Screen-Printed Spot-Color License Plates: Specifications

Screen-printed license plates compared
to dye-sublimation and UV-cured inkjet

  • Durability. Screen-printing is the traditional “gold standard” for durable printing that stands up well outdoors to the elements including exposure to the sun. Screen inks come in numerous formulations that bond tightly to many different surfaces with good wear-resistance characteristics, making silkscreening a versatile printing method suitable for many different substrates — aluminum and other metals, plastic, vinyl, fabric (T-shirts), and so forth.
  • Fade-resistance. Screen-printing is more fade-resistant than both dye-sublimation printing — typically used on aluminum for the “onesies/ twosies” full-color “photo license plates” market — as well as UV-cured inkjet printing on aluminum which is another full-color printing process being used more frequently these days. The best screen-printed inks have 5 to 7-year fade-resistance ratings. Dye-sublimation claims often state 5 years when fade-resistant clear-coatings or overlaminates are used, but the reality can be much worse outdoors, often a year or two or less. UV-cured inkjet printing is intermediate between screen-printing and dye-sub, and rated against fading for up to about 3 years. Note: Fading takes place more quickly at southern latitudes than northern due to the more direct angle of the sun, which introduces some variability. Also, some colors, particularly brighter colors like red, will fade more regardless of printing method.
  • Cost. The major advantage to screen-printing besides its durability and fade-resistance is it’s the least-expensive method of printing for volume runs.
  • Appearance. Aluminum license plates produced by screen-printing are high-gloss in finish and rich in color, as are dye-sublimation plates. Screen-printed inks on the special high-gloss polyethylene plates produced by Leeward Productions also retain a high surface polish. However, on plastic plates which have a matte surface and are screen-printed, the inked portion will be semi-gloss rather than the high-gloss appearance with aluminum.

    Cheaper methods of UV-cured inkjet printing produce a flat/ matte finish, while higher-grade processes such as that used with our #40257 full-color photographic plates produce vivid color and a lustrous high-gloss surface sheen similar to screen-printing. The cheaply produced type of matte-finish UV-cured inkjet output will look drab by comparison when printed on the high-gloss surface of aluminum plates, at least when viewed closer up. UV-cured inkjet plates we have sampled from a major producer specializing in "design it yourself" plates — when considering whether to offer them — were printed at low resolution and looked fuzzy and grainy within a few feet. Both these characteristics caused us to reject them as a product line, and to look further in finding the high-gloss type of UV-cured inkjet tags we now offer.
  • Tradeoffs. With screen-printing the number of ink colors is limited (typically 1, 2, or 3, occasionally 4, spot colors for license plates, though it may range up to 6 or so spots, particularly with T-shirts), which constrains what type of artwork can be reproduced. (Often no tints, gradients, photos, or Photoshop effects, though process-color screen-printing is also possible with more costly installations.) Also, the up-front setup time of screen-printing makes it economical only for volume runs. The upside of dye-sub printing is the quick setup time, which is why it shines for the onesies-twosies market, although it’s expensive for volume printing. Pluses for UV-cured inkjet printing are its quick setup time, as well as its flexibility: as economical for small numbers of plates as dye-sublimation (at least when ganged), and also economical for larger numbers of plates when it comes to full-color printing, though not as economical as spot-color screen-printing.

Standard items included with our
screen-printed plates at no extra charge

The following apply to both aluminum and plastic plates except as noted.

  • Designed free by our experienced graphic designers in three business days. Get the best-looking plates you can by taking advantage of their expertise at no extra charge — and no extra effort. Or if you already have a design you’re happy with, we’ll print your car tags “as is,” too, of course.
  • No artwork or setup fees, except when art is complex (1 case in 10 or less — usually $50.00 in that event). Be sure to check for such costs when comparing prices elsewhere.
  • Screen-printed with 5 to 7-year no-fade ink durability, the maximum offered by outdoor ink manufacturers. Screen-printing also produces the richest, most vibrant colors compared to other methods. Note: Cheap aluminum plates found elsewhere typically use the low-grade type of UV-cured inkjet printing (discussed above) or dye-sublimation printing. There is no substitute for screen-printing or industrial-resin inks when lifetimes in excess of 5 years are of concern.
  • Background colors and bleeds. Plates are printed on white tag bla nks (black and other colors also available for our embossed aluminum plates). Background colors other than white or black are printed with a flood of colored ink on white bla nks, normally with either a 3/16” or 1/4” unprinted outer white border. (Needed for tag handling purposes — the required outer margin depends on the specific product number.) Our plastic plate items #40255 and #40257, however, can be printed full-bleed with any background color or with black, since they’re die-cut after printing.
  • No-charge standard colors. Anywhere from about 15 to 25 premixed screen-ink colors that you can choose from, sometimes more, are included at no extra charge. (Exact number of standard colors depends on the specific product item number.) Custom/ PMS color matching is also available, usually at an additional charge. Full details about standard colors and PMS matching can be found on the product detail/pricing page for each item.

    Many ink colors on dark bla nks require a white base coat: On black or dark-colored aluminum plate bla nks, colored inks usually require a white undercoat to prevent show-through of the black tag surface, which adds one ink color to the cost, unless white ink is already in play to begin with. The exceptions to this are metallic inks (gold, silver, and copper, most commonly) and white itself. See additional info on each item’s pricing/detail page under “Extra-Cost Options.” Undercoating isn’t a factor on plastic plates since full-bleed black or other dark-colored backgrounds are achieved with black/ colored ink in that situation (white bla nks only are used for plastic plates).
  • Standard production time. Once your plate artwork has been approved (allow 3 business days to create or set up your plate art first), standard production time for screen-printed plates is 1–2 weeks for 12x6” plates (both aluminum and plastic) and 2–3 weeks for half-size 12x4” (which come in aluminum only).

    Important: Shipping time is extra, via UPS or FedEx Ground.