Vanity License Plate

Vanity License Plate

In this Photoshop tutorial I'll show you how to create a custom vanity license plate using a few basic Photoshop tools a piece of reference material and some creative layer stylings.

Step 1

Open a new file (mine is 540×300 at 72ppi). It is important to note that although the size of the document doesn’t matter, you will need to adjust the layer styles we apply accordingly if you choose to play along at home. If you’ve read many of my other tutorials you’ll know that anytime I am trying to create a real object, I like to have a piece of reference to work from, so I’ve inset my example in the Step 1 graphic.

I’m going to fill the background with a pretty radial gradient ( #788e9e to #263744) because we’ll be first drawing in a light gray and I want to be able to see what I’m doing. You can fill the background with any color you like… except purple.

(*note: If you’re an 8 year old girl, you are of course the exception to the purple rule and you should use it to your little heart’s content.)

Step 2

Create a new layer by pressing the Create New Layer button at the bottom of the Layers palette and rename it Plate. Press the U key to switch to the Custom Shape tool and choose Rounded Rectangle from the menu at the top of Photoshop, make sure that the Fill Pixels icon is checked and set the Radius to 20 pixels.

(*note: If your layers palette isn’t visible, activate it by choosing Window>Layers from the main menu.)

Step 3

Set your foreground and background colors to #e9e9e9 and #d2d2d2 respectively, then drag a nice rectangular shape onto the stage. I took my tape measure to the garage and figured out that the standard US license plate is a 2:1 aspect ratio, so my rectangle is 500×250 pixels.

(*note: If you want to see the size of your shape as you create it, open the Info window by choosing Window>Info from the main menu.)

Step 4

Since most license plates have a reflective quality that makes the surface shimmer, lets add that effect with a little noise. Select Filter>Noise>Add Noise from the main menu, set the Amount to 2% and make sure that Gaussian and Monochromatic are checked before hitting OK.

Step 5

Double click next to the layer name in the Layers palette to bring up the Layer Styles dialog then add the following Drop Shadow and Bevel And Emboss.

Step 6

Create a new layer and call it Bevel. This is where the embossed bevel around the edge of the license plate will live.

Command-Click (PC: Ctrl-Click) on the Plate layer’s icon to load the plate as a selection (*note: the Bevel layer should still be selected as the working layer). Now from the main menu choose Select>Modify>Contract and set the amount to 5 pixels.

Lets fill the area with black. Press the D key to reset the foreground color to black and then press Option-Delete (PC: Alt-Backspace) to fill the area with black.

Step 7

Lets now contract the selection again (Select>Modify>Contract) but this time lets go 10 pixels. Press Delete (PC: Backspace) to remove the area inside the selection and press Command-D to release the selection.

Step 8

Lower the Bevel layer’s Fill opacity (at the top of the Layers palette) to 0% making the black outline on the layer momentarily invisible, then add the following layer styles.

Step 9

It’s time to lay down the custom license plate letters (or numbers if you prefer). For this little number I tracked down a cool font called License Plate created by Dave Hansen. You can download it HERE or you can download the tutorial file at the end of the lesson and get both fonts used in this exercise.

Press the T key to call up the Text tool, set the text color to #404d5e and for my example the font size is 135pt.

Step 10

Create a new layer beneath the text layer we just created by holding down the Command (PC: Ctrl) key while clicking the Create New Layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette and rename it Text Bevel.

With the Text Bevel layer now selected, Command-Click (PC: Ctrl-Click) on the text layer icon to load the text as a selection. Now expand the selection by 5 pixels by using the Select>Modify>Expand option in the main menu and fill the selection with any color (except purple of course). I used this very attractive turquoise color. Go ahead and Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D) when you’re done to release the selection.

Step 11

Just like we did with the Bevel layer in Step 8, drop the Text Bevel‘s Fill opacity to 0% and the following Bevel And Emboss layer style.

Step 12

If you’ve switched tools for some crazy reason, press the T key to get the Type tool back. Set the text color to a nice shade of red like #c02922, switch to the font Mistral which you can download HERE or in the exercise files at the end of the tutorial. This is the font which the California logo on the license plate is based on. (*note: Those picky Californians took the liberty of changing things inside their text to make it cooler, but we’re not that fussy, so we’ll leave the nice Mistral font alone.)

