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5 Essential Things to Know About Applying and Removing Car Decals

car decals
Paul Stringer /

Car decals are gaining traction as the digital printing methods become more cost-effective. There are a few different types of graphical decals and – as with everything in life – there are right ways and wrong ways to apply and remove your decals. The last thing you want is to end up with the wrong kind of decals that will fall off, peel up, or damage your expensive paint job.

Choose the correct materials

Quality cut vinyl graphics come in two different categories of film: calendered and cast. Cast films are a liquid that is “cast” onto a moving printing web, allowing the film to be as thin as 2 mil, which helps the product conform to the shape of your vehicle. These thin and flexible graphics are very paint-like. Calendered film is nearly twice as thick and while economy-priced, it is generally not recommended for vehicles as the durability suffers significantly.

Clean Your Application Surface

If the surface is not clean, no matter how expensive or well-made your decal is it will not stick. Get your car’s surface shiny clean by using a commercial detergent solution and water. Follow this up with isopropyl alcohol (IPA) to assure you’ve gotten rid of all the oily residue. Use a dry lint-free towel to wipe away the excess IPA before it evaporates.

Measure twice, apply once

It is critical to take a few extra moments to position your graphics before you start peeling your decals for application. Even if you are able to pick them up and nudge them a bit after you apply the first time, this will weaken the bond of the adhesive and they will not last as long, so it is best to get this step right the first time!

Tips for a bubble-free application

Most manufacturers recommend applying decals only between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit, preferably in a controlled environment. Remove the backing paper little bits at a time while using a squeegee or an air release tool. Maintain tension on the backing paper and you’ll be able to keep the graphic away from the vehicle until you are ready to squeegee it down.

Removing the decals

Removing a semi-permanent decal or bumper sticker is quite different than grabbing a bucket of soapy water and washing your vehicle. However, there are some options that will allow you to keep your sanity and keep from stripping off your car’s clear-coat finish: boiling water, natural agents like rubbing alcohol or vinegar, WD-40 or lighter fluid, and blow dryers. If you’ve gotten the sticker off and there’s still some residue, check out Goo Gone to get the last few bits of adhesive off safely.

Automotive decals can be a fun and funky way to add personality to your ride. Have fun with them, knowing that they don’t have to be a permanent look!

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

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