It’s time for my annual round-up of ALPCA Best Plate Candidates! I still haven’t recovered from the 2020 edition when I had to rate my beloved Ontario entry fifth, but I knew in my heart it wouldn’t win anything (it was barely allowed in the contest at all because it was discontinued the same month as it was released). But I digress… all that to say that there are some difficult choices to be made for some very interesting plates. We have a bumper crop of twenty entrants in 2022, so let’s get down to it!
20. North Carolina: This plate has high legibility, but North Carolina has been milking this “First in Flight” base for forty years.
Let's try italicizing that for emphasis: Forty years.
Now, let's capitalize it for even more emphasis: FORTY YEARS.
I'm so sick of this used and reused artifact of monotony. In my opinion, this plate does not feature a new design. It’s merely lipstick on Andy Griffith’s exhumed corpse. It doesn’t even belong in this contest. Some of my readers weren't even born in 1982, when this base plate made its debut. That was more than a generation ago. For an even better perspective, here’s a gallery of some other bygone things from 1982:
Exhibit A— The great (and now late) Mike Bossy won the Conn Smythe as the Islanders destroyed the Canucks to win their third straight Stanley Cup.
(Sidney Crosby wouldn't be born for another five years.)
Exhibit B— The ill-fated Dodge Rampage made its debut.
Exhibit C— Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan hit the theatres. The majority of the main cast is now dead.
Exhibit D— Coy and Vance Duke arrived in Hazzard County... ...and weren't taken seriously.
Exhibit E— Michael Jackson posed on the cover of Ebony magazine... ...with E. T., no less.
Exhibit F— "Physical" by the great (and now late) Olivia Newton-John was the #1 Billboard song for the year.
19. Minnesota: The 100 club is a non-profit organization that supports the families of first responders who have been injured or killed in the line of duty. That’s a noble cause. Unfortunately, the plate suffers from poor legibility. The 100 club logo is hidden within the black-on-black design. The stars of the greyscale US flag interfere with the white characters of the serial. The dual legends (one, a slogan and the other, a request for donations) are very small and are sources of clutter. And while I agree that the overall design should be sombre, this plate looks like a photocopy of a dark and stormy night.
18. Maryland: Same basic story as North Carolina. The plain white background with the graceful italicized state name has been around since 1984. Maryland has since come up with interesting plate designs. A sticker slapped on the left side of a 1984-era base is not interesting. At all. If you want to see what a REAL lighthouse plate should look like, read on. For now, let's put "thirty-eight-years-ago" into perspective. Here’s a gallery of some other things that were news in 1984, but are not now:
Exhibit A— The Apple Macintosh computer made its debut in a Super Bowl commercial.
Exhibit B— Dodge, having learned from the poor sales of the Rampage, debuts the Voyager minivan.
Exhibit C— Bruce Springsteen puts his rear on an album cover...
...and turns "Born in the USA" into a monster.
Exhibit D— Mary-Lou Retton scores perfect tens in the floor routine and vault...
...on her way to Olympic history.
Exhibit E— The Ghostbusters were ready to believe you...
...and Water Peck was confirmed to have no dick.
Exhibit F— The Detroit Tigers win what is still their most recent Word Series.
17. South Carolina: The Palmetto state also suffers from a bland design that looks similar to the Maryland entry. However, South Carolina comes by that problem honestly, as there is no continuous recycling of old formats. The new graphic option plates were “updated” around 2020 to feature a thin line near the top, instead of the coloured bars that were used previously. This design is probably very popular with law enforcement because of its high legibility. And while legibility is very important to me, this plate lulls me to sleep. This time around, I’ll be rating some other less-legible entries higher, because I appreciate the effort. This plate has none.
16. Nebraska: Here’s a plate where effort was made, but the final product is a bit bland. The drab background has poor contrast with the black numbers. I saw another example of “Josh the Otter” with a brighter, more vibrant background, so I don’t know which image is truer to what we’ll see on the roads.
One nagging question remains: If this design was introduced in 2022, why does the plate say “2017” in the lower left corner?
15. Florida: Now we’re getting into the plates that I wouldn’t mind displaying on my own vehicle. But Florida’s “Explore Our State Parks” ranks below the others because of limited legibility. Those squared-off dies are hard to read. The first version I saw of this plate on Plateshack.com seemed to have less contrast between graphic and serial, and the digit "5" looks like an "S." Perhaps that has influenced my decision to put Florida near the bottom. If Florida started using more legible dies, they’d rise in my rankings. These dies are just... weird.
14. Hawaii: This is a pretty plate, with some thought and imagination clearly having gone into the design. But the major inescapable fact is that yellow backgrounds and white numbers don’t mix. The main source of contrast in a plate’s design should be between the numbers and the background. But here, the main contrast occurs where the mountains meet the sky, and the numbers get lost. The slogan suffers a similar fate, but its legibility is reduced even further with too many words crammed into one spot: “Aloha State / Malama Honua / Polynesian Voyaging Society.” The designers should choose just one of those ideas, and use a larger font.
13. Oregon: The legibility is reduced by the darker mountain colours behind the dark serial number, but it’s a workable design. Still, this plate is a bit dull to me, with lots of washed-out colours: Purple, teal, brown and light gray. A bit too neutral of a result, given the effort.
12. Montana: An interesting attempt at a striking graphic on a plate, but the white serial number fights to be noticed amidst the light greens and blues of the aurora. I think that simply putting a big space between the numbers and letters would help this design a great deal. That would push the numbers further into the dark zone on the left and right. And if Montana followed the six-character format consistently for these plates after that revision, no one would be looking through the aurora in the centre to read the number.
