Will Texas change the design of its license plates? Curious Texas Investigates

For more than a century, Texas state issued license plates have been affixed to cars of all shapes, sizes and colors.

The first plates, published in 1917, were made of sheet iron with white numbers on a dark blue background and the letters “TEX” stamped vertically on the right side.

In 1918, the plaques were circular. In 1932, they were green. For about two decades, the yellow was mixed with white or black patches. And in 1999, the state launched red, white, and blue plaques.

Texas license plates have undergone a long colorful evolution since their first use in 1917.(EVANS CAGLAGE / 160043)

Today, Texas state-issued plaques have a solid white background with simple black lettering, a far cry from the latest picturesque designs.

That’s why a reader asked Curious Texas, “Will today’s black and white license plates ever turn into something pretty?” “

The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, which designs and issues state license plates, does not intend to change the design of its plates.

The current plaque design, released in 2012, is called “Texas Classic”. In addition to its simple black and white lettering, the plaque has a star in the upper left corner, “Texas” at the top and “The Lone Star State” at the bottom.

Former state official Joe Pickett had dozens of old Texas license plates on the walls of his new office on the Capitol.  In the middle row are two plates from 1933, burnt orange on white on the right, commemorating the University of Texas, and white on brown on the left, honoring Texas A&M University.

Its simplicity meets “the highest public safety standards,” said Wendy Cook, spokesperson for the department.

According to the Texas DMV website, the Texas Classic design is also the country’s first with high-visibility security threads embedded in the sheet metal. This makes it easier for law enforcement to spot legitimate plates, the agency said.

Another reason for the simplicity of the current design is that some drivers have complained that the colors of the previous plates collided with the color of their cars.

The latest design, dubbed “Lone Star Texas,” was red, white and blue with a desert landscape. When it was released in 2009, it began seven-character plate numbers after the state ran out of six-character combinations.

With its red, white and blue color scheme, the "Lone Star Classic" license plate design - immediate predecessor of the current one "Classic texas" plaque - surely sent shivers of patriotism down the spines of many motorists.
With its red, white and blue color scheme, the design of the “Lone Star Classic” license plate – the immediate predecessor of the current “Texas Classic” license plate – has surely sent shivers of patriotism down the spines of many motorists.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

Another recognizable plaque design is “Panoramic Texas,” which featured a space shuttle, an oil derrick, and a riding cowboy. Introduced in 1999, Panoramic Texas plaques were also the last with numbers stamped instead of printed. Approximately 31.5 million sets of these plaques were issued prior to the launch of “Lone Star Texas”.

For anyone who wants a special design, the Texas license plate supplier DMV offers designs for an annual fee. Previous designs of state-issued plates may not be designed for new cars, Cook said, but they may be available for some older cars.

“Vehicles that are at least 25 years old can be issued with a general design that meets the license plate requirements in effect for the same year the vehicle was manufactured,” she said.

However, there is no rush to get a new set of plates when a new design is released. According to Cook, to save taxpayer dollars and avoid waste, drivers can keep their current plates for as long as they want, unless they need to be replaced for aesthetic or readability reasons.

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About Nell Love

Nell Love

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