Are 3D number plates legal in UK? What are 3D gel and 4D plates - law change and new rules explained

This is what the latest change in number plate law means for shading, raised gel and laser cut acrylic characters

The start of March has brought new number plates to British roads as the ‘22’ mark appears on new cars registered after the first of the month.

While many drivers will be happy just to have the latest number on their car, others like to take things further, with a personalised registration number or customised plate to make their car stand out.

While both of these are popular options, the law on number plates changed in late 2021 introducing a new standard for their production and setting out new rules on so-called 3D and 4D plates, which have caused confusion.

What are the changes to the law?

The new regulations on number plates require any new plates - whether fitted to a new car or to replace plates on an old car - must comply with British Standard BS AU 145e.

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This requires the plates to be made from more durable material and to pass more stringent durability tests, including a new abrasion test to ensure they can withstand damage from road debris such as salt and grit.

The new regulations also ban the use of two-tone finishes to create 3D effects, in an effort to make it easier for ANPR cameras to pick up the registration number.

So, are 3D/4D number plates illegal?

Despite the changes, there is not a complete ban on 3D number plates.

Responding to a petition to stop the “ban” on 3D plates, the Government said: “The new British Standard for retroreflective number plates does not state that number plates with raised characters, including 3D gel and 4D number plates, will not be permitted.”

The new rules state that all lettering on a number plate must be the same uniform shade of black. This effectively bans the use of shading, where different shades of black or colour are used to give 2D characters a 3D look.

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A truly 3D/4D plate with gel-coated or laser-cut raised characters is legal as long as the characters are a single shade of black on all faces and the plate complies with all other regulations in terms of font, size and spacing.

The regulations also only apply to new plates, so drivers who have previously fitted plates with two-tone lettering can continue to use them, as long as they comply with all other existing regulations around reflectiveness, letter sizing and spacing.

What is the fine for illegal number plates?

The penalty for driving with illegal number plates has not changed.

Failure to display a number plate or displaying a plate that doesn’t meet the correct standard carries a fine of up to £1,000.

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Vehicles with a non-compliant plate will also fail their MOT.

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