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Originally published January 23, 2012 at 6:52 PM | Page modified January 23, 2012 at 10:08 PM

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Crimson WSU license plates go on sale; they fund scholarships

New WSU specialty license plates are now available — and they are crimson.

Seattle Times higher education reporter

New Cougar license plate

A pair of new, all-crimson Washington State University plates costs $40, plus the regular licensing and service fees, which vary from county to county. You can buy them now, even if your license plate is unexpired, said Brad Benfield, spokesman for the state Department of Licensing.

To order: Go to www.dol.wa.gov/vehicleregistration/specialdesign.html and follow the directions.

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The most popular specialty car license plate in Washington just went crimson.

Dispensing with fancy graphics and multiple layers of color, Washington State University unveiled a simple red plate with white lettering and the WSU Cougar logo on the right side.

The plate went on sale Monday.

"We wanted to be distinctive, to really stand out," said WSU spokesman Darin Watkins.

The University of Washington is the bigger, older school, but WSU sells more than double the number of plates of its cross-state rival. Last year, Cougs bought 14,309 WSU specialty plates, generating about $350,000 in college scholarship money.

"They are by far the most popular specialty plate in the state," said Department of Licensing spokesman Brad Benfield.

The UW isn't even the second-most popular plate. No. 2 in popularity is the Law Enforcement Memorial, which raises money for the Olympia memorial to law-enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty. Last year, 9,866 of those plates were sold, Benfield said.

The UW comes in third, with 7,047 plates sold last year. Its design includes a purple W over a gold field, and a gray graphic of the UW's seal.

It took nearly two years for WSU to win approval for the all-crimson license plate. The Licensing Department scrutinized the solid color carefully because license plates are the most reflective part of an automobile, and on a dark road they can be an essential piece of safety equipment, Benfield said.

The department wanted to make sure crimson was reflective enough to pass the safety test, and that the contrast was high enough to make the numbers and letters readable to law enforcement, he said.

Washington has 40 different specialty plates, celebrating a range of interests including square dancing, lighthouses, pets and wildlife. They honor firefighters, Pearl Harbor survivors, military and law enforcement. All six of the state's four-year universities and one private university — Gonzaga — have their own specialty license plates

All Washington license plates are made by prisoners at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. They cost an extra $40 to $45. Each sale or renewal of a specialty plate nets $28 for the beneficiary.

Could an all-purple plate be next?

UW spokesman Norm Arkans said that seven years ago the UW approached the Licensing Department with a purple plate design but was told no; at issue was the adhesive used to put the color on the plate, Arkans said.

And the deep purple favored by the Huskies might not be reflective enough.

"It would have to be a lighter shade" than the one worn by the Huskies, Benfield said.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @katherinelong.

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