license plates and maps

They serve as a crossroads to my personal interests. The stories that each plate tells through its design and road grime are always fascinating to uncover. And the way that these stories mix together through their geographic placement weave a unique visual tale. The above video outlines the process in making a license plate map.

step one :: plates

The process starts by ordering a set of plates. There are several web-based resources that sell license plates for collectors and artists alike. Many of these same sites offer state sets, providing one plate from all 50 or 48 states. Plates in these boxes are at random, ranging from 1940s antique plates to last year’s distribution. The unboxing process is similar to opening a birthday present.


Adding personal plates can provide a direct relationship to the item as well. Several friends have requested their own vanity plates be used in their maps. There is a certain connection made in knowing you have traveled thousands of miles with an item and are now repurposing it through art.

Opened box set.
Plate stock.

step two :: layout

Templates were created and serve as windows in which to frame each plate’s best features. The vector based template was designed to be as large as possible, while having California fit on one license plate. This requires Texas to be comprised of approximately 1.5 plates.


Outlining each state with the template provides the cutting guide. With the guide in place, each license plate is cut by hand with tin snips. The process of marking and cutting is easily the most time intensive part of the piece, but again it’s fun to see each state come into literal shape and highlight a piece of the plate’s graphics.

Cut states.

step three :: mount

A wood backing material serves as sturdy foundation in which to mount. I have chosen to construct maps my concealing the backing material as much as possible and letting the map provide a shadow against the wall it is mounted on. To create this effect, the wood needs to be cut to the shape of the continental United States. The shape needs to be precise enough to allow room to attach all the states (including Rhode Island) in their correct location while remaining hidden behind the sheet metal.


Upholstery tacks have been my go-to for attaching. They are short enough to not protrude through the wood and have a small dark head which disappears into most license plates’ graphics. These tacks in combination with a bit of glue provide a durable connection point.


Final touches include; adding a hanging wire (safe to 40 lbs and easily adjustable), attaching a block to provide separation from the wall, and a personal favorite step – applying the stamp. The end product is a unique map, as no two sets of plates are ever the same. That simple aspect provides excitement each time I venture into the 30 hour process.

Interested in owning your own unique 
license plate map?
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Hanging wire and stamp.
Map closeup.