It should really go without saying that you can now click on the stage and type the word California… unless of course you’re license plate is from a different state, and in that case, you’re on your own. Lets also lower the Fill opacity of the California layer to around 80%.

(*note: When you’re done with the text, it’d be a lovely idea to drag this layer to the top of the layers stack, just to keep our previous text and it’s associated bevel next to each other.)

Step 13

With the California lettering firmly in place, lets click back to the Plate layer and punch some holes in it. Choose the Elliptical Marquee tool, which is in the fly out menu for the Rectangular Marquee tool. If you’re confused, press the M key to select it from the Tools palette, then click and hold on the tool until the fly out menu appears.

Holding the shift key to constrain the selection to a perfect circle, click and drag a selection where your first hole lives. Now just press Delete to remove the selected area and repeat for the other 3 holes. Because I’m completely anal, I actually resized my reference picture license plate to the same size as my document and cut the holes accordingly. I’m sure this surprises you because of the whole California font speech in Step 12… but I’m selectively picky, what can I say?

Step 14

We all know licence plates wouldn’t be cool without all those expensive stickers we "get" to pay to add every year, so lets add a few of those. I figure if you can make Rectangular Marquee selections and know how to use the Type tool, I shouldn’t have to walk you through this part… and If you can’t, then you haven’t been paying attention and you should go back to Step 1 and try to learn something this time.

So this would be my finished product with the pretty stickers added.

Step 15

You could go crazy with some of the grunge brushes I handed out in the Hero Header II and Create An Old Envelope tutorials, and bend the edges a little like in the Sticker Edge Peel lesson to really age the plate.

Step 16

And if I actually owned this vanity plate… and a Lotus… Shazam!! Our final result.

Lesson Files + Additional Resources

Download the free .PSD file and other lesson files Right Here.

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65 Responses to Vanity License Plate

  1. Sander Falise

    March 31st, 2008 at 8:15 am

    Nice one again … I especially like the way you manage to combine a bunch of tutorials in the final step. That’s what it’s really about isn’t it? Being creative with the skills you possess, getting a complex result with a bunch of simple steps. Did you notice by the way how the paint stripes on the Lotus align perfectly with the spoilers attachment points, the way the spoilers curves match those of the car? A real beauty!

  2. Mikkel

    March 31st, 2008 at 10:14 am

    Nice tutorial, but it’s things like the last step people want to learn. How you make things look real. That’s what matters…

  3. HERO

    March 31st, 2008 at 11:10 am

    Thank you for your comment. I understand where you’re coming from, but if you read Step 15 you will see that I’ve already done tutorials on aging and adding grunge effects as well as bending edges. The goal of this tutorial was the creation of the license plate using a particular set of tools and processes. I always add a final image to each tutorial to demonstrate a possible / practical use for the process. I construct each tutorial to teach a certain skill set. Your goal should be to learn to put all the knowledge together to create a final result of your own.

    I hope you’ll explore the site further and learn to add one process on top of another as Sander mentioned in his previous comment.

  4. Paulo Sales

    March 31st, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    hello…very good tut..congrats..this is a great spot full of good stuff…

    best regards from lisbon

  5. dilirum

    April 1st, 2008 at 2:38 am

    Excellent Tut… and a great effect. Love it man! Thanks!

  6. jayhan

    April 9th, 2008 at 9:24 am

    Nice final result and inspiring tutorial! Thanks for sharing :D

  7. hntr

    April 20th, 2008 at 9:55 am

    wow youre my hero!!!! thanks a lot

  8. hntr

    April 20th, 2008 at 9:56 am

    woooow!!!! youre so good, youre my hero man, jejeje, thanks!!!!

  9. Michael D.

    May 21st, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    It’s funny for my little car :)

  10. Michael O'Brien

    June 4th, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    Okay — I feel like a real dope — but in step 10, your say:

    With the Text Bevel layer now selected, Command-Click (PC: Ctrl-Click) on the text layer icon to load the text as a selection. Now expand the selection by 5 pixels by using the Select>Modify>Expand option in the main menu and fill the selection with any color (except purple of course).

