💢Number Plate Recognition using OpenCV Python

Ankita Patil
8 min readSep 6, 2021


📍Steps involved in License Plate Recognition

1. License Plate Detection: The first step is to detect the License plate from the car. We will use the contour option in OpenCV to detect for rectangular objects to find the number plate. The accuracy can be improved if we know the exact size, color and approximate location of the number plate. Normally the detection algorithm is trained based on the position of camera and type of number plate used in that particular country. This gets trickier if the image does not even have a car, in this case we will an additional step to detect the car and then the license plate.

2. Character Segmentation: Once we have detected the License Plate we have to crop it out and save it as a new image. Again this can be done easily using OpenCV.

3. Character Recognition: Now, the new image that we obtained in the previous step is sure to have some characters (Numbers/Alphabets) written on it. So, we can perform OCR (Optical Character Recognition) on it to detect the number


  • OpenCV: OpenCV is a library of programming functions mainly aimed at real-time computer vision plus its open-source, fun to work with and my personal favorite. I have used version 4.1.0 for this project.
  • Python: aka swiss army knife of coding. I have used version 3.6.7 here.
  • IDE: I’ll be using Jupyter here.
  • Haar cascade: It is a machine learning object detection algorithm used to identify objects in an image or video and based on the concept of ​​ features proposed by Paul Viola and Michael Jones in their paper “Rapid Object Detection using a Boosted Cascade of Simple Features” in 2001. More info
  • Keras: Easy to use and widely supported, Keras makes deep learning about as simple as deep learning can be.
  • Scikit-Learn: It is a free software machine learning library for the Python programming language.

Step 1

Install some Required libraries-

# installing OpenCV
>pip install opencv-python==4.1.0
# Installing Keras
>pip install keras
# Installing Jupyter
>pip install jupyter
# Installing Scikit-Learn
>pip install scikit-learn

Step 2

Setting up the environment!

We’ll start with running jupyter notebook and then importing necessary libraries in our case OpenCV, Keras and sklearn.

let’s import the libraries

#importing openCV
>import cv2#importing numpy
>import numpy as np#importing pandas to read the CSV file containing our data
>import pandas as pd#importing keras and sub-libraries
>from keras.models import Sequential
>from keras.layers import Dense
>from keras.layers import Dropout
>from keras.layers import Flatten, MaxPool2D
>from keras.layers.convolutional import Conv2D
>from keras.layers.convolutional import MaxPooling2D
>from keras import backend as K
>from keras.utils import np_utils
>from sklearn.model_selection import train_test_split

Step 3

Number plate detection:

Let’s start simple by importing a sample image of a car with a license plate and define some functions:

def extract_plate(img): # the function detects and perfors blurring on the number plate.
plate_img = img.copy()

#Loads the data required for detecting the license plates from cascade classifier.
plate_cascade = cv2.CascadeClassifier(‘./indian_license_plate.xml’)
# detects numberplates and returns the coordinates and dimensions of detected license plate’s contours.
plate_rect = plate_cascade.detectMultiScale(plate_img, scaleFactor = 1.3, minNeighbors = 7)
for (x,y,w,h) in plate_rect:
a,b = (int(0.02*img.shape[0]),
int(0.025*img.shape[1])) #parameter tuning
plate = plate_img[y+a:y+h-a, x+b:x+w-b, :]
# finally representing the detected contours by drawing rectangles around the edges.
cv2.rectangle(plate_img, (x,y), (x+w, y+h), (51,51,255), 3)

return plate_img, plate # returning the processed image

The above function works by taking image as input, then applying ‘haar cascade’ that is pre-trained to detect Indian license plates, here the parameter scale Factor stands for a value by which input image can be scaled for better detection of license plate. min Neighbors is just a parameter to reduce false positives, if this value is low, the algorithm may be more prone to giving a misrecognized outputs.

Step 4

Performing some image processing on the License plate.

Now let’s process this image further to make the character extraction process easy. We’ll start by defining some more functions for that.

# Find characters in the resulting images
def segment_characters(image) :
# Preprocess cropped license plate image
img = cv2.resize(image, (333, 75))
img_gray = cv2.cvtColor(img, cv2.COLOR_BGR2GRAY)
_, img_binary = cv2.threshold(img_gray, 200, 255, cv2.THRESH_BINARY+cv2.THRESH_OTSU)
img_erode = cv2.erode(img_binary, (3,3))
img_dilate = cv2.dilate(img_erode, (3,3))
LP_WIDTH = img_dilate.shape[0]
LP_HEIGHT = img_dilate.shape[1]
# Make borders white
img_dilate[0:3,:] = 255
img_dilate[:,0:3] = 255
img_dilate[72:75,:] = 255
img_dilate[:,330:333] = 255
# Estimations of character contours sizes of cropped license plates
dimensions = [LP_WIDTH/6, LP_WIDTH/2, LP_HEIGHT/10, 2*LP_HEIGHT/3]
# Get contours within cropped license plate
char_list = find_contours(dimensions, img_dilate)
return char_list

The above function takes in the image as input and performs the following operation on it-

  • resizes it to a dimension such that all characters seem distinct and clear
  • convert the colored image to a grey scaled image i.e instead of 3 channels (BGR), the image only has a single 8-bit channel with values ranging from 0–255 where 0 corresponds to black and 255 corresponds to white. We do this to prepare the image for the next process.
  • The image is now in binary form and ready for the next process Eroding.
    Eroding is a simple process used for removing unwanted pixels from the object’s boundary meaning pixels that should have a value of 0 but are having a value of 1.
  • The next step now is to make the boundaries of the image white. This is to remove any out of the frame pixel in case it is present.
  • we have reduced our image to a processed binary image and we are ready to pass this image for character extraction.

