Cleaning - an Important First Step A clean substrate is
essential for a quality vinyl application. Consider the
substrate your foundation: If it is not prepared properly,
you cannot be sure that anything that is placed on top of
it will be secure. If you are applying film to a dirty vehicle,
the adhesive from the graphic will adhere to the dirt and
not the vehicle itself, which will result in failure down
cleaning by removing all dirt and grime with a commercial
detergent solution and water. (Note: If you take the vehicle
to the car wash for this portion of the cleaning, it is
important to make sure the vehicle is completely dry before
applying the graphics; this may mean allowing the vehicle
to sit indoors overnight.) If grease, oil, wax or other
contaminates are present, wipe the substrate with a solvent
like Prep-Sol or Xylol. I then like to do a final cleaning
with isopropyl alcohol (IPA) to make sure that no oily residue
from the other solvents is being left behind. A word of
caution though: Before using any solvent on a vehicle, test
it in an inconspicuous area to ensure the solvent won't
harm the vehicle's paint.
clean the vehicle with IPA, I recommend using two lint-free
towels. One towel should be soaked with the IPA and used
to clean off the contaminates (dust, dirt, wax, etc). The
second towel should be dry and used to wipe away the excess
IPA before it has a chance to evaporate. Also, be sure to
thoroughly clean in all the cracks and crevices of the vehicle.
I recommend wrapping an IPA- soaked towel around a squeegee
to get down into the crevices, as shown here.
Twice, Apply Once. Once the vehicle is clean, it is time
to start positioning your graphics. It is always a good
idea to take a few extra minutes to position the graphics
on the vehicle before you actually begin to install. Remember
that once you take the liner off the graphic, you have one
shot to get it right. So the time spent on positioning the
graphic will be well spent. This step also allows you to
make sure you have received everything you need and make
any necessary adjustments to the placement of the graphics.
An example would be moving the position of a decal to prevent
text from being cut off or applied into a contour, which
could make a word difficult to read. It is also possible
that the templates used by the sign shop were not 100 percent
accurate, so you may have to reposition a graphic to make
it work. Begin by taping the graphic in the general area
you plan on installing it. Then, using a tape measure, make
sure the graphic is straight and centered. In the examples
below I used two different types of decals. In each of these
I used the body molding as my reference point for measuring.
the graphics taped into position, step back and take a look
at the layout. Taking the contours of the vehicle into consideration,
it is important to develop a plan on how you want to apply
the vinyl. Since vehicles are not perfectly flat like a
wall, this step is important. When doing vehicle graphics,
just starting at the top of the graphic and working down
isn't necessarily the best approach. It is important to
spend a few minutes finding the best place to start. Once
you have your plan, it is time to begin applying the graphics.
and Techniques for a Seamless (and Bubbleless) Application
Vinyl manufacturers typically recommend application in temperatures
of 50º to 90º F, with 70° to 80°F being
the optimum range. Whenever possible, apply graphics indoors
in a controlled environment, which will help control temperatures
as well as reduce the amount of wind and dust you have to
deal with. The room and substrate temperature can greatly
impact your application. A high temperature will make the
film softer and more pliable. The higher temperatures will
also make the adhesive more aggressive, which can lead to
pre-tack and increased stretching if you try to reposition
the film. Lower temperatures will make the film more rigid
and reduce the tack of the adhesive. Applying in either
of these extremes can make your application more difficult.
are a few basic tools you will need to apply graphics. They
are:a tape measure - for positioning an air release tool
- for removing air bubbles masking tape - for positioning
a squeegee - for applying the graphic a razor-knife (preferably
one with break-off blades) - for trimming away excess vinyl
a heat gun or propane torch - for heating the vinyl on complicated
At this point you should have decided on your approach to
applying the vinyl. If possible, remove the liner (backing
paper) a little at a time to prevent the adhesive from prematurely
adhering to the substrate. In this first example, I used
a top hinge and pulled the liner down a little at a time.
First, I removed approximately six inches of the liner.
I also kept tension in the film by holding the bottom edge
of the graphic. This tension on the film will help prevent
the graphic from touching the vehicle before you squeegee
it into place. As I squeegeed the graphic down, I positioned
the squeegee so that the air pushed down and out, and I
also made sure that I overlapped the squeegee strokes. Both
of these steps helped to avoid air bubbles.
second graphic was a bit more challenging, since it stretched
almost the entire length of the vehicle. One of my primary
concerns with this graphic was to keep it parallel to the
body molding I used as my guide. Instead of using the top
hinge method, I chose to use an end hinge by sliding back
the liner a little at a time underneath the positioned graphic.
By using this method I did not lose my placement of the
method for squeegeeing the graphic is similar to above;
we want to be sure the air is being pushed away from the
portion of the graphic that has already been applied, and
we want to overlap the squeegee strokes. Since this second
graphic runs the length of the vehicle, the graphic must
be applied over the gap between the front and rear doors.
As you squeegee the graphic into place, ignore the seam
for now. After the entire graphic is applied, you can go
back and trim the graphic. In this situation I prefer to
cut the film flush with the edges of the front and back
door, which requires two cuts.
the graphics are applied, the next step is to remove the
application tape by pulling it back on itself at a 180º
angle. Using this method to remove the application tape
will reduce the chances of pulling the graphic back up and
possibly causing air bubbles or edge lifting. Once you have
removed the premask, it is imperative to go back and resqueegee
the graphic. This extra step will help to ensure that all
of the edges of the graphic are in contact with the vehicle.
Making the Cut
The steps discussed here are for the dry application method,
which is recommended by most material manufacturers. While
the dry application method does require more skill and experience,
you will find that once you learn how to apply using this
method you will reduce your application time. When applying
dry there is no need to allow the adhesion of the graphic
to build for several minutes, or in some cases hours, before
removing the application tape, and you eliminate the mess
of using wet application. It is also important to note that
the new channeled adhesive technologies from Avery Dennison
and 3M are very helpful in reducing or eliminating air bubbles
in the application process.
these tools and techniques, your cut vinyl vehicle graphic
installations should be fast, easy and trouble-free.