Reviewing State License Plates


From the Best…

Before I begin, I should start by saying that I do believe Maryland’s new license plate deserves to be in this top five list, however I feel as though I am being biased, as Maryland’s flag will always hold a special place in my heart. Every Marylander knows that we have the best flag in the country, but to put this beautiful license plate in this list might have some readers skeptical, so it is with great caution and regret that I am excluding it from this list. I have no deep connections with any other states in the US, so every other state is fair game.
California: While it may not be the most visually appealing, California’s license plate is too iconic to leave off this list. The cursive red letters on the plain white background is recognizable across all 50 states. The license plate is arguably the most recognizable license plate, and it should take pride in its simplicity. It may not be the most colorful or aesthetically pleasing license plate, but such a Californian staple in movies, TV and pop culture, and for that we should appreciate this plate. I give it a C for creativity, C for color but an A+ for representing its state well.
Oregon: For Marylanders, not much is known about Oregon. This is, in fact, the only state on this list that I haven’t experienced myself. The typical stereotypes include that the state is riddled with hipsters, it rains all the time and that Portland is one of the stranger cities, showcased by the show Portlandia, which is hardly watchable. While we don’t have a ton of information on the state, one thing is known: they have a wonderful license plate. The plate grabs your eye with the enormous evergreen tree smack dab in the middle, surrounded by towering mountains and a forest of trees. The license plate uses subtle shades of blue and purple in the background to make the bright green Evergreen pop in the center. I give it a B+ for creativity, B for color and an A for representing its state well.
Idaho: This one is somewhat similar to Oregon’s, in that it contains faint blue mountains deep in the background. This one, however, has a lovely color scheme of red, white and blue, just as the Founding Fathers intended. The details of this plate that make it special, but the visual appeal to it. This plate is overall attractive to look at, as of the red sky floats atop, and the blue forest on the base lines the bottom with the slogan “famous potatoes” engulfed among the trees. You’d be lying if you said the first word that comes to your mind when I say “Idaho” isn’t “potato.” I give it a B for creativity, A for color but a B for representing its state well.
Hawaii: There is always a big mystery when you see a Hawaii plate around the continental US. It does make you wonder how that car got there. Was it by plane? Was it by boat? Have they started construction on the alleged highway from Hawaii to California? Regardless of how it got there, it’s always fun to see one, as it is a really nice looking plate. Like California, it is a relatively simple plate, as it includes a white background. The visual appeal of the rainbow, however, puts you in a good mood, as does the phrase “Aloha State” at the bottom. If you ever get the chance to go to Hawaii, I can tell you that it is a completely different atmosphere from any other state I have been to. The whole idea of “Hawaii Time” is most certainly a real concept, as no one seems to have any worries. Their license plate does a great job of capturing the feel of the island, and the colors and slogan remind you of paradise. I give it a A for creativity, A- for color but an A++ for representing its state well.
Colorado: What I like most about this license plate is that they managed to use a somewhat ugly shade of green, and incorporated it into the best license plate in the United States. This plate screams “Colorado,” as it vividly details the Colorado Rockies, the biggest US landmark west of the Mississippi. This plate is fairly simple, as it includes white mountains and a solid green sky, but the detail from the mountains is eye-catching, and the font used to spell out “Colorado” is crisp and clean. I like to think of Colorado as a peaceful state, and this license plate does a great job of portraying that. I give it a A for creativity, A for color and an A+ for representing its state well.
Perhaps more states should follow the leadership of these fine plates and really get creative.


To the Unimpressed…

In 2010, the Maryland General Assembly decided to spice the Maryland license plate up after receiving complaints from across the state as to how boring and poorly representative it was of this state. From 1986 to 2010, the state plate consisted of a white background heeding an italicized “Maryland” at the top, with large black letters separated by the state shield down the middle. Hard as it may be to imagine, it was actually a step up from the license plate circa 1980 to 1986, which, literally, read in bland text “Maryland” and then had six black characters with no design whatsoever.
In 2016, the State Assembly again made the decision to revamp the plate. The new one, passed in July, includes the state flag and has yet to receive the widespread disgust as its predecessor. But the fact that so many people became so openly aggravated inspired me to ask myself: are worse state plates out there? And if so, whose are they?
I examined the worst state plates on a set of criteria primarily centered on how creative the design was, how colorful it was, and how well it represented their state. In alphabetical order, the five worst license plates in the United States are examined below.
Those who recall my article on Maryland’s border states may specifically remember my arguments about Delaware, our 45th most populous state (and 49th largest). I argued that a lot of the time, it doesn’t get enough credit for how unique it is. But the Delaware state license plate failed to capitalize on any of this, instead printing in a yellow font with a dark blue background the word “Delaware.” Noticeably, and inexplicably, in my opinion, the state’s name is at the bottom, with the words “The First State” printed at the top. Look, Delaware, you’ve got to start coming up with some better catchphrases than that. While Michigan alumni may like it solely because of the color combination, the state gets a D for creativity, a B for color, and an E for representing their state well.
Everyone seems to have a lot to say about Florida. Maybe it’s because we’ve all been there at some point in our lives, or because we know someone above the age of 65 who is almost guaranteed to live there. Regardless, the state license plate bothers me enormously. The oranges in the center are sweet, and complement well the line at the bottom describing Florida as the “Sunshine State.” However, the plate is ruined for two reasons. First, the background is entirely too white. Second, instead of simply printing “Florida” at the top in a fun font like most states do, the Florida government decided it would be best to advertise their state. Thus, the top commands those looking at it to go to “” Simply because they put this at the top, I will never visit that website. It gets a C for creativity, a D for color, and a C for representing their state well.
Third on my list is Massachusetts, a state rich with history going all the way back to the 1400s. Perhaps this is why it is so disappointing that the Massachusetts license plate is so bland. It consists of the word “Massachusetts” at the top and the phrase “The Spirit of America” at the bottom, both in blue, sandwiching the plate’s red characters. However, it too is plagued by an empty white background, which could easily be filled with historical figures or events, such as President John Adams, for example (see Illinois for an excellent representation of a president on a plate). It gets a D for creativity, a D for color, and an E for representing their state well.
Next up is New York, the Empire State, as the plate proudly professes at the bottom. The worst part about New York plate is the color. If you’re going to use orange, it should be done well (see Kansas’ beautiful plate). The font for the characters in the middle is a little unusual. But perhaps the most disappointing attribute of the plate is the fact that, given the stunning beauty of the New York City skyline, they chose to represent it in no way, shape, or form on the plate. I give it a D for creativity, a C for color (they may not mesh well, but I admire the effort), and an E for representing the state well.
Lastly, we arrive at Virginia. In 2014, the state changed their plate to read “Virginia is for Lovers,” with the “v” in “lovers” being replaced with a heart. The reason for this is to emphasize the fact that the state has changed since the 1967 Loving v. Virginia ruling, which struck down Virginia’s laws prohibiting interracial marriage. But many across the country simply don’t know this fact, and therefore this portion of the plate seems, to many, unrepresentative of Virginia (especially the more rural, conservative, gun-wielding part). Additionally, the background is too plain. It gets a C for creativity, a D for color, and a B for representing their state well. Not awful, but could be better.
Other dishonorable mentions include Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.


Max Jordan

Managing Editor


Matthew Klein

Features Editor