    How do I “fill in the selection with any color” — I am missing this.


  11. HERO

    June 4th, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    Just hit Option-Delete (PC: Alt-Delete) This will fill the selection with the foreground color. You can also switch to the Paint Bucket tool if you want to do it the hard way, then just dump color into the selection with the Bucket. I think you’ll agree that the keyboard shortcut will do the trick much easier.

    Of course you can change the foreground color by clicking on the foreground color swatch at the bottom of the Tools palette which will open the color picker.

  12. Gwen Blackburn

    June 5th, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    I want a plate that has a beige or gold background with complimentary letters that say, preferably in script

    LADY G

    Where can I get it made?

  13. X

    July 12th, 2008 at 11:29 am

    Excellent tutorial man! And I love your writing style and attitude :D

  14. HERO

    July 12th, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  15. Nabil

    July 29th, 2008 at 10:40 am

    nice man but i want the grundge so badly cant figure it out

  16. HERO

    July 29th, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Grunge is one of those things that just takes experimentation and practice. You might want to check out my Antique Ace Of Spades and Create An Old Envelope tutorials for some good ideas on this.

  17. mhammed

    August 2nd, 2008 at 11:42 am

    It’s nice,
    I wish you could show the last steps for the old and dirty look.

  18. Rey

    September 20th, 2008 at 3:21 am


  19. ken

    October 8th, 2008 at 7:09 am


  20. Curetonian

    November 5th, 2008 at 3:14 am

    Great tutorial…applied it to Australian NSW plates. very good effect. Much love man.

  21. Thomas | Tutorial King

    December 20th, 2008 at 3:19 am

    Great tutorial, thanks

  22. Kim

    April 25th, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Wow – thanks so much for this! What a great tutorial. I live in Washington so I tweaked it with our design (Mt. Rainier) and just spent a few hours making variations for all my friends. Great job, great site!

  23. chillyweed

    July 17th, 2009 at 10:13 am

    really nice tut

  24. Richie Paul

    July 30th, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Excellent tutorial! I made mine into my site logo. Thanks for sharing,

    Richie Paul

  25. Rene

    August 23rd, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    Thank you very much! I really enjoyed this tut.

  26. moulik

    September 4th, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    its really really good tutorial that i have so far.
    but i have a question? that how did you change the color for gradient and background. for example your codes ( #788e9e to #263744) how do you change those.

  27. HERO

    September 8th, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    MOULIK, You set the foreground and background colors by clicking on the swatches at the bottom of the Tools palette. Once the colors are chosen, simply switch to the Gradient tool by pressing the G key, set the tool to Radial Gradient and click and drag onto the stage.

  28. anthony

    September 14th, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    This is great with this i might learn ps in the next 5 years instead of 20

  29. jongjong

    September 15th, 2009 at 12:00 am

    very impressive, i really like it so much. thanks

  30. bighead kyle

    September 24th, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    dude you kill me when i read these things. for me it makes it more interesting to follow these when there is actually humor involved, especially when you mix the humor with very well explained and detailed instructions, not like some of these sites that say draw a rectangle, fill it with gray and add a bevel.

    i about pissed my self when i read.

    “And if I actually owned this vanity plate‚Ķ and a Lotus‚Ķ Shazam!! Our final result.”

  31. evilkitty75

    November 20th, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    LOL YAY my fave tut so far i loved makin this it has my name on it n im well proud of it
    n u make learnin so so much fun thankyou!!!!

  32. Jack C

    December 1st, 2009 at 11:08 pm

    Great tutorial.

  33. yad

    January 25th, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    wow BRo nice oneeeee

  34. sue

    January 25th, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    my first pshero tutorial…
    loved it
    loved the sarcasm more :-)

  35. PSDDude

    February 3rd, 2010 at 6:42 am

    I love it! Very good tutorial!

  36. Sam da man

    February 16th, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    thank you this helped me creat a fake license plate to sneak across the russian border.

  37. HERO

    February 16th, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    SAM DA MAN, So glad I could help you escape.

  38. Salman

    March 5th, 2010 at 4:21 am

    Thanx a lot.Really a nice tutorial.Keep up with doing good things like this.

