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State cites security in keeping embossed plates

| Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, 9:39 p.m.
Embossed Pennsylvania license plate with raised letters.
Digitized and embossed license plates from West Virginia. By the end of this year, the state plans to issue only digitized plates, which is says are cheaper and cleaner.
Digitized and embossed license plates from West Virginia. By the end of this year, the state plans to issue only digitized plates, which is says are cheaper and cleaner.

Pennsylvania is sticking with raised-number license plates as other states switch to flatter digitized ones, which some say are easier to read and cheaper to produce.

“We plan on keeping embossed plates, mainly because of security,” said Jan McKnight, community relations coordinator for PennDOT in Harrisburg.

Numbers on embossed license plates are raised, which McKnight said are difficult to replicate or counterfeit.

These plates go through two print runs, one to print the background graphics and one to stamp and paint the plate numbers.

With digitized plates, all items on the plate can be printed simultaneously in a process comparable to printing from a computer.

PennDOT uses digital technology on specialty license plates to create backgrounds featuring wildlife, a historic event or the name of a college or university.

“Those images are done with digital technology. The numbers on the license plates are always embossed,” McKnight said.

Ohio has digitized plates. West Virginia plans to make all its plates digitized by the end of this year.

“This is the way license plates are going to be made in the future,” said Steve Dale, acting commissioner at the West Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

“The new process allows us to use a thinner aluminum blank, which cuts the cost of aluminum, slightly less weight to mail, and allows more plates to be stored in the same amount of space,” Dale said.

Dale said West Virginia expects to save about $600,000 a year with the switch.

Switching to digitized plates eliminates the need for special paints and solvents, which must be disposed of as hazardous waste, and for ovens that “bake” the paints onto the plate.

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, based in Arlington, Va., makes no recommendation about which technology to use.

“It's more labor intensive to make embossed plates. Law enforcement wants to be able to read the plate, and it's important that the graphic does not distort the plate numbers,” said Catherine Curtis, director of vehicle programs for the association.

While West Virginia officials say digitized plates are easier to read, not everyone agrees.

“The biggest problem with reading a plate is if the graphics behind the number and letters are too busy. That can be a problem with either type of plate,” said Mike Rodli, president of John R. Wald Company Inc. in Huntingdon in Huntingdon County, one of a handful of companies in the United States that manufactures machinery to make embossed and digital plates.

Pennsylvania license plates are made at SCI Fayette, the only prison in the state where license plates are manufactured.

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