How to apply vinyl film without bubbles

Written by matt mckay
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Air bubbles and pockets that form during the application of vinyl graphics are the bane of every sign maker's existence. With a bit of thought given to careful surface preparation and application factors, the ever-present air bubble can be remedied or prevented. Air bubbles form during normal application when air becomes trapped between the surface and airtight vinyl. Pockets form when foreign materials such as dirt, insects, residue or surface imperfections are present. While some sure-fire cures such as cleaning and wet application eliminate most problems, they are not always possible or desirable in every instance.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Surface cleaner
  • 2 Spray bottles
  • Cloth or paper towel
  • Wet vinyl application fluid
  • Cut vinyl lettering or graphics
  • Masking tape
  • Sign maker's squeegee
  • Razor or sign maker's needle tool (a sewing needle mounted to a wooden dowel)
  • Stiff bristle rivet or cleaning brush
  • Heat gun or hair dryer

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  1. 1

    Clean the application surface by applying a safe and suitable cleaning agent from a spray bottle. Glass cleaner, soap and water, or other mild cleaner with suffice for most surfaces. Wipe clean and dry thoroughly with a dry cloth or paper towel.

  2. 2

    Tape the cut vinyl graphic in place with a strip of masking tape acting as a hinge at the top. Flip the graphic up, exposing the application surface, and secure with small pieces of masking tape.

  3. 3

    Apply wet vinyl application fluid in a spray bottle to the exposed application surface, if wet application is desired or warranted. Some sign makers use a soap and water concoction, but commercial sign fluid is inexpensive, does not contain possible detrimental ingredients, and helps promotes better adhesion as it evaporates.

  4. 4

    Remove the backing sheet from the vinyl graphic, and apply pressure with a sign maker's squeegee. The trick is to fold the graphic into a half-circle, and apply squeegee pressure to the top areas first, moving down. The squeegee will displace the application fluid from under the adhesive vinyl, taking the air bubbles with it.

  5. 5

    Slit or pierce stubborn air bubbles or pockets with a razor or needle tool, forcing air out with the squeegee. The slitting or piercing operation may be used for both wet and dry applications.

  6. 6

    Work vinyl into seams, shallow cavities, or around rivets with a stiff bristle rivet brush or cleaning brush. The application of gentle heat to the vinyl with a heat gun or hair dryer may be necessary if seams, cavities, or rivets are large, or if the vinyl refuses to conform easily.

  7. 7

    Remove excess application fluid from all vinyl and surface areas by gently wiping with a dry cloth or paper towel. The application of a mild spray cleaner followed by gentle towel wiping may be necessary to remove residue.

Tips and warnings

  • Check vinyl manufacturer's recommendations for optimum ambient and surface application temperature.
  • Wet vinyl application may not be possible for porous surfaces, or in other circumstances. Always test for detrimental effects of application fluid on all surfaces.
  • Dry application is preferred by many veteran installers for reduced cost and clean-up, but requires extensive experience, proper technique, careful preparation, and fastidious habits.
  • If using a heat gun or hair dryer, avoid prolonged heat application, as vinyl melts quickly. Heat should be applied from a distance of about 12 inches for several seconds at first.

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