Iowa License Plates

Whether you’re looking to rock your college colors or support a non-profit, here are the best license plates you can get in Iowa.
Written by Shannon Fitzgerald
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
Once you register your vehicle in
Iowa
, you can choose to customize your license plates with designs ranging from special causes to school mascots. In fact, Iowa has 63 different license plate designs to choose from—giving drivers plenty of flair to add to their vehicle. 
License plates may primarily serve as identification purposes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t look cool while they do so! Luckily, with so many design options to choose from, Iowa drivers from
Sioux City
to
Dubuque
can tote their license plate numbers (and letters) in style. 
To give you a little guidance on the best license plate designs Iowa has to offer, we've outlined your options. From military branch logos to an iconic “blackout” plate, here’s everything you need to know about Iowa license plates.  
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What are Iowa license plates and why do I need them? 

Essentially, license plates are unique ID tags for your vehicle that let law enforcement and other organizations know who the vehicle is registered to. In Iowa, you’re required by law to have a license plate on both the front and rear of your vehicle in order to legally drive. 
License plates are not solely useful for sussing out drivers’ registration statuses or catching speeders on the highway, though. They can also come in handy when determining fault after an accident or when searching for a vehicle that was stolen. 
That said, since you do need to have two license plates in Iowa, it’s worth looking into what design options you have for them. Let’s take a look! 

What license plates does Iowa have? 

You can select one of the following license plate designs if you’re registered to drive in Iowa: 
  • Standard
    —also known as the “county standard,” this design is the classic white, green, blue, and black city/country design you’ll see most often on the road. 
  • Specialty
    —these pricier designs change the backdrop of the license plate altogether, featuring different colors either for a cause or aesthetic. 
  • College/University
    —these plates come in school colors and promote the college or university in both the top and bottom banner. 
  • Military service
    —military members can receive either a decal or a red and white design featuring their military branch or awarded medals. 
  • Decal
    —standard plates can be amped up by placing decals on the left side that typically promote a cause or special interest. 
  • Start-up
    —Iowa offers some special plates that will only be produced if they reach at least 250 orders first.  
If you order plates that are not standard issue, you usually have the option to purchase them
by mail
, and in some cases,
online
. You can always complete the transaction at your local county treasurer’s office, as well. There will generally be an initial fee for special plates, with an annual registration renewal charge—this fee varies by design, but tends to run higher for personalized plates (rather than standard numbered plates). 

Standard license plates 

The standard blue, green, white, and black Iowa license plate comes free of charge when you register your vehicle. Known as the “county standard,” this design features “Iowa” at the top and your county’s name on the bottom with a silhouette of the city and the country. 
The county standard license plate was recently revamped from its similar blue, white, and black 1998 design, which also featured the county name at the bottom, but with a different city/country backdrop. Though this older license plate is no longer in circulation, it’s still viable on the road. 
License plates in Iowa are automatically replaced after 10 years to maintain reflectivity and clarity. Therefore, county standard plates with the 1998 design will eventually phase out as they’re replaced by the “city and country reboot.” 

Specialty license plates 

  • Blackout Design—The blackout plate puts the standard plate wording (in white) on a pure black backdrop. Changing personalized plates to the blackout design costs $60 initially ($15 each renewal) and can only be done through a
    mail-in form
    . Exchanging standard plates for blackout plates (or purchasing them for the first time) costs $35 ($10 each renewal). Numbered plates will receive a different number/letter combo during the exchange, available to pick up from your county treasurer’s office within 3-6 weeks.  
  • Flying Our Colors—This design features a red, white, and blue license plate with a bald eagle backdrop. Numbered plate purchase fees cost $35 initially ($10 per renewal) and go to a flood mitigation fund. Personalized plates will cost $60 initially ($15 each renewal). Use the same
    mail-in form
    to apply. 
  • Natural Resources—Available with a deer, goldfinch, eagle, pheasant, or trout backdrop, this design’s fees go toward the Iowa Resources Enhancement and Protection Fund. You can order them
    online
    or with the
    mail-in form
    (numbered plates can only be purchased at the county treasurer’s office, though). Numbered plates cost $45 initially ($25 per renewal) and personalized plates cost $90 initially ($30 per renewal). 
  • Firefighter—Current or retired volunteer or paid firefighters can purchase a special red firefighter Iowa license plate. These plates are not available as personalized plates, but you can apply for a numbered plate from your fire chief. It will cost $25 initially, which will go toward the Paul Ryan Memorial Firefighter Safety Training fund. 
You can also purchase numbered (non-personalized) specialty plates (except for the Firefighter plates) as a gift through the county treasurer’s office. In this case, a gift certificate for the license plate will be mailed to the purchaser. 

