How to Make Vinyl Decals

Updated April 17, 2017

Vinyl decals can be applied to virtually anything; T-shirts, signs and vehicles, just to name a few. They are what catch your eye in the window of the store fronts as you pass by, luring you in with their flashy colours and professional design. Whether you are making vinyl decals for fun or have chosen it as a profession, knowing how to properly design and apply the decal is essential to the quality of the finished product.

Choose your cutter. Vinyls cutters are available in a wide array of sizes, depending on what they will be used for. They generally range from 8 inches to 60 inches or greater in width. If you are a novice, a 24 inch vinyl cutter is a good cutter to begin with. You will also want to choose a cutter that includes some type of design software, such as Corel Draw or Dr. Sticka. These types of design software need to be installed and downloaded directly onto your PC, which is connected to the cutter.

Choose your vinyl. Vinyl comes in many different colours and sizes, and is always sold in rolls. There are, however, two types of vinyl you need to consider. Calendered vinyl is better used on flat or slightly curved surfaces and has an outdoor life of 3 to 6 years. Cast vinyl is perfect for flat, curved or uneven surfaces, including those with rivets and corners. Its outdoor life is 7 to 9 years. Both have an unlimited indoor life.

Insert vinyl. Once you have chosen your design, insert the vinyl into the cutter using the fixed rollers and adjustment dial. To avoid wasting any vinyl, cut only the amount of vinyl you will need for the size of the decal you are making, leaving a couple of extra inches to grasp onto. You will then press cut on the software design you have chosen, and the cutter will automatically begin cutting the design out for you. When the process is done, remove the vinyl from the machine.

Weed. This process involves removing the excess vinyl from the cutter design or letters. For this you will need to use an exacto knife and carefully pick at the edge of the vinyl surrounding the design, lifting it and peeling it away. If you have cut any words, remove the centres from letters such as "O" or "E." During this process, be careful as you are lifting the excess vinyl away. It is extremely sticky and if it touches the design, you may not be able to remove it without ruining your finished product.

Apply pre-mask. Pre-mask is a tape that you apply over the design to help you apply it to your desired surface. It looks like masking tape and its back is a highly tacky adhesive. Apply enough to cover the entire design with an excess of 1 inch on each side for peeling away later. When applying the pre-mask, grip both sides tightly and apply carefully to the design. The tighter your grip as you apply, the fewer air bubbles you will need to contend with. Take a squeegee applicator and smooth the tape over your decal to ensure the tape is fixed securely and completely.

Remove the tape. When removing the pre-mask, begin by lifting one corner and slowly pull back. This will ensure that the decal will stay adhered to the tape. If you notice a part of the decal is not lifting with the tape, slowly press the tape back down over that area and lift again.

Transfer to surface. When applying your decal to a hard surface, it is better to spray the area lightly with water or glass cleaner. This will allow a period of 20 to 30 seconds for you to adjust the decal in the position you desire before the adhesive of the vinyl sticks and the decal remains in the spot you have placed it. Once in its desired location, slowly peel away the pre-mask tape from the decal, once again taking caution to prevent the decal from lifting from the surface with the tape.

Things You'll Need

  • Vinyl
  • Vinyl cutter
  • Pre-mask tape
  • Exacto knife
  • Squeegee applicator
  • Water
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About the Author

Based in Jamestown, Pa., Hannah Rice Myers has more than 10 years of experience as a freelance writer, specializing in the health industry. Many of her articles have appeared in newspapers, as well as "Curing Epilepsy: Hope Through Research." Rice Myers received her master's degree in nursing from Upstate Medical University in 2001.