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 private 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.

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:

Format Rules for Current Number Plates

The first two digits on the number plate, the DVLA memory tag, identifies the location of the registration of the car. 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 that 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.

Number Plates Laws

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

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. So, if you are buying personalised number plates as a present for your friend, make sure you check their car's registration date.

Penalties for Illegal Number Plates

The number plate rules and regulations can initially feel a bit overwhelming but if you don't follow these number plate rules, you could end up with a number of penalties. Even if you aren't going to customise your plates, this guide will ensure you have legal number plates.

You can't change, rearrange, or distort the letters or numbers on number plates, according to the law. Any or all of the following penalties may be imposed:

  • A fine of up to £1,000
  • Revocation of the registration mark
  • Failure of the vehicle's MOT

Font and Spacing Rules for Number Plates

The UK number plate size requirements will vary depending on whether they were fitted before or after September 2001.

Number plate spacing diagram


After 1st September 2001

Before 1st September 2001 (must meet one of the two groups)



89 or 79mm



64 or 57mm

Space between characters


13 or 11mm

Space between vertical lines



Margins at the top, bottom and sides


13 or 11mm

Space between sections


38 or 33mm

Character Height

The height of all characters must be equal. For legal number plates, you cannot include one letter which is higher than its counterparts.

Before September 2001 - For plates bought between the 1st of January 1973 and the 1st of September 2001, the legal height has been placed at 89mm.

September 2001 onwards - After September 2001, the height of each character should be 79mm tall.

Stroke Width

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

Before January 1973 and after September 2001 - All cars registered within these time-frames must leave 11mm between each of the characters and 33mm between the age identifier/memory tag etc.

Between January 1973 and September 2001 - Characters must be 13mm between each other and the additional characters (age identifier and memory tag) must be separated by 38mm.

Margin Requirements for Registration Plates

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

Before September 2001 - Number plates fitted before the 1st of September 2001, must ensure their margins are at least 13mm to the sides, top and bottom. Individuals with number plates dating back to 1972 (and earlier) should leave a minimum of 11mm to each of these sides.

September 2001 onwards - If you get your number plate fitted today, it would need a margin of 11mm around all sides (top, bottom, left and right).

Registration Plate Rules for Imported Vehicles

If your imported vehicle does not have European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval and it cannot accommodate standard size number plates, you may be allowed to display number plates with smaller characters.

For these circumstances, the specifications are:

  • Height: 64mm
  • Width: 44mm
  • Stroke width: 10mm
  • Space between characters: 10mm

Registration Plate Rules for Motorcycles and Tricycles

After September 1, 2001, motorcycles and tricycles must only have a number plate on the back of the vehicle. Motorcycles and tricycles registered before September 2001 can display a number plate on the front but this is not a requirement.

Here as the spacing and size rules you need to abide by for motorcycle and tricycle number plates:

  • Height: 64mm
  • Width: 44mm
  • Stroke width: 10mm
  • Space between vertical lines: 13mm
  • Space between characters: 10mm
  • Margin at the top, side and middle: 11mm
  • Space between sections: 30mm

Legal Number Plate Designs

If you want to hang your registration 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.

Fonts and Phrases

The UK number plate font has been set by the British Standard rules to ensure your car's visibility is maximised. Therefore, the Charles Wright font must be used by all drivers. Some registration plate dealers do provide the option to customise the font. However, all alternative number plate design fonts are illegal for the road - even italics are 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 offend.

Number Plate Colours

Number plate colour guide diagram.

The background must remain blank, with 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 law requires your car to display a white background on your number plate. The rear registration plate must be yellow.

Number Plate Material

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

Flags on Number Plates

It is legal to display a flag on your number plate. However, there are specific requirements that drivers must abide by. 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 that can accompany flags, such as GB, UK, ENG, Eng, SCO, Sco, CYM or Cym.

Several all-caps options are also available, including:


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.

Green Registration Plate Rules

You can show the green flash or green GB design on your number plates if your car is an electric vehicle (EV) or has zero CO2 emissions.

Special green plates are only authorised to be shown on certain vehicles. There are a number of ways to how much CO2 your vehicle emits and whether it meets these requirements:

  • You can use the DVLA's enquiry service
  • Check your V5 Registration Document
  • If you're buying a new car, see if it qualifies as a zero-emission vehicle at the dealership

Where Can You Buy Legal Number Plates?

Many individuals can 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 so 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:

All number 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.

Businesses selling legal number plates will require certain documentation before payment. They will ask for original documents that prove your identity, such as a driving license, a bill or a bank statement.

Buy Legal Number Plates Online

If you are still unsure what number plate rules apply to your vehicle, simply search personalised number plates for any word (or phrase). Through this tool, variations of that word will be displayed for all the types of plates. It will also include information on whether it matches your car's registration date.

The plate maker at Click4reg can help you come up with personalised and legal number plate ideas. All of the necessary formattings will be implemented for you, so you don't have to worry about a thing!