College and university license plates

You can order plates representing an Iowa college or university regardless of whether you are enrolled in the school yourself. All you need to do is complete a
mail-in form
, and pay a $25 initial fee ($5 renewal fee) for numbered plates or a $50 initial fee ($5 renewal fee) for personalized plates. You can also upgrade a standard numbered plate to a college or university license plate
online.
 
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Military service license plates

Current and former military members and recipients of special military honors can purchase an Iowa license plate with decals designating their branch or honor. 
Here are just a few examples of military plates available: 
  • Soldier’s Medal 
  • Purple Heart 
  • Medal of Honor—for the Air Force, Army, or Navy 
  • Ex-Prisoner of War 
  • Iowa National Guard 
  • Veteran
  • Pearl Harbor 
  • Gold Star 
To order one, you will need to either send in either a copy of the DD 214 designating your dates of service or a military document confirming your retirement. You will additionally need to send in official government or military correspondence verying any awards, honors, or medals if applying for a plate featuring a special honor. You can apply using the
Special Plate mail-in application
Numbered military plates are free initially, with subsequent sets costing $25 and annual renewals costing $5 (and going toward the Veterans License Fee Fund). Personalized military plates will cost $25 initially ($5 per renewal) with second or subsequent sets costing $50.  

Decal license plates

Decal license plates support specific organizations and feature that organization’s logo on the left of your license plate’s numbers. These will cost $35 initially for numbered licenses ($10 per renewal) and $60 for personalized licenses ($15 per renewal). You typically must apply for a decal license plate at the county treasurer’s office. 
To give you an idea of which causes you can support on your plates, here are just a handful of options: 
  • Breast Cancer Awareness
  • Education(proceeds go toward the school budget review committee)
  • Iowa Ag Literacy, FFA & 4-H
  • Donate Life 
  • Iowa Heritage
If you run an Iowa-licensed non-profit organization yourself and you would like to create a decal license plate—you can request an application by emailing
dot.plates@iowadot.us
or calling the Office of Vehicle & Motor Carrier Services at 515-237-3110

Start-up license plates

Interestingly, Iowa offers six license plate designs that will only be available once 250 start-up orders have been received. 
Currently, these are as follows: 
  • Civil War Sesquicentennial plate 
  • Combat infantryman badge plate 
  • Combat action badge plate 
  • Combat action ribbon plate 
  • Airforce combat action medal plate 
  • Combat medical badge plate 
As of now, none of these designs have received enough start-up orders to be manufactured. If you’re interested in viewing the designs and order count, you can take a look for yourself on
Iowa DOT’s website
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How do I get an Iowa license plate? 

Of course, you can always go with the standard county numbered plate for free simply by
registering your vehicle
You can do so at any Iowa county treasurer’s office. You’ll need to have the following:
To estimate how much your registration might cost, you can use Iowa DOT’s registration fee calculator. 
If you’ve already registered your vehicle, you can apply for your specialized and/or personalized plates at any time. You can also do so while renewing your registration—which can be done
online
in most cases. 

How to customize your car insurance savings in Iowa

Whether you choose to go for that sleek blackout plate or decide to keep the reliable county standard, you can always customize your car insurance savings by downloading
Jerry
The app is free to use, and with a little information, instantly analyzes quotes from over 55 top insurers to pinpoint the best rates for your individual coverage needs. 
See a plan you like? Just select it through the app and Jerry’s
expert brokers
will help handle the transition calls and paperwork—they can even cancel your old policy for you! 
You don’t have to worry about the usual hassles of car insurance comparison shopping either—Jerry will never sell your information to sales machines, and we’ll never bug you with calls ourselves unless you ask for one. 
The average user ends up saving more than $800 a year on car insurance, so it’s definitely worth a look to keep your car (and its cool new license plates) covered for less. 
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is the future of car insurance! I downloaded the app, entered the information, picked my insurance rate, and paid my fee. I even switched insurance providers easily! Jerry saved me $182/month so quickly!” —Paulina F.
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FAQs

Iowa has approximately 63 license plate designs on the road—though some may no longer be in production.
Yes—Iowa law requires drivers to have both a front and rear license plate in order to legally drive.
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