Pay attention and take notice of auto license plates in Arizona. The surfaces of many have been falling apart – down to the metal. The four mountain peaks, setting (or rising) sun, various cactus and words “Grand Canyon State” have been fading, literally falling apart and disappearing from the landscape on the plates. The license plate numbers/letters and “Arizona” tend to be all that’s left.

Sometimes you see the thin film peeling off and waving in the breeze. With the loss of the sealant over the images, the scenery is wiped out by the blazing, brutal Arizona sun and heat.

These are a generation of older plates produced more than seven years ago, said Ryan Harding, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation. They failed the test with an unfriendly environment. 

The plates were stamped (embossed) onto aluminum so the numbers were raised and the art work applied.

The state quit making them and change to a different kind of license. 

 The plates for more than a half-dozen years have been printed. The numbers, letters and images are printed on aluminum and are flat. Nothing is raised or embossed. In some cases, these even crack and peel and start to deteriorate.

The plates ADOT issues now use a digital plate-making technology. The thermal transfer ribbon process is a printing method in which plate numbers and designs are printed onto a large roll of white reflective vinyl sheeting. Heat is applied to print the images onto the vinyl surface using multiple color ribbons to the desired color or design effect, according to an ADOT web site:

“The machine that does this can print about 1,100 plates onto one roll of vinyl, which, by the way, has an adhesive backing,” the article says. “After the vinyl is printed, it’s rolled up again (by the machine). That roll then heads over to the blanking line that feeds the vinyl through a system that simultaneously peels away the backing to reveal the adhesive while pressing it only a large roll of aluminum substrate sheeting.” The reader might think of it as a “big roll of stickers getting pressed onto some metal.” After that, the sheeting is cut into rectangular plates, boxed up and sent to MVD locations

 Plates that have lost their art work entirely gives plates a total sterile look. Arizonans with flaky plates are requested to go to a Motor Vehicle Division center and turn in the plates for new flat, printed ones. It’ll cost $5, Harding said.

As you probably know, our license plates are produced by inmates at the Arizona State Prison at Florence.

Some of us still have the maroon Arizona plates with white lettering from the 1980s. They well reflect light at night and don’t deteriorate. Sometimes we even see another plate still on cars, dating to the 1970s, the orange plate with green numbers and prominent “Grand Canyon State” message.