are approved by the DMV, they will be sent to your address by mail. They will arrive in a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks.

Make a fun & lasting impression.

Custom license plates are not just a way to make your car stand out from the crowd, they can also be a source of pride and self-expression. Whether you’re a fan of sports teams, want to display your occupation, or simply want to make a statement, a personalized license plate is a fun and creative way to do it. If you’re looking to add a personal touch to your vehicle, consider getting a custom license plate. With the right design, you can make a statement, show off your style, and have a unique identifier for your car that is all your own.