Restoring license plates

November 1, 2019 | By Staff


In the June 1995 issue of Auto Restorer, there is a story called The Clean Plate Club, and it involves the restoration of license plates. It instructs you to paint the plate in enamel and lacquer and use enamel reducer to wipe off the numbers. Reader Jim Volker says he did this 10 years ago on his ’36 Chevy and ’31 Model A, and they look great. However he recently tried it again, and found that modern enamel reducer wipes off both enamel and lacquer, and he wonders if there is another solution.


I had that same problem recently Phil, and wound up painting my LaSalle plates using a specially mixed rattle-can of the original background color in a single-stage enamel with hardener that I purchased from an automotive paint store, and then letting it cure thoroughly for several days. I then carefully painted on the letters using One Shot Bulletin Enamel, which is available in arts and crafts stores for sign painting.

I also used a maulstick—which is what artists use to steady their hand while painting. You can make one out of a foot-long strip of wooden doorjamb by attaching a drawer pull knob to one end of it. A maulstick works great for resting and steadying your hand while painting. You lift one end with one hand, and use the knob to hold up the other end. And then you rest your painting hand on the stick to help steady it while you paint the numbers.

Use a good quality soft artist’s brush and cotton ear swabs dipped in thinner to clean up your mistakes. You can also use the maulstick as a guide for long straight lines. Just line it up with the number or letter, and run your brush along the stick. Be patient and don’t get discouraged. You can wipe off your mistakes with thinner if necessary.