Introduction: Create a License Plate Map

You have probably seen the poster prints you can buy for $60 that are just a sheet of paper. Searching "license plate map" will give you and idea of what they are and what they sell for. The idea is you are making a map by cutting the states shape out of a license plate from that state.

For the one I used, I tried to get some of the older license plates with interesting art stamped in them. The one I made was done quite a few years ago and I have seen other replicas posted around. There is no real hard trick to doing it. You can start some test runs by picking up a bunch of plates from a junk yard or a auto swap meet.

What you will need:

License plates! - I went a little exotic with them. I got a plate from every state, and tried to pick years that actually have art on them. Wyoming, Louisiana, Georgia, they all have neat items stamped into them. This is going to be the preference that affects the cost. You can find plates for $1 (or even free) up to $100. States like TX and CA may require more than one. Small states like Mass and R.I. wouldn’t even show up, so I just used left over chips from other states with the initial on them. If you want just the states name, I’d suggest eBay. They are listed by state. Check local junk yards. You will probably have one from your own state. Montana and Tennessee are the only states I have seen with the shape of the state on them. You will need one to scale your project.

Tools – Tin snips and a file or stone. The quality of the tin snips will depend on the plates selected. Most modern ones are thin steel or even aluminum. Plates from the 70’s and older can be harder steel. Plates in the 20’s can be porcelain, but they are so expensive, I wouldn’t suggest using them. They would need a band saw to cut. They make tin snips in a straight cut, right cut and left cut. I used straight ones.

Printer – preferably that can print 17x11. Most standard plates are bigger than 8.5x11. The majority of the states can be done on 8.5x11.

Digital file of a map – I downloaded a simple black and white picture of the US. White with Black dotted lines and the states names.

Photo editor – just one that you can scale. I did this all with MS paint.

Gloves for sharp metal edges, scissors, tape, sharpie

Nails or liquid nails (I suggest nails), drill and drill bit just a tad smaller than the nails.

Step 1: GATHERING THE STATES

This is where your creativity and budget takes hold. It took me about a year to round them all up. I was picky, if you just want the map, you can use any license plates. You can buy lots on eBay or Amazon. There are forums where you can trade them as well. It still costs to ship them. My next one will be on a budget. I'm going to see how cheap I can round them up.

Step 2: PROJECT OVERVIEW

Getting Started – You will need to know how big you want your result. The Montana 1967 plate has the shape of the state on it. I used this to define the scale. The one shown at the beginning is about 4'x2.5' tall. This makes a fairly large final product. I took the digital map and trimmed out everything but Montana. Save it as a separate file, you will need to re-use the map file for all the states. I now have a digital pic of just Montana. I printed it at %100 and It was too small. I adjusted the scale until I printed one that exactly laid over the outline of Montana on the 1967 plate. I eventually settled on %135. This makes the printed Montana piece the exact size of their plate. You only need this for the scale ratio. You now need to repeat this 50 times for all the other states. Digitally Trim out the state you want, scale it and then print.

The next step may be optional. If you use semi-transparent
paper, you can see what your printed map shape will cover. I did not, so I cut each paper state out. This allowed me to position the cut area where I got the best piece of plate. Once that is decided, tape it down and trace the paper state onto the state’s plate. Repeat 50 times.

Step 3: TRIM YOUR PLATES

Start snipping!

This is going to be the bulk of the work. If you’ve ever used tin-snips, they really like to cut straight lines. Don’t try to cut into corners or coves. Cut straight lines and keep trimming material away. Take your scaling (or starting) state. Begin with the states around it. Your cuts won’t be perfect, but as long as they match the next state, no one will notice…unless they are from there. Once you get one state cut, lay out the traced ones next to it and adjust your trace lines as needed.

You will end up with a lot of scraps. I just threw out the tiny ones, but kept things that had neat art on them or letters for another project. I also kept plate letters for mine and my wife's name to frame later.

Repeat 50 times.

Step 4: BUILD YOUR FRAME

When all your states are laid out, you can get an idea of how big the frame is. You can use barn wood, weathered siding, pallet wood or whatever suits your taste or matches your interior. I'm not going into huge details on frame building. I cut up pallet strips, thinned them down a bit in my planer, and fastened them together with more pallet strips. I also cut the pallet strips down to make a border frame.

I have to apologize for the lack of completed pics. The photos were deleted, and I wanted to publish this. Its my first Instructable, and hopefully can add some more 'done' photos in an update.

Step 5: ADDING YOUR STATES

It helps to lay them all out on your frame to center them. Once you have them where you are happy, pick a state in the center and start mounting. My first attempt was with liquid nails. Unfortunately, this didn't hold well to oxidized metal plate backs. I roughed some plates up a bit with a stone bit in my drill, but in the end, settled on small nails. A few of the plates are thick metal. I couldn't pound a nail into them, but I found my tiniest drill bit made a hole to start the nail. I wanted to hide them, so I painted several tips to match the state, or used white nails where they could fade into the background. Since most holes in the wood are hidden, you won't hurt anything if you need to adjust their position.

Step 6: HANG YOUR MAP!

This will be heavier than most common pictures/posters. Hang with appropriate mounting hardware. I would suggest using lag bolts into studs and adding safety wire. Anything heavy can pull out of drywall, or be bumped off and fall.

Your other option? Sell it! Typically people do Instructables for their own enjoyment. I've seen these maps for sale from $3000 to $5000. I didn't add up what it cost me, but I did it to decorate my walls, not for profit.

Comments

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peterinslo made it!(author)2015-01-28

Hi your map looks great. I was wondering what map you used to get all the states to the correct scale and look good. This is the biggest problem I am running into creating my map.

Thank you

author
seamster made it!(author)2014-10-08

This is excellent, and would get a ton of attention if you added some photos of the finished project. Some info about how you mounted these, built the frame, etc., would be wonderful to see.

author
bmalek made it!(author)2014-10-14

We're expecting twins in Dec and the room it went in is now packed in the attic. I was going to put it in the garage, but I paint a lot in there.

author
seamster made it!(author)2014-10-14

Ah well! This is a project I would love to tackle, so I'd better start collecting the plates. Thanks for the great idea!