Plate Printing Systems

Before looking to purchase your 2D number plate printing equipment, it’s important to know the difference between the two types of number plate printing systems available.

Learn About Number Plate Printing Systems

Laser Number Plate Printing Systems

These systems use modified laser printers in order to print on to a thin acetate style sheet in reverse. This sheet is then stuck on to a sticky reflective yellow or white plastic. The advantage of laser number plate making systems is that you can occasionally print in colour, and can also print in 3D, carbon fibre and hi-line effects.

The disadvantage of the laser number plate manufacturing system is that you must use original toners (from the original manufacturers such as OKI, Brother etc) that cost roughly £100 each. If it’s a colour printer, then that’s around £400 in ink costs alone. Laser systems are also temperamental and can give erratic prints, occasionally missing large blotches of the print from the clear acetate. You cannot then run the acetate through the number plate printer a second time. Also, the “black” colour on the laser printers is not quite truly black and can look shaded in certain lights.

The biggest disadvantage of the laser number plate printing system is that you only have a thin acetate sheet protecting the black characters from the elements. Stone chips can therefore cause problems, and you will often see wrinkled number plates on relatively new cars. The cost of the materials for the laser systems are usually greater than the cost of the alternative thermal systems.

Thermal Number Plate Printer Systems

Thermal printers use a thermal roll that puts true black material on to the surface of the reflective film. The process involves putting a reflective material into the printer, which is either yellow or white, printing the vehicle registration mark (VRM) on to the reflective, and then laminating the reflective using a 3mm modified clear acrylic sheet which is “wet” or “sticky”. These two parts are then run through a number plate roller, or a jig, to ensure a permanent bond.

The advantages of the thermal systems are many. The cost of the 300mm thermal roll is around £25 and will print around 575 number plates. This equates to around £0.04 per print. The prints are usually perfect and any minor imperfections can be filled in easily using a a black sharpie. The greatest benefit of thermal systems are the quality of the finished product and the lower cost of the materials.  The components for one number plate cost around £2.30 plus VAT.

The disadvantage of thermal printers is that they are usually only able to print in black ink, and the majority of them will only print on to standard oblong number plates (520mm x 110mm), or smaller. Colour thermal number plate printers are available, as are thermal printers for larger number plates, but their costs are astronomical.

It’s important to note that the software for both systems is usually the same.