11. Modoc Nation, Oklahoma: The Modoc Nation is one of the federally-recognized indigenous nations in Oklahoma that issues its own plates. I like the design overall, despite its busy nature. This plate has four legends, plus the leaf designs at the top, the dream catcher, the two buffalo, and the portrait of Kintpuash (also known as Captain Jack). But somehow, in spite of all that activity, there’s enough space for a somewhat-clear serial number, and for the Mo’dokni name to stand out. I find that impressive. At a distance, however, the number becomes a bit harder to read, so that's why it's middle-of-the-pack for me.
10. Delaware: I enjoy this plate, but I have to penalize it somewhat because of its so-so legibility. The prototype shown by the Delaware DMV has six zeroes, and looking at it gave me a bit of a headache. But the legibility isn’t that bad when viewing a plate with an actual serial number. If the five-digit serial were right-justified, it wouldn’t clash with the Red Knot on the left side of the plate, and maybe the legibility would improve. I had a similar beef with Delaware’s horseshoe crab plate of 2020.
9. Connecticut: Now we’re moving ahead of the plates with iffy legibility, if only a little. The first time I saw the Connecticut “Save Our Lakes” optional plate (see right), it looked brighter and was easier to read. The one in as shown in the ALPCA magazine looks a little darker. The dark blue numbers are embossed atop a lighter blue lake, which is OK for legibility. But the dies used for the numbers are a little too tall and skinny for this plate; they bite into the dark shoreline running across the top of the scene. Punch the plate with some shorter dies, and maybe brighten the lake a little, and this plate would definitely hit my top 5.
8. Arizona: It’s legible. It’s colourful. And it’s new. But the logo used on the left side is too clunky to be identified at first glance. From a distance, it looks like a chuck wagon that was broadsided by a cannonball. The same design is shown on the right, but smaller. On closer inspection, it’s a cowboy riding a bull with a circus tent in the distance. Or maybe it’s the flag of the Empire of Japan. It sure doesn't look much like the Arizona state flag. Maybe it’s something I can’t easily identify because I’ve never attended a rodeo. But the theme is too unclear —for me, anyway— for this plate to rank any higher.
7. Newfoundland: It’s not a bad plate. It’s a little plain. It maintains its legibility even with an overlapping design in the background. But the province name has poor contrast with the blue background at the top, and I like the “pitcher plant” province name logo used on the previous general issue (as bland as they are, see right). To improve this new 2022 plate, I’d put the pitcher plant logo in the lower middle, move “Come Home” to the top, and move the whale to the right.
6. Washington: I suspect the version shown in the ALPCA magazine is darker than the plate would be in real life, so I sought a brighter picture (see right). The dark blues and greens of the aerial scene are attractive, and they don’t conflict with the white numbers at all. This is a good example of a white-numbered graphic plate with excellent legibility. It’s not trying to do too much, graphic-wise. But the theme could be stronger. While the image is presumably that of a vineyard, it could be a regular crop field from a distance. Maybe a ground-level image would be better, although that could make the white numbers harder to read. I sense compromise in this design.
5. Alabama: This is a really nice design with excellent legibility. But I’ve docked this plate a few spots in the rankings because the slogan is a web address. I have always despised web addresses masquerading as slogans on license plates. If they had switched it to “Visit the Heart of Dixie”, or even had no slogan at all, this plate could have topped my list.
4. Kentucky: It's a pretty design, with excellent legibility, albeit a low-risk offering. The grass-and-sky motif has been done before on other plates, which keeps this plate out of my top three. I see that the Bluegrass State was considering a version of this plate with a white “In God We Trust” slogan along the bottom. I think it looks better this way. I also like how the county name is confined to the blue bar on the left side. Tennessee could learn a lesson from Kentucky, as you’ll soon see.
3. Tennessee: I love a bold design on a dark background with light numbers, especially when it’s easy to read. The state-shape at the top is a nice touch. This is a sharp plate, and truth be told, it pains me to put this one at number three on the list. It could have won, but for one annoying detail: Why, oh why, are the county name decals printed in WHITE? I mean, come on! If Tennessee can't ditch the decals outright, they should print them on a navy blue background with white letters. The white county rectangle doesn’t belong. I thought about penalizing this entry to a greater extent, but the plate itself is just navy blue underneath. It's not really the plate's fault. Kind of like you being a cute kid in grade 3 despite the ugly shirt your mom made you wear.
2. Rhode Island Lovely design, with legibility that is better than shown in the ALPCA magazine. I first saw these plates on the news; the Rocky Point Foundation volunteers were being interviewed on the day the plates were released. The background is clutter-free and substantially brighter in real life (image at right is a screen grab from the news spot). They're also very easy to read, given that Rhode Island uses only five characters in their plate serials. Great job!
1. Georgia: We have a winner! Maryland, take note: THIS is how to do a lighthouse on a license plate. The bold number is easily visible against the cloud-filled sky, and the placement of the lighthouse provides a nice balance. The “Tybee Island Lighthouse” slogan is subtle and not-so-legible, but with such a strongly-assembled theme, it doesn’t have to be. At first glance, I thought I was seeing reeds in the water. Maybe I’d revise that, if I were in charge, but it’s a very minor detail. I’d jump at the chance to put a plate like this on my car. But my wife would laugh at that, and probably remind me about the time I broke the Panmure Island lighthouse in Prince Edward Island.
Want to vote? You can, if you're a member of ALPCA. Want to join? Visit their site today.