How to Apply Self-Adhesive Vinyl Decals


When working with any substrate that is new to you, test the adhesion of a sample of the vinyl on an inconspicuous area first.

It is important for the substrate to be totally free from dust, grease and other contaminants. Using a suitable de-greasing agent such as methylated spirit, after the substrate has been thoroughly washed down, will ensure that the surface is perfectly prepared.

For short term applications such as exhibition stand graphics or a one day event it is much less important to ensure that the substrate is free of grease. Matt vinyl are often used in an exhibition environment to minimise glare from lighting and are much more forgiving than glossy vinyls in regards to air bubbles and dust contamination.

The most common cause of decal failure is contamination of the surface by a dirty substrate. Do not attempt to apply vinyl in temperatures lower than the minimum recommended.


Temperature is very important when working with vinyl - too cold and the vinyl is too brittle to handle and cut easily and may shear or rip when applying. Too hot and the material will adhere too aggressively trapping air bubbles and will deform too easily to allow manipulation.

Before applying the vinyl, familiarize yourself with the complete design and the correct positioning of all its relevant components; this is of particular importance when working with large complex decals or designs produced in sections.

When a decal is produced in one or more parts, an overlap may be incorporated between each section.

Using small pieces of masking tape, position the decal ensuring the correct alignment and mark reference lines over the top and side edges of the transfer tape and onto the surface of the substrate with a suitable pencil or marker. Alternatively, if you do not wish to mark the substrate (i.e. vehicle paintwork) put some masking tape or some spare application tape onto the substrate and use that to carry the marks.

Using a strip of masking tape, apply it so that half the width is on the transfer paper and half is on the substrate; this will act as a hinge along the top edge of the decal.

Lift the decal on its hinge and pull back a small section of the top edge of the backing paper. Holding the decal at the bottom pull it taught and lower it gently towards the surface without letting the adhesive actually touch the surface. Take a squeegee and firmly but gently press the decal down onto the surface beginning in the centre and stroking out towards the edges. Squeegee firmly all the way along the edges of the decal, ensuring that all air is expelled from behind the decal thereby achieving a good bond. Work your way down the decal gradually, pulling away small areas of the backing at a time

Matt Theobald has been involved in exhibitions for the last 18 years and has seen production methods change dramatically from traditional photographic to the digital techniques that are now used throughout the industry. He has an extensive knowledge of the multitude of design and imaging software in use today and is expert in producing large graphics of many different types.

Author: Matthew Theobald
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