Step 5

Segmenting the alphanumeric characters from the license plate.

import numpy as np
import cv2
# Match contours to license plate or character template
def find_contours(dimensions, img) :
# Find all contours in the image
cntrs, _ = cv2.findContours(img.copy(), cv2.RETR_TREE, cv2.CHAIN_APPROX_SIMPLE)
# Retrieve potential dimensions
lower_width = dimensions[0]
upper_width = dimensions[1]
lower_height = dimensions[2]
upper_height = dimensions[3]

# Check largest 5 or 15 contours for license plate or character respectively
cntrs = sorted(cntrs, key=cv2.contourArea, reverse=True)[:15]

x_cntr_list = []
target_contours = []
img_res = []
for cntr in cntrs :
#detects contour in binary image and returns the coordinates of rectangle enclosing it
intX, intY, intWidth, intHeight = cv2.boundingRect(cntr)

#checking the dimensions of the contour to filter out the characters by contour’s size
if intWidth > lower_width and intWidth < upper_width and intHeight > lower_height and intHeight < upper_height :
x_cntr_list.append(intX) #stores the x coordinate of the character’s contour, to used later for indexing the contours
char_copy = np.zeros((44,24))
#extracting each character using the enclosing rectangle’s coordinates.
char = img[intY:intY+intHeight, intX:intX+intWidth]
char = cv2.resize(char, (20, 40))
# Make result formatted for classification: invert colors
char = cv2.subtract(255, char)
# Resize the image to 24x44 with black border
char_copy[2:42, 2:22] = char
char_copy[0:2, :] = 0
char_copy[:, 0:2] = 0
char_copy[42:44, :] = 0
char_copy[:, 22:24] = 0
img_res.append(char_copy) #List that stores the character’s binary image (unsorted)
#Return characters on ascending order with respect to the x-coordinate (most-left character first)

#arbitrary function that stores sorted list of character indeces
indices = sorted(range(len(x_cntr_list)), key=lambda k: x_cntr_list[k])
img_res_copy = []
for idx in indices:
img_res_copy.append(img_res[idx])# stores character images according to their index
img_res = np.array(img_res_copy)

return img_res

After step 4 we should have a clean binary image to work on. In this step, we will be applying some more image processing to extract the individual characters from the license plate.

Step 6

Creating a Machine Learning model and training it for the characters.

  • The data is all clean and ready, now it’s time do create a Neural Network that will be intelligent enough to recognize the characters after training.
  • For modeling, we will be using a Convolutional Neural Network with 3 layers.
## create model
>model = Sequential()
>model.add(Conv2D(filters=32, kernel_size=(5,5), input_shape=(28, 28, 1), activation='relu'))
>model.add(MaxPooling2D(pool_size=(2, 2)))
>model.add(Dense(units=128, activation='relu'))
>model.add(Dense(units=36, activation='softmax'))
  • To keep the model simple, we’ll start by creating a sequential object.
  • The first layer will be a convolutional layer with 32 output filters, a convolution window of size (5,5), and ‘Relu’ as activation function.
  • Next, we’ll be adding a max-pooling layer with a window size of (2,2).
    Max pooling is a sample-based discretization process. The objective is to down-sample an input representation (image, hidden-layer output matrix, etc.), reducing its dimensionality and allowing for assumptions to be made about features contained in the sub-regions binned.
  • Now, we will be adding some dropout rate to take care of overfitting.
    Dropout is a regularization hyperparameter initialized to prevent Neural Networks from Overfitting. Dropout is a technique where randomly selected neurons are ignored during training. They are “dropped-out” randomly.
  • Now it’s time to flatten the node data so we add a flatten layer for that. The flatten layer takes data from the previous layer and represents it in a single dimension.
  • Finally, we will be adding 2 dense layers, one with the dimensionality of the output space as 128, activation function=’relu’ and other, our final layer with 36 outputs for categorizing the 26 alphabets (A-Z) + 10 digits (0–9) and activation function=’ softmax’

Step 7

Training our CNN model.

  • The data we will be using contains images of alphabets (A-Z) and digits (0–9) of size 28x28, also the data is balanced so we won’t have to do any kind of data tuning here.
  • It’s time to train our model now!
    we will use ‘categorical_crossentropy’ as loss function, ‘Adam’ as optimization function and ‘Accuracy’ as our error matrix.
import datetime
class stop_training_callback(tf.keras.callbacks.Callback):
def on_epoch_end(self, epoch, logs={}):
if(logs.get('val_acc') > 0.992):
self.model.stop_training = True

log_dir="logs/fit/" + datetime.datetime.now().strftime("%Y%m%d-%H%M%S")
tensorboard_callback = tf.keras.callbacks.TensorBoard(log_dir=log_dir, histogram_freq=1)

batch_size = 1
callbacks = [tensorboard_callback, stop_training_callback()]
steps_per_epoch = train_generator.samples // batch_size,
validation_data = validation_generator,
validation_steps = validation_generator.samples // batch_size,
epochs = 80, callbacks=callbacks)
  • After training for 23 epochs, the model achieved an accuracy of 99.54%.

Step 8

The output.

Finally, its time to test our model, remember the binary images of extracted characters from number plate? Let’s feed the images to our model!

Thanks….!!! for reaching here…😊