The People and Artists Behind Your Custom License Plates

Lee Shiney founded the business in 1989 and, though he has since moved on, is who started us on the road to offering durable custom auto, motorcycle, and bicycle tags that put design out front. Lee ran our former tag printing department, has been a graphic designer and fine artist since the late 1970s, and today creates and produces fine art after his years with Leeward Productions. Branching out from the world of freelance design work, he first began designing and producing custom auto tags under the name Lee Shiney Design (later Shiney Communications). For many years Lee printed our car tags by hand with the help of his son and daughter, who are now out on their own, his son following in his footsteps as a screen-printer and his daughter in print media, marketing, and web design.

Lee also owned and operated a popular small art gallery for several years, and as something of a Renaissance man, still pursues his passion for fine arts, which he has been turning into a business of its own. You’ll find more about Lee and his work, plus an exhibition of his art and photos of his latest gallery showing at

Ward Nic holson, a long-time graphic design colleague of Lee’s, joined Leeward Productions in 2003, and now mans the helm running our front office. He’s also the friendly voice on the phone who takes your order and supervises the design and layout of your custom auto tags.

Ward started out in business as a freelance advertising typographer in the early 1980s during the era of phototypesetting machines, doing work for design studios and advertising agencies. After desktop publishing technology with personal computers superseded typesetting in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he moved into graphic design and, for a time, freelance ad copywriting. Ward also draws from direct experience in the advertising sector, having worked at two different ad agencies in the following years, first with Greteman Group, an agency specializing in the aerospace industry, and later Howerton-White, with expertise in nonprofits, manufacturing, and bank marketing.

And, drawing on his background working with fonts in the typesetting industry, Ward has also been involved at various times in the technical side of typeface production work. In the past, he worked on a few select font production projects for the Letterhead Fonts foundry, and recently has done so here at Leeward Productions, where he sets up fonts for compatibility with our specialized license plate serial-numbering software when needed.

With his exacting typographic background and wide-ranging advertising experience, Ward is the hands-on “detail man” whose oversight ensures everything is ship-shape with your custom auto tags order before it goes into production. And in his dual role now also steering the ship, he’ll be glad to answer just about any question you might have. At Leeward Productions you’ll talk directly with someone working on your order, not intermediaries, including the man on top.

Eric Schmid, the “Vector Doctor” (service partner): When things get busy and we can’t handle everything in-house, we turn to Eric Schmid and his outstanding Vector Doctor artwork vectorization service to help prep your artwork for professional printing.

A little-known aspect of the screen-printing, signage, and promotional products industry is the need, in most cases, for artwork files to be available in what is called vector format. This essentially means artwork produced in Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, or similar applications where art is created and built in the form of crisp, sharp, smooth geometric curves and lines.

Most logo artwork, mascots, and other identifying symbols furnished by customers for use in creating layout designs, on the other hand, tend to be submitted in what is called bitmap format. That is, composed of small square pixels, such as JPG, TIF, PSD, PNG, or GIF files. This is typical of files saved from Photoshop or similar applications such as Microsoft Paint, pictures taken with cameras and mobile devices, or images taken from websites. Usually logos, mascots, and other professionally drawn symbols or other artwork will have been created in Illustrator or CorelDraw originally. However, by the time files make their way into the hands of customers, images often have been converted into one of the above bitmap formats. (For use as website images, ordinarily.) When enlarged enough for printing on items like license plates, the result is a blurry, relatively low-resolution file with muddied colors that has lost its original high-definition sharpness, contrast, and clarity.

Enter the need for “vectorization,” the process of recreating bitmap artwork in vector format to recapture the artwork’s original high definition and pure colors. Basically, the bitmap image is used as a template for recreating or hand-tracing a pristine copy as close to the original as possible. While autotracing software can in some cases do a satisfactory job, most often hand-tracing is required. It takes a sharp eye honed by experience as well as considerable skill not only to pull off the feat well, but to do it fast.

Eric’s entire business is built around providing this service, and what’s remarkable is how quickly and affordably he does it while maintaining his trademark high level of execution. Eric is so efficient, in fact, that he competes successfully head to head with similar services from India. But Eric is better because he knows the requirements of the printing and signmaking industries inside and out. His service hits the “sweet spot” perfectly in combining high-caliber results with a reasonable low cost.

If you have an interest in the technical side of how artwork gets rebuilt and prepared for printing or signage by a professional specialist like Eric, check out the Vector Doctor’s blog or his business website for an inside look.

About Leeward Productions    Company / History  |  People