Art by Nicole Wong
I drive everywhere. With that comes seeing the back of cars — and the boring, unoriginal license plates. The states have so much to offer design-wise, and yet do nothing to beautify their state in this manner.
Although license plates are small aspects to a person’s identity, it still gives random drivers a glimpse into one’s life. Some people judge others for the types of cars they drive, but I judge people based on the artistry of the car’s required identifying tag.
I am here to set the record straight by ranking all state license plates in six tiers — S for superior, followed by A, B, C, D and F — to show what a creative rear-end emblem truly looks like. This is not a ranking of the state itself but of the standard license plate design.
S tier: I will steal your car
These states are the best-of-the-best. I think the states nailed their license plates, and I would not change a single part of them. I would declare residency in these states just to get the plates.
Arizona, Idaho, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah
The plate that best represents this category is Arizona. From the beautiful color palette to the clean design, the Grand Canyon State is the blueprint for what each state should seek to implement on their cars.
A tier: I want a keychain of it
These states have very good designs and capture the essence of their state well. I would proudly wear them on both the front and back of my car.
Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Wyoming
The plate that best represents this category is Wyoming. Since I actually have a keychain of this license plate, I enjoy looking at the simple concept and the cowboy on the bucking horse.
B tier: Oh, cute
These plates are above average, but not much else. I commend the states for attempting to be creative, but in this case, the efforts of their design teams did not really land. I will give them points for trying.
Hawai’i, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Washington
The plate that best represents this category is Maine. The bird on the Vacationland license plate adds to the cuteness factor.
C tier: It really is a license plate
These states have basic, average license plates. They are not anything to write home about or put on a car. They really tried to create a license plate that only serves one purpose.
Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota
The plate that best represents this category is Minnesota. It has the state name, outline and motto, but that is about it. Since the state of 10,000 lakes has so many lakes, I think they can try harder in making this more representative by incorporating more water imagery and beyond, like trees or snow.
D tier: I do not respect the driver
These plates are awful and really failed at being creative. If I see a car with this license plate, I do not respect their right to be on the same road as me, but I will allow it.
Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin
The plate that best represents this category is Ohio. This plate is messy, hard to read and does not visually describe the state. The amount of small-sized lettering is making me think the designers want me to get in an accident while trying to read this.
F tier: I will rear-end you
I hate these license plates. People go on and on about “the classic license plate” — stop it. This is not a valid excuse for the plain piece of garbage metal strapped to their cars. Brakes will not be used if I see this plate.
Alaska, California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia
The plate that best represents this category is Massachusetts. These designers did not even attempt to create a visually pleasing license plate. This plate has nothing — white background, basic letters and numbers and an annoying font at the top. This plate is everything that is wrong in this world. Do better, Massachusetts license plate designers.
At the end of the day — or road, donning a creative license plate can make a person feel a sense of pride for what their home state brings to the plate.
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