How to Install Vinyl Decals Like a Pro
Dry Vinyl Decals – Installation Pro-Tips You Can Stick With
If you look around vinyl decals are everywhere these days. On busses, trucks, cars, building walls and they have also become a growing part of home décor. You even see reflective decals on every construction site on the planet. That makes them not only exciting to see but also a viable source of business for you as a designer. But designing a decal and installing it are two different things, right? Well, Yes and no. Because the truth is installing a vehicle or office decal is not rocket science. You just design it and send it off to be printed on a vinyl cutting printer. Once you get your design back, you can actually do the installation yourself, as long as you do it right. So stick with me and I’ll show you how to do it right just as the pros do.
The Different Methods
There are really only two installation methods for die-cut decals.
The method you use depends on your skills and the surface you are applying it to. Here we will cover both the pros and cons of installing vinyl decals.
Most designers and installers prefer the dry vinyl decal installation method. This is usually the method of installation of choice because it is easy to install and the decal lasts for a long time. In this process, you don’t need application fluids, and there are no bubbles to deal with when you install it like this. This makes the process much easier. Just one note of caution here. Once you apply it, you CANNOT remove or reposition the sticker without having it experience some damage. If you are using our repositionable wall decals, these will be easy to install while dry.
Also, you want to remember to measure the area where you are installing it as well as the size of the vinyl decal. This will help you do it accurately the first time. Otherwise, if you have to reposition it you may end up with a decal that does not fit the product.
The advantage of the wet vinyl decals installation process is that you can re-position the decal multiple times. Just so long as you make sure that the decal and surface are still wet. You just need to use application fluid and you’ll need a squeegee to pull the water out from underneath the decal and surface or your decal can lift or have water bubbles.
Dry Installation Precautions
- Don’t install in direct sunlight.
- Be sure the room and installation surface temperature is between 10°C (50°F) and 20°C (68°F).
- Do not store your vinyl decal in direct sunlight.
What You Need for Vinyl Decals
- Installation squeegee
- Masking tape
- Glass cleaner (non-AMMONIA BASED)
- Paper towels
- Measuring tape or ruler.
- Scissors or Razor
Remove any dirt, grease and/or wax from the surface first. This includes car wax, Turtle wax, Rain-x, compound, etc. A vinyl decal will NOT adhere properly if the surface is not clean. Be careful! You don’t want to use ammonia-based cleaners as these can create bubbles under your vinyl decal.
Installation of Dry Vinyl Decals
Carefully inspect the vinyl decal for any shipping damages. Use a squeegee on the decal as it is and press down on the decal while it is on a hard surface. Press firmly to ensure the pre-mask is properly stuck to the vinyl decal. Place your decal on the surface.
Use masking tape on top of the decal “pre-mask” to hold the decal in place. Measure the area to be sure your decal is correctly lined up. Tape across the decal center. Remove tape from one side of the decal and vehicle surface to create a folding hinge flap.
Raise hinged flap, and peel the “liner” off the decal, NOT The PRE-MASK to expose adhesive. Peel the “liner” back to the masking tape crossing the decal. Be careful! Don’t allow the sticky surface to touch application surface. Do not touch the decal with cutting tools or the tools can stick accidentally and peel the decal off the “pre-mask”. Cut away the peeled “liner” close to the masking tape.
Place the squeegee in the middle where your masking tape crosses the decal. Carefully begin to apply the sticky side to the surface. Use horizontal strokes and firm pressure to apply. Smooth out from top to bottom with long horizontal strokes. Be sure the decal is securely stuck to the surface.
Place masking tape parallel to the masking tape that crosses the decal you just applied. Carefully remove the original masking tape that crossed the decal to secure it. Peel back the corner pieces of tape. Slowly peel the final piece of “liner” off exposing the adhesive. DO NOT allow the adhesive of the decal to touch the surface.
Place squeegee in the middle at masking tape that crosses the decal. Apply the adhesive side to the surface. Use horizontal strokes to apply the decal. Continue smoothing with long horizontal strokes from top to bottom. Be sure the decal is securely stuck to the surface. Remove all the masking tape. Use increasingly harder strokes to secure. Carefully peel off the “pre-mask” covering the decal. Be sure the entire decal is free of the “pre-mask”.
