A personal license plate, or vanity plate, is a plate bought at a premium and customized to individual taste; it comprises seven letters and/or numbers with the optional addition of either a hyphen or a space. Motorcycle personal license plates contain only five characters, rather than the standard seven for automobiles.
Registry rules and databases differ from state to state. All states engage in an approval process and database registry process that prevents duplicate plates from inundating the process and keeps custom plates tasteful. Thus, if a particular plate has already been claimed, a second request will yield a refusal until the claim on the first plate lapses.
A registration process must be undertaken in order to qualify for a customized license plate. Once the process is complete, the custom plate replaces the assigned default plate and can be affixed to the registered car. Vehicles have to be titled and registered to qualify for custom plates.
Some states demand that custom plates be secured with periodic payments. Others ask only a one-time registration fee, which entitles the owner to the plate requested unless and until they choose to waive their right to it. Plates are typically not filed until payment is completed and registration is done.