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Legal Number Plates: The Rules Made Simple

Understanding the rules for legal number plates doesn’t have to be a stressful process. This guide conveniently simplifies all the number plate rules, leaving you prepared and ready to get creative with your customised number plate.

Legal number plates will meet the number plate spacing rules, margin requirements and will use the correct number plate font. There are also strict requirements for the colours, patterns and general design of your plates. We review all of these requirements.

The number plate rules and regulations can initially feel a bit overwhelming. However, if you don’t follow these number plate rules, you could end up with a substantial fine of up to £1,000 upon failing your MoT test or getting caught on the road. Even if you aren’t going to customise your plates, this guide will ensure you have legal number plates.


Photo Credit: 06Photo/Shutterstock

Required UK number plate format

The required format for car registration plates in the UK depends on your car’s registration date. The varieties include: current, prefix, suffix and dateless (cherished). To gain an overall understanding of the different styles, you can read more on our private number plates explained page. For the purpose of this blog, we will view the format of the current style (registrations after September 2001). However, rules for all types of plates will be covered in the guide.

Format rules for current number plates

The first two digits on the number plate, the DVLA memory tag, identifies the location of the cars registration. For example, a plate from Oxford may start with the letters OA or OY whereas Reading could begin with RA or RY. However, certain letters (I, Q and Z) are not included within these memory tags.

Two numbers appear next, these characters make up the age identifier. These numbers are taken from a code which pinpoints when the car was registered. All registrations throughout March to August are easy to work out because they use the last two numbers of that year. For example, if the number was 06, the car would have been registered between March 2006 - August 2006.


Photo Credit: 06Photo/Shutterstock

Why is the number plate format

At this point, you may be wondering why the DVLA puts so many rules and regulations in place. Number plates are unique and are essential for law enforcement. That is the primary reason why specifications have been set in place for legal number plates.


Photo Credit: Halfpoint/Shutterstock

A key requirement to remember

It is against the law to misrepresent the age of your car by making it appear younger. For example, you are not authorised to put a 07 age identifier on a car registered in 2004. However, you could put 07 on a car from 2018. If you are buying personalised number plates as a present for your friend, make sure you check their car’s registration date.

Read more: All You Need to Know about New Vehicle Registrations

Legal number plate sizes

Character height for number plates

What are the UK number plate size requirements, you ask? The height of all characters must be equal. For legal number plates, you cannot include one letter which is higher than its counterparts. For plates bought between the 1st of January 1973 and the 1st of September 2001, the legal height has been placed at 89mm. Outside of these dates, the height of each character should be 79mm tall,

Stroke width for number plates

Each of the strokes must be 14mm wide, although number 1 and letter I are an exception to those measurements. With that in mind, the width of all the characters must remain the same. You can have the thickness of a letter or number differ, which some fonts do support. Keep it consistent and avoid that nasty illegal number plates fine!

Number plate spacing rules

The number plate spacing rules for plates registered after the 1st of September 2001 and before the 1st of January 1973 are the same. All cars registered within these time-frames must leave 11mm between each of the characters and 33mm between the age identifier/memory tag etc.

However, the number plate spacing rules are different if the car was registered before September 1st but after 1st Jan 1973. In this case, characters must 13mm between each other and the additional characters (age identifier and memory tag) must be separated by 38mm.

Photo Credit IvelinRadkov/Shutterstock

Margin requirements for registration plates

The margins also have specific measurements in order to meet British Standards. Similarly to many of the number plate rules, the margins are set into several categories.

  1. If you get your number plate fitted today, it would need a margin of 11mm around all sides (top, bottom, left and right).

  2. Number plates fitted prior to the 1st of September 2001, must ensure their margins are at least 13mm to the sides, top and bottom.

  3. Individuals with number plates dating back to 1972 (and earlier) should leave a minimum of 11mm to each of these sides.


Photo Credit: garagestock/Shutterstock

Legal number plate designs

If you want to hang your licence plate on the wall, you can shop anywhere! Get your creative hat on and start sketching out those elaborate designs. However, you need to abide by the law if you are putting the number plates on your vehicle.

Legal number plate fonts and phrases

The UK number plate font has been set by the British Standard rules to ensure your plate’ visibility is maximised. Therefore, the Charles Wright font must be used by all drivers. Some licence plate dealers do provide the option to customise the font. However, all alternative number plate design fonts are illegal for the road. There simply isn’t any flexibility, even italics is prohibited.

If you wish to personalise your letters, you can make them 3D. Whilst you can choose a word or phrase for your plate, some phrases are not permitted. The DVLA bans plates deemed to be too rude and words that could cause offence.


Number plate colours 

The background must remain blank, no tints, patterns or prints. Keep your plates legal by following the rules for the front number plates and the rear plates too. The front number plate lawrequires your car to display a white background on your licence plate. The rear licence plate must be yellow. 


Photo Credit: JasonWinter/Shutterstock


Number plate material

All vehicles produced after the 1st of January 1973 are required to use a reflective material for their number plates. Pressed aluminium number plates do not meet the requirements under the British Standards for current (new style) plates. Whilst you can design your own number plates, it is extremely important to abide the DVLA requirements in order to keep your plates on the road.

Flags on number plates


Photo Credit: JasonWinter/Shutterstock

It is legal to display a flag on your number plate. However, there are specific requirements which drivers must abide to. For example, you are only allowed to display the following flags:

- St George’s Cross

- Union Jack

- Scottish Saltire

- Red Dragon of Wales

You also have a choice of letters which can accompany your flag, such as: Great Britain, United Kingdom, England, Scotland, Cymru or Wales.

Several all-caps options are also available, including: ENGLAND, SCOTLAND, CYMRU and WALES. Alternatively, you can use a selection abbreviations: GB, UK, ENG, Eng, SCO, Sco, CYM or cym.

The flag and letters you choose must be placed on the left hand side of your number plate. Other flags, images and symbols are prohibited for your plates (save that creativity for a bumper sticker instead).

Where can you buy legal number plates?


Photo Credit: A.andI.Kruk/Shutterstock

Surprisingly, many individuals fall into the trap of buying illegal number plates across the UK. Low prices make buying illegal plates quite tempting. However, you pay out huge fines if you get caught and you are at higher risk of number plate cloning.

With numerous dealers out there, anyone can become a victim. Therefore, it can be tricky to know where to buy legal number plates. Yet, it is quite simple once you know what to look out for. These two checks will help you buy legal number plates:

  1. All licence plate suppliers are required to be registered with the DVLA and will have to abide by the British Standards. The number plate needs to include the British Standard Mark on the bottom right hand corner. You may need to look closely as this will be in a small typeface.

  2. Businesses selling legal number plates will require certain documentation prior to payment. What documents are needed, you ask? They will ask for original documents that prove your identity.

Legal number plate maker

If you are still unsure what number plate rules apply to your vehicle, simply search personalised number plates for any word (or phrase). Though this tool, you can design your own number plate for free. Then variations of that word will be displayed for all the types of plates. Finally, click on your favourite plate to see if it matches your cars registration date.

Our legal number plate maker can help you come up with personalised number plate ideas. All of the legal formatting will be implemented for you, so you don’t have to worry about a thing!

Feature image credit: Ivelin Radkov / Shutterstock

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