For the first time in more than 100 years, Kansas has changed how it manufactures license plates. No longer are the plates embossed with raised letters and numbers and printed in bulk for non-commercial traffic.
Beginning later this week, they will be printed on demand using a digital printing process. The printed numbers and letters will then be applied to a flat sheet of aluminum and then stamped out in the shape of a license plate.
“We are very, very excited about this,” said Deb Wiley, who works for the Kansas Department of Revenue’s division of vehicles.
The new system is faster, safer and more efficient than the process that hasn’t really changed since the state began issuing license plates in 1913, officials say.
“It’s very fast, compared to stamping out and embossing the whole plate,” said John Kalal, director of government products at Center Industries in south Wichita, where all of the state’s license plates are made.
Center Industries on Monday demonstrated how the new plates are printed, showing off new equipment in an 1,800-square-foot room built for the digital printer and the computers linking to it.
The printer can produce 1,800 plates an hour, while the upgraded stamping machine in another building can stamp out 2,000 plates an hour.
“It’s a huge time-saver for us,” Kalal said.
Center officials anticipate producing 1,500 plates a day. Kansas will become the 23rd state to use digitally printed license plates. People can keep their old plates as long as they’re in good condition, Wiley said.
The new plates are only needed by people getting a vehicle that is new to them or if they’re ordering vanity plates or switching from a vanity plate to a regular plate. It’s “perfectly fine” if people decide they want to replace their current plate with a new one, she said.
Gone are the days of people being handed their license plate when they register a vehicle at the county treasurer’s office. Instead, they’ll be given a temporary license tag that’s made of paper, along with their plate decal and registration paperwork.
The new plate will be printed and then mailed to the person’s home within 10 to 14 days.
Wiley said the plates with raised numbers and letters will gradually filter out of use. The new plates use a different font and feature high definition sheeting, making the numbers and letters easier to read. Law enforcement officials and Kansas Turnpike Authority officials prefer the new design, Wiley said.
With the raised numbers and letters, “if the plate gets dirty at all or depending on how the light’s hitting it, it gets shadowy,” Wiley said. “It’s very difficult to read that. A 3 reads like an 8.”
With the new design, she said, “the farther away you get away from the plate, the further the combination comes forward. The background recedes.”
A laminated sheet goes over the digital print, offering protection from bugs, rain and ultraviolet light, Kalal said.
Local law enforcement officers “are going to love it,” Wiley said. “This is so much cleaner” than the old plates.
With the old process, thousands of additional plates had to be sent to each county to ensure that they had ample inventory. State officials estimate there is about $1 million in license plates that will never be sold in counties around the state.
The new process “will reduce that overproduction and save money for the state and taxpayers over time,” she said.
The new process prints vanity plates as well as specialty plates. Kalal showed one of the new WuShock plates that took 20 minutes to print.
Using the old process, he said, that same plate would have taken a day or more because the WuShock would have required 20 minutes simply to dry after being screen printed onto the plate.