1994 - 1999: In October 1993 there was a major change in Italian plates: they are now made of just one part, still in black on reflective white, with the seal in the middle as you can see in the first two pictures.
But the most important difference is the new numbering system, totally different from the previous one. The origin code isn't present any more, but the plate has got 7 digits arranged in this way: AA 000 AA. All digits are serial, issued increasing the number of three digits up to 999, then increasing alphabetically the word of four letters, taken as if the three digits don't exist: ACGY, ACGZ, ACHA, ACHB... and so on. Of course, when a letter is increased, the number starts from 000 to 999 again. So, every configuration of four letters gives 1,000 numberplates and as 22 letters (I, O, Q and U are skipped) are used, there are 22 x 22 x 22 x 22 x 1,000 = 234,256,000 possible configurations of numberplates. It is estimated to have unique numberplates for about 60 years.
Even if the origin code is not written directly on the plates, there are some techniques to understand where the car is from looking the 4 letters of the plate because the plates are distributed in groups to the various provinces (usually 5000 plates). For instance, Roma has got plates from ABHK to ABKC (from ZA 7xx CY to ZA 4xx DC), from ACRL to ACXX (from ZA 6xx FW to ZA 5xx GJ), from AGHF to AGSW (from ZA 3xx PY to ZA 2xx RV) and others. In the site www.targheitaliane.com you can find some useful tables with the correspondence between numbers and provinces.
Back plates can be made of one or two lines, as you can see in the pictures (front plates are always made of one single line). For back plate arranged in two lines (picture 11), the numbering starts from ZA 000 AA, going on with the same technique. At the beginning these "Z-plates" were a tenth of plates on one single line and are given to the provincial DMV offices together: ZA 0xx AA is distributed with AA xxx AA, ZA 1xx AA with AA xxx AB, ZA 2xx AA with AA xxx AC and so on. Later, this rule was abandoned and on the site www.targheitaliane.com there are some tables also for the corrispondence between the "Z-plates" and the provinces.
Daniele Berti wrote me that in the 8 new provinces created in 1992 (see table) the old-style license plates (about 20.000 of them for each province were made) started being issued only at the begin of 1994 and it was possible to choose which kind of plate you wanted, the old or the new, until 1998, independently from the available stocks. This is also confirmed by an article printed on the "Corriere della Sera" on April 1994 that Marcello Taverna sent me: the writer talks just about the province of Lodi, but actually the same happened also in the other provinces. If you want to read it (it's in Italian) click here.
Picture 1: 1994-1999 on 1 line
Picture 2: 1994-1999 on 2 lines
Many people didn't like the lack of the origin code on license plates, so attached some blue stickers, like those officially introduced later in 1999 (see below). They are of all kinds and quite common: click here to see some of them.
1999 - Today: As I said, a lot people didn't like the lack of the provincial code on the previous kind of plates, so this was added again at the beginning of 1999 without changing the numbering system (decree of the President of the Italian Repubblic n.355 of September the 4th, 1998). As you can see in the last two pictures, the new plates have got two blue stripes on the lateral sides: on the left there is the 12 stars of the European Community with the letter I of Italy. On the right there is, on top the year of the registration of the car (and this can be different from the year of issue of the plate; for this reason you can see plates with the year smaller than 99) and on the bottom the origin code as it was in the past (see table). The origin code is on a sticker so it can be changed easily if the car is sold or re-registered. Due to the blue stripes these plates are about an inch wider than the previous ones and the space between the numbers and the last two letters was removed, making the plate a bit less readable. The new sizes are:
Actually, the origin code does not show where the car is from, but where it was registered because you can register a car wherever you want. Anyway in most cases it is your own province.
The blue stripes were introduced starting with the number BB 000 HH, issued in Varese, for the plates with only one line and about with the number ZA 400 LV for those with two lines.
Picture 3: 1999-Today on 1 line
Picture 4: 1999-Today on 2 lines
From January the 1st, 2003 it will be possible to have vanity plates also in Italy, choosing the letters and the numbers. Anyway the format of these plates will have to be the same of the actual plates, AA 000 AA, so you won't be able to write your name on the plate. They will be issued at a higher price and only if not already used on another vehicle.