    Regards from Sri Lanka.

  39. Dawn Farias

    March 29th, 2010 at 8:30 am

    Thanks! I really liked the noise tip.

  40. Jennie

    March 30th, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Wow… you really are my hero. This is such a simple concept, done very well and explained magnificently.

  41. Robb

    April 11th, 2010 at 2:32 pm


    Thanks for the tutorial. I had to make a new mexico plate for work and your instruction made me look like the hero around the office. I did leave out the part that you made easy enough for anyone to do.

  42. Kim

    April 16th, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Do you know where you can find the fonts for other states? Im trying to find a Maryland font for step 12.

  43. galih

    April 16th, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Hey Hero.. very nice tutorial
    but i have problem.. how to use the font?
    i had download but it’s not work?

  44. HERO

    April 21st, 2010 at 10:10 am

    GALIH, You need to install the font once you’ve downloaded it, and on some computers you’ll need to restart Photoshop before it recognizes the new font in the fonts list.

  45. HERO

    April 21st, 2010 at 10:11 am

    KIM, Google baby… Google.

  46. Rhianna

    April 22nd, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    hey, im 16 and still in school, and our teacher told us to research so tut’s and i found yous its very good, and easy to understand and follow so THANKYOU! ive been looking for agers not just for a simple step by step but to get a good end result, again thatnkyou its awsome.

  47. ZonariAn

    April 25th, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    This is my outcome…I didn’t really take the time to do the stickers to make it more realistic…and I might end up doing the grungry/bent version of it later on. Also it’s 1 more letter than is allowed on a license plate, but oh well!

  48. Injected Valley

    May 2nd, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    very nice tutorial, thankx.

  49. Jelle

    May 4th, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    One word: Great. Capital G. Used it for a picture on some sweaters for an exchange project with the US (I’m from Holland). Just wanna express my admiration! Greetings from the Netherlands!

  50. ronaikie

    May 9th, 2010 at 7:03 am

    nice result…. very inspirational tutorials………..

  51. pzuss

    May 26th, 2010 at 12:22 am

    Great site, great tutorial…
    Am I missing something? If the layer opacity is still set to zero, how are the layer effects visible?
    Thanks for making this!

  52. pzuss

    May 26th, 2010 at 12:26 am

    Wait-don’t tell me. I figured it out…
    There’s a difference between layer opacity (on the tippy-top of the layers palette) and fill opacity (directly beneath it).
    Learn something new every day!
    Thanks again!

  53. Axl

    May 29th, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Thank you for this tutorial. I created our own license plate and use it for our next skateboard design.

  54. tedavisi

    June 25th, 2010 at 2:58 am

    thank you very good work

  55. me :P

    July 14th, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    man i love it using the skilles u r teaching here i managed to do license plate of my country that dosent look any the same like urs but u sure need the same skills good work man!!!

  56. Sean

    October 15th, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    I figured it out ! :-)

  57. Sarah

    October 19th, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    YES!! The FILL opacity!! Thank you for that comment! I was stuck, also for teaching the “command click the icon” to select…the selection. I love photoshop, never a dull moment! Your tutorial is easy to follow and lots of fun, thank you for sharing your expertise!

  58. Isaac

    November 30th, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Great tutorial! thanks for sharing.

  59. starlyn

    December 3rd, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    Graxx Amigo eso fue lo mejor explicado que eee leido graxx eres un buen diseñador

  60. Meydad

    December 8th, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    you’re freaking amazing!!!!!
    thank you so much !!

  61. Miguel

    January 30th, 2011 at 4:12 am

    WOW thanx man easy guide to follow

    13 Yrs

  62. ish

    April 11th, 2011 at 3:50 am

    nice One…
    can i use this One as a design in Our reuniOn tarpauLin/banner?

  63. HERO

    April 11th, 2011 at 11:38 am

    ISH, yes, you can use anything you make from my tutorials in your own work.

  64. Iris

    August 16th, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    What version of Photoshop do you recommend for these tutorials?

  65. HERO

    August 17th, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    IRIS, I recommend at least Photoshop CS3 for the tutorials on the site. I upgrade my version each time Adobe releases it, so I’m writing each lesson using the most recent version.