This idea came to me over the summer as I was getting ready for the upcoming school year. I was making a list of potential fundraising ideas that I could pitch to my robotics/engineering club and I saw an awesome looking front license plate on a car. I figured the club could use our laser cutter and CNC router to make up some custom school license plates that we could sell at sporting events. My first idea was to use wood or wood veneer to create some cool looking, one of a kind school spirit license plates. But, when I saw the Plastics Contest was running I thought that would be a good excuse as any to try out my idea. So, I bought some plastic and got to designing.
Instead of designing specifically school related license plates I thought it would be fun to create a few license plates that I could switch in and out throughout the year. With Halloween right around the corner I decided to start with a ghostly design, which is the one I detail here.
If you live in a state where you have to have a state issued plate on the front of your vehicle you could use the same process to make some neat looking signs.
Step 1: Equipment and Materials List
- Design Software
- Laser Cutter
- Sheets of plastic (I used 1/8" thick acrylic)
- Glue that can be use on on plastics
Step 2: Measure Old Plate
Before I could start designing my own I needed to know the size of a standard license plate. I went out to my truck and removed the old front plate that was put on when I bought the thing. I used a ruler to measure the overall size and the hole locations and then recorded those measurements to use later when I made my design using CAD software. The license plate was 12 inches long by 6 inches high which I imagine is the standardized size for all United States license plates.
If you are going to make a custom license plate for yourself I would still recommend measuring a plate from your vehicle to make sure the size and hole locations are accurate and will work and look the way you want.
Step 3: Design
I took the measurements from my front license plate and created a simple license plate outline using design software that we have for our CNC router. I searched the internet to find a free to use vector image of a ghost and then used the software to trace the outline of that image. I needed to do a little clean up of the ghost after using the trace command in the software but not much. I'm not currently very skilled using photo editing software, but if you want to use a more complicated image/outline you may have to prepare your picture in that type of software first. After I had my ghost outline ready to go, I simply added my text and found a font I liked. With my ghost and text sized and placed on my license plate design I exported the entire layout to a DXF format and headed to my laser cutter.
I've included the the blank license plate and the Halloween themed license plate designs in DXF files. Feel free to use and edit them for your own ideas.
Step 4: Laser Time
I imported my DXF Halloween license plate file into the software for our laser cutter. My license plate will be a double layer of plastic. The back layer will be just a scrap clear piece of plastic that I can glue my front layer of colored plastic to. I engraved the license plate design onto the clear plastic first to help with getting all the final pieces lined up correctly during glue up. The main color of my Halloween design will be black. So, next I cut out the entire design from black plastic. I had to be sure when I was removing my black plastic parts from the laser cutter not lose track of any of the small parts, like the ghosts eyes and mouth or the interior parts of letters. I will need those small black pieces to fill in openings for my final design. I finished off my laser cutting with the ghost from white plastic and the "BOO" from clear orange plastic.
If you are using your own design with your own color scheme make sure you have your plan ready before cutting so you don't waste your plastic. I also think you could use all one color/type of plastic and then paint each piece of plastic the color you want after it has been cut out.
Step 5: Glue Up
With all parts cut out, it's time to start gluing all the pieces together. I made sure to separate, organize, and lay out all the plastic pieces I needed for my design first. I found it easiest to glue my pieces down in order of biggest to smallest. I began by gluing my front black pattern to the back clear plastic piece, making sure that my holes are lined up and all the edges are flush. If all your holes are aligned and edges are flush your ghost and letters openings should be in line with the engraved outlines on the clear plastic.
I used super glue to hold the plastic together. When I had all the pieces glued and in place I put some weight on top and I left the pieces to set and cure over night. I think the super glue I used was probably set and ready in about an hour, but I wanted to be sure since this was going to be placed on the front of my truck.
Step 6: Drive in Style!
Take your newly made license plate out to your vehicle and install it on the front of your car. Now go drive around in style and take in all the impressed and envious stares of passersby!
If you make a license plate for yourself, let me know!
Enjoy creating and learning!