With the “pre-mask” removed, check to see that the entire decal is attached. You can make a small incision into the vinyl and use your squeegee to force out any trapped air bubbles. Most will disappear in a few weeks. In cold climates, use extreme caution with an ice scraper. It can peel the vinyl if it is applied to a vehicle window.
What Do We Recommend?
We have been in the decal printing business for more than 10 years now. And we have done it all. In our opinion, the best method is the dry installation.
Wet Installation Method
- Do not install in direct sunlight.
- Be sure the installation area and surface temperature is between 10°C (50°F) and 20°C (68°F).
Know that the wet method is NOT recommended for interior installations and do not store vinyl decals in direct sunlight.
You will need Special Wet Installation Vinyl Decals
- Installation squeegee
- Application fluid in a spray bottle (Mixture of 500mL (1/2 quart) of water, 250mL (1/4 quart) of 99% rubbing alcohol and 1 teaspoon of liquid soap) –
- Non-AMMONIA BASED window washing liquid
- Paper towels
- Measuring tape or ruler.
Carefully remove all dirt, grease and/or wax from application surface. Be sure to remove the car wax, Turtle wax, Rain-x, compound, etc. The decals will NOT adhere properly to un-cleaned surfaces. Be careful to not use ammonia-based cleaners. This could create bubbles under your vinyl decal.
Installation of Wet Vinyl Decals
Inspect the decal for any shipping damages. Use the squeegee, pressed onto a hard surface. Press firmly over the decal to assure pre-mask is properly attached. Turn the decal over (pre-mask down) and slowly peel off the “liner” exposing adhesive. Do not allow the sticky part of the vinyl decal to touch anything. Generously spray application fluid over the surface area where the vinyl decal will be installed. Be sure the surface area is completely sprayed down and there are generously spray application fluid onto the adhesive side of the decal.
Place the adhesive side on the surface. While wet, carefully measure and adjust the vinyl decal. Once it is placed, use a squeegee with firm strokes to force application fluid out to assure firm placement. Repeat until you remove most of the application fluid between decal and surface. Ensure there are no fluid or air bubbles.
Wait between 30 minutes to an hour or more to allow complete drying and secure adherence. Temperature can affect drying time
Once dry, peel off the “pre-mask” from decal and surface. If peeling occurs, re-apply decal with a squeegee (Step 2), and wait about 30 minutes before you remove the “pre-mask” again.
Once the “pre-mask” is removed, assure decal is securely attached to surface. If any small air or water bubbles appear, cut a small incision in the vinyl decal and use a squeegee to smooth out. Most bubbles will disappear in a few weeks. Allow a few hot sunny days to completely cure before washing or waxing. In cold climates use caution when using an ice scraper on a vehicle window. It can damage vinyl.
That just about covers both methods of installing vinyl decals. If this install involves floor decals, be very careful when removing them!
Is There a Reason to Choose Either the Wet or Dry Decal Installation Method?
Most vinyl film manufacturers and printers recommend the dry application process over the wet. And I agree with this general rule because the dry vinyl decal installation method is faster and cleaner than the wet vinyl decals. now, having said that, there are certain conditions when a wet vinyl decal is a way to go.
Why? Well if you are installing an etched glass film, or have a graphic printed on a clear film and plan on installing it on a window, it is probably that this film does not have the air egress properties that prevent air bubbles from forming when you are installing. In this case, it is best to use the wet application method. On these surfaces, you won’t have squeegee marks or air bubbles if you use the wet vinyl decal installation method.
Doing graphics with vinyl decals can be lucrative. It can be a fantastic way to advertise the customer’s business. It is just a matter of learning to install correctly. Which is why it may be best to practice with at least two decals before you actually install your customer’s finished vinyl decal.
So what are you waiting for? Get out and start designing those decals. Checkout all of our options for stickers and decals. Remember this is just one more of your services and it is an offer your customers won’t want to miss out on. Now you’re ready to roll. Hope this helped!