Vintage License Plate Restoration:

In Texas, you can use a vintage license plate that matches the year of your classic car or truck as long as you have two plates in good condition with the proper colors. You can register them as either Classic Car which requires you to re-new the plates every year, or as Antique plates which are pro-rated on a five year cycle. Registering them as antique plates only requires one plate on the car (even though you need both of them to be approved at the county tax office) and you do not need a vehicle inspection sticker anymore. As antique plates, you are supposed to only use the car for parades, car shows and club activities, but I have used them on a few of my vehicles for years and the police really have not bothered me when I use the cars for a regular drive around town.
I had a couple of pairs of plates that were in nice condition, but they had a few nicks and dings in them. The county tax office said that for the plates to be approved, that I had to touch them up. I decided to totally repaint them and this is the process that worked the best and looks awesome:
Here is the plate I started with:

Regular paint remover makes quick work of stripping the old paint off:

A wire brush gets all the old paint off:

Small dings can be worked out with a hammer and dolly. Filler may be needed on bigger dents. I used polyester primer to prime the plates:

We now need to paint the plate. The numbers and letters are white so I painted the whole plate white with catalyzed urethane:

When the paint is dry, I applied 5 coats of clear over the white:

When the clear was dry, I applied two coats of black basecoat over the clear:

The next thing to do is to very carefully sand through the black base coat to reveal the white numerals underneath. I use a sanding pad and 1200 grit sandpaper with lots of water:

Since we applied 5 coats of clear, there is no chance of sanding through to the white underneath. Start with one numeral at a time until the edges are as nice as you want them:

When all the numerals are to your liking, you can apply a couple of coats of catalyzed clear over the whole thing. The clear will bring out the shine in the black and the white and protect the whole plate:



Well Known Member
Supporting Member 2
I like the idea of sanding through the black instead of masking or hand painting the numbers and such.


Well Known Member
Supporting Member 5
That's a really clever way to restore those plates.:clap They look great.
That same idea would also work well on things like valve covers and pickup truck tailgates.


And Jim adds more great ideas! I have the vinyl stick ons for my tailgates but that method would have worked. I can see it working great on the old script style valve covers. :clap


Supporting Member 1
They also have shown doing that if you paint the letter color first in laquer and then shooting the body color in enamel second. That way you can wipe the letters clear with enamel reducer and not bother the letter color showing thru.



Well Known Member
Supporting Member 2
Nice job. Do they require the paint to be reflective?
In Washington State the reflective material was not required until 1968. "A 1968 law required that all new license plates be manufactured using reflectorized material. This was to allow easier identification of license plates in the dark."