Colorful Unicorn License Plate Art

This week’s commission is something very different than what I ordinarily do. This is the first time I have ever painted on a license plate!  This was a special request for a friend, and is definitely a one-off; I will not be offering license plate paintings in the future. The request was for a license plate with a unicorn painted on it. They wanted the unicorn running in front of a sunset with stars and clouds, and include a gradient of teal, blue, purple and pink in the mane and tail. They live in a state where they are only required to have one license plate on their vehicle, so the front plate can be decorative. This is the first time that I recall having painted a unicorn, and I would certainly be open to painting them again in the future! A larger version of the painting can be seen in my Portfolio Gallery.

The Process

This license plate art was created with acrylic paints on a heavy gauge 1mm thick aluminum license plate. it was completed on April 22, 2021. Normally, license plate art is created with airbrush or enamel paints, but I chose to do it with acrylic paints since that is what I had on hand. I purchased a blank license plate that is solid white on one side and solid black on the other. These are typically used for sublimation printing, air brushing, vinyl decorations, or spray paint. In order to paint on it with acrylic paints, the plate had to be prepped. Acrylic paints do not adhere to glossy smooth surfaces, and the surface of the license plate was very glossy and shiny, so it needed to be sanded and primed.  I sanded the surface with 220 and 320 grit sandpapers until it was matte in texture. Then I sprayed the surface with several layers of spray gesso, which provided a textured surface so that the paint could stick.

unicorn license plate

The license plate with the sketch transferred. The end painting is a bit different than the original sketch!

Once that was dry, I was able to start the painting as I usually do. I transferred my sketch to the plate with graphite paper, and painted the background first. It is very difficult to tell, but the orange and pink areas of the background are actually painted with fluorescent paints; so those areas of the painting in real life are much lighter and brighter than in the photograph of it that you can see on this website. The mane, tail, and fringes on the hooves of the unicorn were painted with a gradient of teal, light blue, light purple, and pink, which waves of darker colors for the shading in the hairs. For the body I used light and medium blue and purple for the shading, and then overlaid it with pearlescent paint, which can only be seen on the real life painting. The horn and hooves were painted with silver metallic paint. I also added some glitter paint to the mane, tail, and hoof fringes of the unicorn, which also cannot really be seen in the image. It was allowed to dry for several days, then coated with several layers of a UV protectant varnish. I advised the customer to put a clear license plate protector over it since it will be put on the car.

All around this was an interesting and challenging project, and a nice change of pace from the pet portraits that I typically paint. I would like to paint more fantasy creatures in the future, and adding a unicorn to my portfolio is definitely a plus.