The 5 Best (and 5 Worst) License Plates in the United States

Tier 1: The colorful classics

1. Colorado

1. Colorado

Every other state in the country wishes it could’ve come up with a unique, colorful and iconic license plate design 60 years ago and pretty much just moved on with their lives thereafter. Oh sure, the mountains have oscillated between white and green, the shade of green has been tweaked, and the mountains were given some detailing, but this is pretty much the same plate as always. There’s only one state this could possibly be from, due to its familiarity/longevity, distinctive color scheme and that everyone knows Colorado is filled with mountains. I also like that the numbers are stamped and that there are only six of them.

2. New Mexico

2. New Mexico

Hmm, you don’t like teal? Sorry, I love it, but more important, “turquoise” is truly indicative of New Mexico. The overpasses in Albuquerque are this color, for Pete’s sake. The design itself, which actually got better when adapted from its original centennial design, is clean and classic, yet also distinctive. You have the state nickname of “Land of Enchantment” in a neatly sized and placed font that doesn’t conflict with the equally classy “New Mexico USA” below. The state’s “Zia” symbol, which has been on its plates for almost ever, makes its boldest statement yet. The use of yellow is also an obvious nod to the other official color of New Mexico, which has been on its license plates since the early 1960s. And still is, actually. The DMV lists both the teal plate and the yellow plate as “standard” plates (as opposed to no-cost options or pay-for options as other states have). I chose the better of the two here, but even the yellow one would’ve been up here near the top.

3. Vermont

3. Vermont

OK, so this is pretty much the same color as Colorado’s, but I don’t exactly see that as a bad thing considering the color is great and that it doesn’t appear in any other standard license plate. Besides the color, Vermont has the weird rectangle around the stamped registry numbers, clean and appropriate fonts for “Vermont” and “Green Mountain State,” and a little tree in the upper right hand corner because it’s Vermont. There are only three things that say “Vermont” more to me than this license plate: Bernie, Ben and Jerry.

4. Hawaii

4. Hawaii

True, you’re not going to see this one very often here on the mainland, so the thing has an inherent mystique. Still, even if you’d never seen one of these before, you’d instantly know that it’s from Hawaii. What other state would put a rainbow on its license plate … and do so for 30 years? And despite having, well, a rainbow of colors on it, the plate still manages to be clean and legible. Sure, it may not complement every car color as well as some of the other designs below, but dude, it’s the Hawaiian license. It’s cool.

5. Delaware

5. Delaware

This plate is like an NBA team in the 1990s that didn’t change its color scheme and make its logo a cartoon. Sure, they looked old-fashioned back then, but now that fashion has come back to classic, they’re quite happy they stayed the course. So be the Delaware license plate. Sadly, it’s flat printed and looks a bit cheap, but it’s also been that way for decades. Consistency! The classy dark blue color framed in gold with matching writing is timeless enough to make up for it.

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3. Delaware

Doug: Speaking of stalwart style, Delaware has been using this classic since I was born (1970). Damn fine year, I must say. Good color, easy to read, simple, effective.

Keith: In production for 47 years! Far longer than any other plate. Why waste taxpayer money on unnecessary redesigns? This is clean and legible. It just works.

Liz: My eyes are drawn to it. Really stands out (in a good way) when viewed with the other plates.

Luke: Love the blue and yellow. Love the big, fat numbers. I’m also a huge fan of firsts on license plates, and The First State is arguably the best one there is. DELAWARE WAS A STATE BEFORE IT WAS COOL.

3. Ohio

Luke: Ban all word clouds.

Susan: TLDR.

Liz: I had to ask Steph what that meant. I feel old.

Keith: Ohio is the only plate built by a WordPress plugin, so there’s that.

Doug: THE worst use of typography in license plates, and that’s saying something. WTF is in the background of that mess? Couldn’t decide on a theme, so we’ll just throw everything in there and make everyone happy? Yeah, this is complete trash.

Steph: Do not try to read this plate while driving. You will rear end the car in front of you while making a really ugly scrunched up “what the hell is going on here” face.

Susan: The North Carolina plate says “FIRST IN FLIGHT” but the Ohio plate says “BIRTHPLACE OF AVIATION.” So, who’s lying?

Luke: I know this! The Wright brothers were born in Ohio but flew in North Carolina. So both states are technically correct, but North Carolina is more badass.

Tier 10: Bad ombre

43. Kentucky

43. Kentucky

This too is an ombre design, but it’s way too generic and dated to go so high up on the list with the others. So it gets its own … plus Maryland. Though I like the “Kentucky” font with the galloping horse and “Unbridled Spirit” slogan, you can literally find this collective emblem on all sorts of stuff. They therefore just took a generic plate, pasted a ubiquitous logo onto it and called it a day.

44. Maryland

44. Maryland

Well, this is something different: Maryland’s admittedly unique state flag along the bottom ombred into white above. Trouble is, this is really easy to do in Photoshop. Like, “Hey Gary, want to whip up a new license plate? You’ve got 15 minutes” easy. The end result looks fake, busy and ugly. Hat trick!

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