For many of us, the idea of a stylised private number plate is very appealing. If you’re going to splash out on this kind of customisation, though, it’s important to make sure it still sits within the legal requirements.

From fonts, size, spacing, and where on your car it needs to sit, there are several variables when it comes to making sure your number plate is right. Here, we’ll give you the latest on the laws on number plates, why we need them, and how to adhere to the rules.

Why do we need number plates?

Whatever you think of how a number plate looks, they’re vital to road safety. Each one is registered with the DVLA, and acts as a way to identify your car. Although it might sound like it, your number plate isn’t set in stone. Below, we’ll explain the law around number plates.

For a more informative breakdown of where number plates came from, including what each figure represents, have a look at our sister blog post: ‘Why Do Cars Have Number Plates?

Custom number plate laws

Are carbon number plates legal?

Carbon fibre number plates are a stylised form of number plate that became quite popular in recent years. As of September 2021, however, they were made illegal in the UK.

Carbon fibre number plates use a carbon fibre appearance on the lettering to appear 3D. 3D number plates, however, are different. These use a gel-type font that give a raised impression on the number plate, and are physically raised. Either way, due to the new specifications by the DVLA on what colours are permitted on a number plate, neither raised 3D nor carbon fibre plates are legal in the UK.

Are 4D number plates legal?

Although similar to the 3D or carbon fibre number plate, 4D plates are slightly different, and these ones are legal on British roads.

4D number plates are typically made of acrylic or aluminium, and are three dimensional characters that are then attached to the plate, rather than printed on. The website explains that you can have ‘raised (3D) characters’, as well as certain flags, symbols and identifiers to give your vehicle an added customisation detail.

Do I need a front number plate?

You might think it’s only important for the cars behind you to be able to see your number plate, or that cameras only need one plate to pick up your vehicle. According to UK law, however, you do need both a front and back number plate to be road legal.

Your front and back number plates need to be different colours so that at a glance, other road users can easily see whether your vehicle is moving towards or away from them. The rear number plate needs to be yellow, as yellow does not cause glare for the driver behind you. Therefore, your front number plate should be white with a black font.

What font and size should my number plate be?

The standard, legal font to be used on number plates is Charles Wright. While some registration plate dealers offer other fonts to be printed, it’s important to know that Charles Wright is the only legally acceptable number plate font in the UK.

What’s more, you may be able to find number plates with various sizes as well as custom styles. However, since 2001, there has only been one legal font size for number plates. The numbers and letters on your number plate should be 79mm tall and 50mm wide, with 11mm between characters.

What are the penalties for an illegal number plate?

If you’re found with an illegal number plate on your car, you could be fined anywhere up to £1,000. However, a potentially even more cost-worthy and unpleasant result is that the police could seize your vehicle for evidence.

They may take photos of the number plate and return the vehicle to you with a £200 release fee. Alternatively, if they decide to keep hold of it, there’s a storage fee of £20 per day. This can unsurprisingly get pretty costly pretty quickly.

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