The road to reflective: The story of New Jersey’s 1992 reflective plates – Part 3

In part two we looked at the development of the 1992 passenger plates. Here we will take a look at how the design finalized.

On June 7, 1990, the Reflectorized License Plate Selection Commission held its fourth meeting. This time it occurred at the offices of the New Jersey Automobile Dealers Association (today the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, Inc.) in Trenton. Around 9:00 p.m. the venue of the meeting shifted to the parking lot of the association’s building to conduct some field tests of license plates.

As a baseline, a then current buff on blue plate and a black on reflective white plate were placed on a vehicle, then illuminated with the headlights from another vehicle three times – from about 160 feet, 80 feet, and 40 feet away. The plates were then photographed by a Division of Motor Vehicles photographer. The process was repeated with three sample plates, “specifically the plates with the solid yellow and gradated goldfinch yellow background and blue, black and green words, symbols, and alphanumeric sequence”. The commission members felt that the plate with the “gradated goldfinch yellow background and green words, symbol, and alphanumeric sequence” was not as visible as those that utilized blue or black and that a further test would be needed.

The final round of tests happened on June 28th in the same location as the first. The same basic methodology was used, but would test three new samples. The samples all had the goldfinch yellow to pale yellow gradient fade reflective background but each plate used different colors for the serial, state name and slogan – green, blue and black.

The tests found that all the combinations had roughly equal legibility, design, and visibility, but the black plate was felt to be the easiest to read while the green plate was the most aesthetically appealing. However, the concerns of road safety and legibility for law enforcement won out and the commission went with black:
“Although the green plate was not significantly worse in terms of legibility and sharpness of image, the color black for the words, symbol and alphanumeric sequence made that plate sharper, crisper, and easier to read. The plate with the black alphanumeric sequence on a background of goldfinch yellow fading to pale yellow was deemed to be superior for the purposes of highway safety, vehicle identification, and law enforcement.”

The committee’s report gave the following specifics for the new plate design:

    Background Color:

Goldfinch yellow across the top one third of the plate with the color fading to pale yellow over the remaining two thirds of the plate surface.

    Color of Words, Symbols, and Alphanumeric Sequence:


    New Jersey:

As a graphic design on the reflective sheeting and centered across the top for all registration plates.
Shape of the State: Embossed in the center of the plate between the six character alphanumeric sequence for standard passenger automobile plates and omitted on special plates whenever it would interfere with the alphanumeric sequence.

    Garden State:

As a graphic design on the reflective sheeting and centered across the bottom for all standard passenger automobile plates. (N.J.S.A.39:3-33.2 requires the words “Garden State” to be imprinted on each passenger automobile registration plate.) When the space across the bottom is needed to designate the vehicle type, a reflective sheeting without the “Garden State” graphic design will be used and, across the bottom, words designating the vehicle type will be embossed.

One thing to note is that the commission never specified the serial format. When the plates made their debut in November of 1992, they were seven character plates in an ABC1234 format starting with AAA1000. However, due to legibility concerns the seven character plates stopped being issued at ADJ9999. The plates still remain valid, but a new serial format starting at BA-100A was introduced in 1993. That lasted until May of 1999 when plates in the AAA-12A format, as used on the last issues of the buff on blue plates, began to be issued and was used until 2010 when the numbering ran out and they flipped to a A12-AAA format.

Since then, there have been some variations of the design. This was mostly due to a change from the original reflective sheeting vendor 3M to Avery then back to 3M. However the biggest change was the removal of the sticker boxes in 2007. Since stickers were only used on passenger plates from November 1999 until October 2004, the continued presence of the boxes for them was unnecessary.