Screen-Printed Spot-Color License Plates: Specifications
to dye-sublimation and UV-cured inkjet
- Durability. Screen-printing
is the traditional “gold
durable printing that stands up well outdoors to the elements including
exposure to the sun. Screen inks come in numerous
formulations that bond tightly to many different surfaces with good
wear-resistance characteristics, making silkscreening a versatile
printing method suitable for many different substrates — aluminum
and other metals, plastic, vinyl, fabric (T-shirts), and so forth.
- Fade-resistance. Screen-printing
is more fade-resistant than both dye-sublimation printing —
typically used on aluminum for the “onesies/
twosies” full-color “photo
license plates” market — as well as UV-cured inkjet
printing on aluminum which is another full-color printing process being
used more frequently these days. The best screen-printed inks have 5
7-year fade-resistance ratings.
Dye-sublimation claims often state 5 years when fade-resistant clear-coatings
or overlaminates are used, but the reality can be much worse outdoors,
often a year or two or less. UV-cured inkjet
printing is intermediate between screen-printing and dye-sub, and
rated against fading for up to about 3 years. Note: Fading
takes place more quickly
at southern latitudes than northern due to the more direct angle of
the sun, which introduces some variability. Also, some colors,
particularly brighter colors like red, will fade more regardless of printing method.
- Cost. The major advantage to screen-printing
besides its durability and fade-resistance is it’s the least-expensive
method of printing for volume runs.
- Appearance. Aluminum license
plates produced by screen-printing are high-gloss in finish and rich
in color, as are dye-sublimation plates. Screen-printed inks on the
special high-gloss polyethylene plates produced by Leeward Productions
also retain a high surface polish. However, on plastic plates which
have a matte surface and are screen-printed, the inked portion will
be semi-gloss rather than the high-gloss appearance with aluminum.
methods of UV-cured inkjet printing produce
while higher-grade processes such as that used with our #40257 full-color
photographic plates produce vivid color and
a lustrous high-gloss surface sheen similar to screen-printing. The
cheaply produced type of matte-finish UV-cured inkjet
output will look drab by comparison when printed on the high-gloss surface
of aluminum plates, at least when viewed closer up. UV-cured inkjet
plates we have sampled from a major producer specializing in "design
it yourself" plates — when
considering whether to offer them — were printed at low resolution
and looked fuzzy and grainy within a few feet. Both these characteristics
caused us to reject them as a product line,
and to look further in finding the high-gloss type of UV-cured inkjet
tags we now offer.
- Tradeoffs. With screen-printing
the number of ink colors is limited (typically 1, 2, or 3, occasionally
4, spot colors for license plates, though it may range up to 6 or so
spots, particularly with T-shirts), which constrains what type
of artwork can be reproduced. (Often no tints, gradients, photos, or
Photoshop effects, though process-color screen-printing is also possible
with more costly installations.) Also, the up-front setup time of screen-printing
makes it economical only for volume runs. The upside of dye-sub printing
is the quick setup time, which is why it shines for the onesies-twosies
market, although it’s
expensive for volume printing. Pluses for UV-cured inkjet
printing are its quick setup time, as well as its flexibility: as economical
for small numbers of plates as dye-sublimation (at least when ganged),
and also economical for larger numbers of plates when it comes to full-color
printing, though not as economical as spot-color screen-printing.
Standard items included with our
at no extra charge
The following apply to both aluminum and plastic
plates except as noted.
- Designed free by our experienced graphic
designers in three business days. Get the best-looking plates
you can by taking advantage of their expertise at no extra
charge — and no extra effort. Or if you already have
a design you’re happy with, we’ll print your car tags
“as is,” too, of course.
- No artwork or setup fees, except when art
is complex (1 case in 10 or less — usually $50.00
in that event). Be sure to check for such costs when comparing
- Screen-printed with 5 to 7-year no-fade ink durability,
the maximum offered by outdoor ink manufacturers. Screen-printing
also produces the richest, most vibrant colors compared
to other methods. Note: Cheap aluminum plates found
elsewhere typically use the low-grade type of UV-cured inkjet
printing (discussed above) or dye-sublimation printing.
There is no substitute for screen-printing or industrial-resin inks when lifetimes in excess of 5 years are of concern.
- Background colors and bleeds. Plates are printed
on white tag bla
nks (black and other colors also available for our embossed aluminum plates). Background
colors other than white or black are printed with a flood
of colored ink on white bla
nks, normally with either a 3/16” or 1/4”
unprinted outer white border. (Needed for tag handling
— the required outer margin depends on the specific
product number.) Our plastic plate items #40255 and #40257, however,
can be printed full-bleed with any background color or
with black, since they’re die-cut after
- No-charge standard colors. Anywhere from about 15 to 25 premixed screen-ink colors that you can choose from, sometimes more, are included at no extra charge. (Exact number of standard colors depends on the specific product item number.) Custom/ PMS color matching is also available, usually at an additional charge. Full details about standard colors and PMS matching can be found on the product detail/pricing page for each item.
Many ink colors on dark bla nks require a white base coat:
On black or dark-colored aluminum plate bla nks, colored inks usually require a white
undercoat to prevent show-through of the black tag surface,
which adds one ink color to the cost, unless white ink is
already in play to begin with. The exceptions to this are metallic inks (gold, silver, and copper, most commonly) and white itself. See additional info on each item’s pricing/detail
page under “Extra-Cost
Options.” Undercoating isn’t a factor on plastic plates since
full-bleed black or other dark-colored backgrounds are achieved with black/ colored ink in that situation (white bla nks only are used for plastic plates).
- Standard production time. Once your plate
artwork has been approved (allow 3 business days to
create or set up your plate art first), standard production
time for screen-printed plates is 1–2 weeks
for 12x6” plates
(both aluminum and plastic) and 2–3 weeks
for half-size 12x4” (which come in aluminum only).
time is extra, via UPS or FedEx Ground.