How to install vinyl stripes on a car

Updated July 20, 2017

Add zip to your new ride or give your old one a facelift with a vinyl stripe. You can choose from an assortment of colours and configurations at your local automotive parts, custom, or body and paint supply stores. Hundreds of resources and ideas can be found online to fuel your creativity with a stripe package that you can apply yourself. Vinyl stripes can be applied wet or dry. Wet applications leave room for trial and error, but dry methods do not.

Check the outdoor temperature. Vinyl applications perform best at temperatures between 10 and 32.2 degrees Celsius. If it's too hot, move your car indoors or in the shade. If it's below 10 degrees C, use a hair dryer or heat gun to warm the surface and application.

Wash the area you are installing the stripes on with car wash soap and warm water. Use a squeegee wrapped in a cloth to thoroughly clean cracks and crevices where your vinyl might be applied. Rinse, then dry with a clean, lint-free cloth.

Clean the area with wax, grease and tar solvent, and once more with rubbing alcohol and a clean cloth. Wipe in one direction instead of back and forth to prevent contamination.

Tape the stripe while it's still in the liners to the vehicle to determine your layout, then remove.

Mix the application spray by filling the spray bottle with 1/2 squirt of liquid hand soap, 1 tsp of rubbing alcohol and water. Wet the work area with application spray. The spray will allow you to slide and readjust your stripe.

Lay the stripe on a flat surface with the adhesive side facing up. The stripe will come with a liner on the adhesive side and backing paper on the other. Spray the adhesive side while peeling back the liner.

Apply the stripe to the surface of your vehicle. Slide it into place.

Squeeze out the excess air and fluid with the squeegee. Start in the middle of your application and work your way out toward the ends to eliminate air bubbles and ensure good bonding.

Wait five to 15 minutes for the application to set.

Peel the backing paper back onto itself at 180 degrees until it is fully removed. Do not pull the paper away from the vehicle because it can pull the stripe back off the surface.

Inspect the application for bubbles. Remove bubbles by puncturing them with a pin and pressing out the air.

Trim the stripe with a sharp blade wherever there is a door or bumper break (1/8 inch from the edge). Squeegee the ends.

Tape the stripe in the area you want it and stand back. Find a reference point (moulding, body lines, door edge) to use for measuring if you want the stripe to be centred or straight. Readjust as desired. The reference points and measurements will be useful if you are striping both sides of the vehicle.

Choose your starting point. Apply the stripe from one end to the other (horizontal application) or top to bottom (vertical application).

Tape a hinge across the edge of your starting point to hold the application in place. Keep tension on the stripe so it doesn't touch the vehicle before you have time to apply it.

Reach underneath and peel the liner back 6 inches. Press the squeegee on top of the stripe and squeeze out the air while pressing the stripe onto the surface. Use overlapping strokes. Repeat this step a little at a time until the whole stripe is applied.

Peel the backing tape back onto itself at a 180 degree angle to avoid lifting the installed vinyl.

Squeegee the stripe one more time. This time squeegee from the middle of the stripe outward. Puncture any air bubbles with a pin and press out the air.

Trim the vinyl stripe where it crosses over door and bumper breaks (1/8 inch from the edge). Squeegee the ends.


Common kerosene lamp oil or a wet clay bar from an automotive store is useful for stubborn tree sap, road tar and bug stains. Parking the car in the sun after the application will help eliminate small air bubbles.


Follow the material manufacturer's recommendations. Use extreme caution when handling a heat gun to avoid burning yourself, the graphic or the surface. Avoid stretching the material during application. Use a very sharp blade with no pressure for trimming vinyl around door edges and breaks.

Things You'll Need

  • Car wash soap
  • Wax, grease and tar solvent
  • Lint-free cloths
  • Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl)
  • Masking tape
  • Measuring tape
  • Spray bottle
  • Liquid hand soap
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Water
  • Squeegee
  • Razor knife with break-off blades
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About the Author

Perry Kong has been a reporter and photojournalist since 2006. He is published through Sun Media and "Northern News" in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, specializing in food and automotive photography. Kong holds a diploma in graphic design from Northern College, where he also teaches photography and Photoshop.