© 2022 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Goodbye, Embossed Characters: Kansas Modifies Standard License Plates

Kansas Department of Revenue
Even though the new, digitally printed Kansas license plates will have the same basic design, the characters on the plate will be printed flat on the metal instead of being embossed.

Kansas is set to roll out a modified license plate Aug. 1. It's not the look of the plates that will be changing, so much as the process by which they are produced, a move that state officials say will save money.

The design of the plates will remain the same as they have since 2007 — a light blue plate with part of the state seal in white in the background and "KANSAS" in serifed letters at the top. The difference is the combination of six numbers and letters will be in black and printed flat instead of embossed on the metal surface.

The switch to flat plates is due to a process the state calls digital license plate production. According to the Kansas Department of Revenue website, the plates will be created with a digital printer — meaning plates can be printed on demand and mailed to the driver's house within 14 days.

The Department of Revenue claims the process will save money and cut down on the number of unused plates sitting in license offices across the state. However, the plan is not without its critics.

Here are a few things you should know: 

Credit Wikimedia
Old, embossed plates will not have to be replaced unless they are damaged or lost. The blue background with the state seal in white has been the standard design for Kansas license plates since 2007

Do I need new plates? 

As long as your plate is still readable and valid, your old, embossed one will do just fine. However, if you need a plate for a new car or if your plate is damaged or lost, you will need a new one.

Can I still personalize my plates?

Yes, but you'll have to wait until Aug. 1. That's because the state stopped accepting new requests for personalized plates, sometimes called "vanity plates," in April in preparation for the rollout of the new system. 

Will I pay more for plates? 

No. Digitally produced plates will not cost more. The cost is included with the fee for registering a vehicle. 

Where will the plates be made? 

Center Industries will manufacture the plates at their facility in Wichita, according to revenue department spokeswoman Rachel Whitten. Center makes a range of metal products, including parts of airplanes, and Whitten said they've been manufacturing license plates "for a long time." After a driver orders the plate and it is printed, the state will ship it to the driver's house.

Credit Wikimedia
Kansas is not the first state to use flat license plates. Texas has been issuing flat plates for almost a decade, and other states, including Nebraska and Oklahoma, use them as well.

So, will it really save Kansas money? 

There are dozens of different types of plates the state has to print, Witten said, and each type has a minimum run of at least 1,500 because the plates are manufactured in large metal sheets. She said inventory of every type of plate can be found in all 105 counties — many of which will never be used. 

"With this new print on demand, the license plate is only made after it's ordered, after there's a need for it, and it's going to go on a vehicle," Whitten said.

Not manufacturing excess plates, she added, is what will save the state money. Both Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer and Revenue Secretary Sam Williams have praised the money-saving aspect of the project.

Who isn't on board?

Some Johnson County officials, whom, the Kansas City Star reported, are critical of the new process for a simple reason: Since people won't get their plates and their registration stickers at the same time like they did in the past, there's a bigger chance people will lose registration stickers before they have a chance to put them on the plates.

Drivers will still get their stickers when they go to the license office, but the new plate process means plates will take up to two weeks to be shipped to the driver's house.

Johnson County Commission Chair Ed Eilert told the Star that he's concerned about the added workload and cost if a large group of drivers lose their registration stickers before they make it onto the plate.

Whitten said the agency understands, and believes those concerns probably will be addressed in the next phase of the project. She also offered a solution — mailing the license plate with the registration sticker already attached. But plates are not valid until the registration sticker is attached to them, she said, so it could make it easier for valid license plates to end up in the wrong hands.

"You're required by law to keep your registration in your vehicle, so the hope is that if people do that, by the time they get their license plate in the mail 10 days later, they'll just reach into their glove box and grab their decal, put it on the plate and mount the plate on the car," Whitten said.

Nicolas Telep is KCUR's morning news intern. You can follow him on Twitter @NDTelep.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make non-profit journalism available for everyone.