This year, ALPCA members have thirteen new plate designs from which to choose. Eleven of them are from within the US, with one each from Canada and Mexico. I had fun last year, rating the entries on this site for the first time, so let's do it again! To me, there's only one obvious winner, a number of middle-roaders, a couple that could be better with revision, and a couple of stinkers. With Ontario's new plate hitting the roads a few weeks ago, I wonder what the field will be like for 2020? Anyway, let's not get ahead of ourselves. On with the 2019 show:
13. Delaware: They took Big-Mouth Billy Bass, nailed him to a blue rectangle, and painted giant submarine numbers on top of him. A totally uninspired design, and poor numerical legibility to boot. I could go on about what a clunker this plate is, but I do tend to like many of Delaware's other plates. So I'll leave it at this.
12. Quebec: Interesting artwork for a poster, but on a license plate, it’s absolutely terrible. The poppy pattern on the right side of the plate, from a distance, looks like blood splatter. The right-side legibility is extremely poor, which is clear after having seen a few of these plates in the wild. I so wanted this to be a good plate, because I am a proud Canadian, and I’m grateful for the service of my veterans, and it’s high time that Quebec produced a graphic offering. But this plate is a disappointing flop.
11. Montana: The legibility isn't great, with the background and serial number washing each other out. I think it is important to have a plate to commemorate aboriginal heritage. But I think this plate, with its four separate graphics, is trying to pull itself in too many directions. I think the design could be improved if the number was justified to the right, and they chose one or two of the graphics to place on the left. If the background was lightened a little more, and the numbers made dark, it would be more focused. This one is on the right track, but needs revision.
10. Washington: A lovely design on the eyes, but there just isn't enough contrast between the white numbers and the ocean background to make the serial number reliably legible. If this plate were embossed, maybe with reflective glass beading on the numbers, the design could be maintained without compromising on legibility. But as-is, it will be hard to read on the road. I truly enjoy looking at this plate, but my objectivity won't allow me to place it higher in the rankings.
9. Iowa: Last year, Iowa had a pretty cool farm design. This one is known as a “blackout” design. But why? Unless someone drives a black Corvette and wants everything dark, I don't see the point. I'm not a fan of the white border, but it has high legibility. I'll put this one above those plates that are hard to read, but at the bottom of those plates that have good visibility. This one looks like a cheap computer printout. It’s a bore.
8. North Carolina: A simple design, with high legibility. It doesn't really stray very far from the motifs of the established “First in Flight” base: The colour palette is the same, the serial dies are the same, the state font is also the same. It falls short of being a head turner, but it’s a good, solid plate. I have three minor complaints: “In God We Trust” is partly hidden by the flag, and it uses the Arial font, which is the free Helvetica knockoff that comes bundled with Windows software. Arial is often used by default, and the use of it is clearly the work of someone with poor attention to detail. Change the font, for Trust’s sake. The last complaint is that the plate has two slogans. The smaller of the two really seems to be sandwiched in there. I would take that one out.
7. Tamaulipas: This plate has high legibility, but not really much else. The Mexican state name logo appears at the top, and it has been lightly ghosted across the white background. The green and blue accents at the bottom are attractive, hinting at the Gulf Coastline, but it could use a little extra something along the top. But I place it higher than North Carolina, which has an extra element that needs to disappear.
6. Idaho has been milking their red white and blue base for decades now, so this plate doesn't carry a whole lot of oomph. But I like it, because the legibility is relatively high, given the busy design. I may be biased, because I like the animals, even though they're a little goofy. The dog looks like she has been very good and deserves a biscuit. And the cat reminds me of my departed best pal Morty. Thumbs up.
5. New York: This plate is an important one for New York to offer. I like how it uses the established state design, with the subtle star scape in the upper background. The legibility is overall high, but I find the 9-11-01 portion of the graphic interferes with the serial number. I would suggest enlarging the flag, and placing the date somewhere in the middle, and smaller, so that it doesn't compete with the serial number. Thumbs up overall.
4. Kentucky: This simple plate is not that much different from the Iowa blackout plate that I panned earlier. But unlike the Iowa entry, this plate has embossed numbers, no unsightly white border, and it has a cool sports logo. It just seems more real overall. Obviously, it has high legibility, with a splash of colour to catch attention. It's still a little bit austere to truly be in the running for best plate, but this one gets a thumbs up.
3. Rhode Island: Highly legible. The cartoonish nature of the animals is a matter of personal preference, but they are recognizable and compliment the theme. It’s too bad that the validation sticker will block most of the deer, though. Better to block old Santa Fox on the left. Thumbs up.
2. Oregon: The high contrast between the background in the numbers is a good thing. The outline of the trees is far enough from the numbers that it detracts from their legibility only slightly. Smokey’s white muzzle is far enough away from the stacked serial letters that legibility won't be too much of an issue. I’d gladly put one on my car, at any rate.
1. West Virginia: Take me home, country roads. We have a winner. The background is interesting, the elk on the left is a strong focal point, and the numbers have relatively high contrast and legibility for a graphic plate. There's nothing on this plate that doesn't belong, and there seems to be nothing missing, either. I would love to know whether these plates will be embossed, or screened. I prefer embossed, of course, but the design of this plate is such that legibility won't really be impacted either way.
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