How I spent my Friday Evening Making License Plates.

Ever have to work late on a Friday night? Not exactly how we all envision our stellar Friday evenings, unless you’re lucky enough to be a designer! A few weeks ago I did have to work late on a Friday… but I wasn’t running numbers, answering phones, or drafting reports. I got to make a license plate!

Now how many people who aren’t in jail can say that hrmmm?

So, why was I making a license plate you ask? Good question! We were creating a customized variable data direct mail piece for one of our clients. Pretty cool stuff. With variable data, you can customize the text that appears on the printed pieces in almost any fashion. For this card, we are presenting the recipient with a customized license plate with their first name.

Now I know you all want to have a cool Friday evening too, so here’s a tutorial on how to create your very own license plate in Photoshop!

Step 1 : Create the Base Plate

Create a new photoshop file and use the rounded rectangle tool to create the base of the plate.


Now we want to add some layers effects to give the shape some depth. I used a combination of bevel and Emboss, Inner Glow, and Outer Glow. Note that the inner and outer glow effects are used to amplify a shadow, not to create a “glow”.


Let’s make one more rounded corner box to create the impression of a raised edge. We’ll put a bevel and Emboss on this shape layer, along with a stroke.


Now, group both of these shape layers for a finishing touch in step 2.

Step 2 : Create “hanger holes” so you can screw the plate onto the car

Again with the rounded corner rectangle tool, create a smaller shape with the following effects to create depth: Inner shadow, Bevel and Emboss. In this case the inner shadow is acting as a “drop shadow” for the plate. (see the screen shot).


Now you will want to copy that one layer three more times to place a “hanger hole” at each corner. I used some layer groups so I could use the Photoshop align tools to help with this.

Looks great! Except one problem, they just look like holes, but you can’t see what’s “under” the plate! We need to make “real” holes that you can see through. Note that the shape layers are all filled with white. Let’s use the “blend if” option and make that white transparent.

Next, you select the pixels on each of your shape layers and create a mask on the base group from step 1. This will block out the pixels on everything in that group and allow you to put your license plate on any background you choose.


Step 3 : Customize with a logo!

Maybe you need to create a specific state, or maybe you need to create something totally unique for a company. We were creating a plate for Westerra Credit Union in this case. Either way, the trick is to give the impression of depth on the elements. If you look at a real license plate, you will notice that the logos, numbers, etc. are all pressed into the plate from the back (i.e. they are raised up).

Here are the effects we used on the Westerra logo to get the right look for our plate (your final effects may vary, based on the art you are using): Bevel and Emboss, Satin.


Step 4. Customized Names!

And the final step… customized text! I found a font called “License plate”, set my type and added a few effects (Bevel and Emboss, satin) to finish it off.


And that’s it!
Enjoy your license plate making Friday night fever (or you can download my photoshop file and go out for a drink with the gang instead).

4 thoughts on “How I spent my Friday Evening Making License Plates.”

  1. Now, it looks cool and all but it needs screws/bolts. It looks like a floating license plate – well it is…. I’m not refering to the tutorial. I’m refering to the sample above. I can handle doing that… Well that’s what brushes are made for 🙂

    1. Hi Tyler –
      You are correct, it does need the bolts! I was replacing a plate on an existing image and just reused the old bolts. Kind of like when you replace a real license plate =)
      If you have a good set of bolt brushes, let me know and I’ll add them to the tutorial!

  2. What software did you use to do the variable data? We have Fusion Pro and also use XMPie. We like Fusion Pro better but we can’t keep our effects on the text like we can if we use XMPie. Great tutorial. Thanks

  3. Someonesomewhere

    Actually I can say I make license plates all the time and i’m not in jail.
    I work at a license plate manufacturing facility.

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