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License plates go digital – and flat

License plates are going high-tech in Nevada.

Under a contract approved by the Board of Examiners on Tuesday, the new digitized plates will have more colors and better quality graphics.

They’ll also be a bit cheaper to produce.

But Department of Motor Vehicles officials will wait to see how people react because the new specialty plates will also lose the stamped, raised lettering of existing plates.

They’ll be a flat piece of aluminum. And like modern cars that aluminum sheet will be just a little bit thinner.

“We’ll see how the customers react to them,” said Martha Barnes, administrator of department’s Central Services and Records Division.

In addition to the color and graphics, spokesman Tom Jacobs said the digital process gives the state more flexibility in producing plates – especially small numbers of specialty plates.

“We can produce them as needed,” he said. “We don’t have to order a huge batch.”

He said the state will use the digital process at first only on the specialty plates, not regular stamped plates. But he said he thinks the new plates will be popular because of their visual appeal.

The contract with 3M to provide “sheeting” – the term for the colored, numbered film that goes on the aluminum plate – and equipment to produce the licenses digitally totals $10.9 million.

Barnes and Jacobs said using the digital process for the specialty plates will lower the cost. Right now, the cost of sheeting ranges from $1.57 to $4.68 per plate depending on the colors and design.

With the digital system, they’ll be $1.68 apiece, no matter how colorful or complex the design.

Barnes said there are currently 13 specialty plates on DMV’s list. The maximum allowed by state law at any one time is 25.

The list includes the two most popular specialty plates in state history – the Lake Tahoe and the Las Vegas Centennial plates. Barnes said, in fact, the plate designed to commemorate the 100th birthday of the city of Las Vegas just recently surpassed the Tahoe plate in total sales.

There are now 19,289 centennial plates on the streets, compared to 18,212 Lake Tahoe plates.

Jacobs said like the Tahoe plate, which has sold very well in Southern Nevada, the Las Vegas Centennial plate has a statewide appeal and is even selling well in the north.

It costs $61 extra for the plate initially and $40 a year extra to keep it. The first year, $25 goes to the group or cause the plate is dedicated to – $20 per plate each year after the first.

The so-called “party plate” in Las Vegas has raised $480,000 for that city’s centennial celebration.

The money raised by the Tahoe plate goes to environmental projects at the lake. Because the Tahoe plate has been in existence several years, it has raised far more than any other specialty plate.

Contact Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.