What will Rhode Island's new license plate look like? Your vote can help decide

The next Rhode Island license plate could feature the Newport Bridge, scenes of the coastline or a wave frieze.

The Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles unveiled potential successors to the “wave plate” on Monday, and is encouraging the public to vote on their favorite by March 28.

More than 900 entries were submitted to the DMV's license-plate design contest this winter, and officials winnowed the competition down to just five options.

"They illustrate Rhode Island’s independent spirit, each in a different way," said Gov. Dan McKee.

Two designs feature the Claiborne Pell Bridge, informally known as the Newport Bridge. One has Goat Island Light in the foreground, while another shows a sailboat cruising by.

Two additional designs play on the classic wave design by incorporating a row of smaller waves — one in pale blues, another in blue and yellow.

A fifth features a more abstract design that resembles the view of Narragansett Bay's coastline as seen when crossing the bridges or flying over in an airplane.

Once a final winner is selected, new plates should begin appearing on the road July 1. They’ll be rolled out gradually over the course of two years: When people with the wave plate renew their registrations, a set of the plates with the new design will be automatically mailed to them.

The wave plate design, which has been in use since 1996, is widely beloved but was supposed to be phased out years ago.

Some of the old wave plates are now so battered that they're impossible to read, which defeats the purpose of issuing license plates.

Issuing new plates on a regular basis makes it easy for police to spot cars whose registrations have expired.

When people don't renew their registrations, it deprives the state and municipalities of needed revenue, DMV administrator Walter R. “Bud” Craddock said on Monday. It can also mean that their cars haven't been inspected and are unsafe.

Want a vanity plate for your vehicle?: See what's already taken in RI

Do you agree with our picks?: We got a list of every vanity plate registered in Rhode Island. Here are some highlights

But the plates also serve as a branding exercise: McKee described them as “a poster for Rhode Island as we travel out of state.”

Only the standard blue wave plate is going away. Electric vehicles will still get the green wave plate.

Drivers who paid extra for other plate designs — like the sailboat or Plum Beach Lighthouse plates — will get to keep theirs.

Parking Tickets: Providence locals irked by bogus parking tickets. Could online appeals ease their woes?

Officials did not name the individuals who designed the five plates that were selected as finalists on Monday. DMV spokesman Paul Grimaldi said the concern was that it would be "a little unfair" to identify all five finalists when only one will make the cut.

However, the creator of the plate that features the Newport Bridge with a sailboat in the foreground was in attendance to see the designs unveiled at the State House. Adam Salomon, of Smithfield, said he’d gotten a sense that he was in the running when the DMV emailed him a few weeks ago to ask for the original file.

“It felt great,” said Salomon, who majored in graphic design but now works primarily in marketing. “I was surprised to be in the top 20, let alone the top five.”

Salomon’s design uses the same font that appears on the blue “Discover Beautiful Rhode Island” highway signs that you see when you’re entering the state.

“The wave plate is iconic, and I’m sad to see it go. I wanted something just as iconic, something that really reflected the state’s beauty,” he said. “I was kind of thinking along the lines of ‘Discover Beautiful Rhode Island’ on the welcome signs, and wanted to kind of match that, since it’s something that people are already familiar with.”

The plate that features a wave motif in two different shades of blue was the work of Willem Van Lancker, a Middletown native who studied graphic design at RISD and now works as head of incubations at investment firm Thrive Capital.

“The design was created as an evolution and update of the current wave plate — building on the recognizable quality of its design while updating elements to create a modern and energetic design,” Van Lancker wrote in a fact sheet shared with The Providence Journal.

The five waves on the plate are intended to represent each of the state’s counties, Van Lancker said. While echoing the design of the existing plate, the typography and colors “have been updated with more personality and energy to reflect our era.”

While previous plates were embossed with raised numbers and manufactured at the Adult Correctional Institutions, the new plates will be digitally printed by 3M and completely flat. The five finalists were selected in part because they met the recommended readability and visibility standards for flat plates.

The panel that selected the finalists included Craddock, assistant DMV administrator Chuck Hollis, and the DMV's chief of safety and emission control.

"So it was all done internally," Craddock said.

The initial response on social media was not enthusiastic: Some Rhode Islanders complained that the muted designs were boring and uninspired, and lacked the distinctiveness of the wave plate.

"Let’s see what the majority of the state says," Craddock said, when asked about the criticism.

Who's watching you?: New surveillance cameras make inroads in RI, raising privacy concerns

How to vote for the next Rhode Island license plate

Voting will take place at https://appengine.egov.com/apps/ri/DMV/contestvote. You can vote more than once, and voting will close at 11:59 p.m. on March 28.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: RI license plate design competition continues DMV unveils 5 finalists