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Reflective License Plates Technology

Streaming lights on street at night, 3M Reflective License Plat

License plate fabrication materials have progressed over time to offer maximum durability, security and graphic flexibility. Thanks to the advanced retroreflective technology of 3M's license plate sheeting, license plates are more easily visible during both day and night.

3M breakthroughs in retroreflective science have been adopted around the world, which is what makes 3M a trusted industry leader-- providing ingenious solutions to help government agencies succeed. At 3M, we have the innovative technology to develop better license plate materials for better performance.

3M pioneered retroreflective technology development more than 70 years ago and continues to be the leader, meeting the changing visual requirements of motorists of all ages in today's complex and demanding roadway environment. Today, 3M products help improve traffic safety in nearly every country in the world. 3M developed one of the world's largest facilities for testing and demonstrating retroreflective technologies, and maintains a state-of-the-art weathering laboratory whose results are validated through a network of testing facilities worldwide, where our materials are subjected to the greatest extremes of light, heat, cold and moisture found anywhere in the world.

For more information on 3M License Plate Retroreflective technology, please contact us.

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Reflective License Plates Technology

The Evolution of License Plates

Over 100 years ago, in 1901, New York became one of the first states to require license plates on cars. The purpose was simple -- to improve vehicle identification. Massachusetts soon followed suit, becoming the first state to issue license plates to its residents. The very first one issued displayed only a single digit: "1". By the 1950s, the license plate gained a new function -- to serve as a safety device on the road.

Today's license plates are multi-purpose. They serve as a means of visual identification for law enforcement, parking and access control and tolling agencies, but they can also help promote a country, state or national attraction, event or image and even enhance roadway safety.

3M produces materials for attractive license plates that function 24 hours a day to enhance nighttime safety and the legibility of the vehicle identification system. Additionally, 3M offers license plate sheeting with Ensure™ Security Technology including a range of highly secure tamper-resistant security marks that can help authorities assure authenticity, defend against counterfeiting and provide production traceability.


Plate Visibility: Why Retroreflectivity and Luminance Are Key

Reflective License Plates Technology

How well you see and read a plate often depends on the physics behind retroreflectivity and the measure of luminance.

Retroreflective occurs when a surface returns a large portion of a directed light beam to its source. Retroflective materials appear brightest to observers nearest to the light source. The object's brightness depends on the intensity of the light striking the object and the materials it is made of.

Luminance is the physical measurement of the amount of reflected light at the observer's eye. As it relates to drivers and signs, luminance results from a combination of factors including vehicle headlights (as the light source), the reflective sheeting on the sign (as a reflector), and the driver's location (including distance, as well as observation and entrance angles). A change to any of these factors—such as headlight design, reflective sheeting efficiency or sign placement, or road geometry—will affect the resulting sign brightness as perceived by the driver at various points along the approach.


Infrared (IR) Illumination

Most reflective license plates are highly reflective to Infrared, and therefore will be easily identified by ALPR cameras. The use of IR allows for 24/7 operation in almost all weather and lighting conditions, from total darkness to bright sun glare, and greatly improves the overall system accuracy.

Color & Reflectivity

The color overview image is a critical piece of context and also helps to create a solid evidentiary record. It provides the user with immediate context (red sedan) of the situation as opposed to the black and white image of the license plate. Reflective license plates are highly reflective to IR, the use of a dual lens camera with IR allows for 24/7 operation regardless of lighting conditions, and the use of IR greatly improves the overall system accuracy.

The Latest Innovation: HD Sheeting

Though license plate technology has come a long way since the early 1900s, there continues to be challenges-- plates often lose reflectivity over time and ALPR readers often struggle reading plates. 3M's cutting-edge High Definition License Plate Sheeting Series 6700 solves the common problems license plates pose regarding reflectivity and readability.

3M's HD Sheeting is designed for use in the fabrication of multi-year license plates that are highly reflective when viewed both head-on and at entrance angles important for safety and legibility. The backside of the reflective sheeting is pre-coated with a pressure sensitive adhesive, protected by a removable liner, for application to license plate substrates.

HD sheeting with innovative Dynamic Security Script Technology can include a range of highly secure tamper-resistant security marks that have the unique capability of being retroreflective when a light is directed toward it. As a result, elements of the image will be brighter than the general background sheeting.

Additional benefits:

  • More visible from long distances, improving safety
  • More legible from a shorter distance, aiding in accurate vehicle identification
  • Whiter, making it more easily visible during the daytime


Public Safety & Front License Plates

Keeping cars visible on the road—alongside accurate, effective law enforcement -- protects the public good. But some states have begun taking legislative steps to remove the front plate. The real price of losing front license plates is higher than it looks. Learn more about Front License Plates.

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