The Ultimate Guide to Amazing
Custom decals are the perfect way to customize your car, add a bit of personality and really complete the look. The visual appearance of a car is always very important. It’s an amalgamation of the hard work you’ve put into it, a testament to your time and skill. So installing vinyl car decals can be the perfect way to finish it off – or a complete nightmare.
Whether you’re looking to install some awesome custom vinyl decals on your hot rod or want to brand the company van, these tips, tricks and know-how will be able to point you in the right direction to ensure your car decals not only look good but leave your paintwork in tip-top condition.
We’ve put together the ultimate guide on everything you need to know about custom decals. We cover the basics of installation, removal and a bunch of those regularly asked questions too. This guide is aimed for anyone looking to install custom decals whether they have a little or no experience doing this themselves. Essentially it’s a beginner’s guide, but there’s some handy knowledge here for the veteran installers too.
Why are car decals so great?
Building a customized car is all about making it unique, and a tribute to your personality. Almost like a tattoo, yet less integrated with your body. So when it comes to adding customizations, the key is in the details and the ultimate customization is in the form of car decals. These are the most inexpensive way of customizing your paintjob.
Vinyl car decals are a largely inexpensive, they look great and they’re ultimately temporary – an ideal way to get a taste for graphic design – plus if you’re making them yourself, it doesn’t matter if it goes wrong!
Popular car graphic designs
Custom car graphics and decals are extremely popular, not just because they’re a cost cutting way of personalizing a vehicle, because you can do some pretty cool stuff with them.
Flame decals are no doubt a firm favourite and have been for a while, especially when it comes to hotrods but vinyl car decals are normally used to either say something, make a statement or to advertise something – and this is where temporary usage is key.
We might not realize it, but we’re seeing car decals on a daily basis. In the form of political slogans, bumper stickers and some are even cartoon pictures of your family (and the dog). And let’s not forget full-scale corporate advertising or branding on the side of a van. Let’s face it, auto decals are just everywhere.
Becoming your own car decal maker
There are loads of online companies that will provide design services when creating your own car decals but it’s actually quite easy to make your own. It can be done in just a few steps at home and with a bit of practice, you can be installing some seriously awesome artwork onto your car.
Remember to always start with something simple, if this is your first time so try not to get ahead of yourself. Get a feel for how to make decals before beginning on more complicated designs.
If you want to have a go at making your own, then check out our resource post with some step by step instructions on how to do it.
Is there anything I need to know about materials?
If you’re purchasing your graphics from a car decal maker, it’s worth taking note of which type of film they’re using:
Cast films are made from a liquid that is ‘cast’ onto a moving printing web, which means the film can be as thin as 2mm. When installing, this allows the custom decal to mould to the shape of your vehicle. For car window decals, this is the best material, especially if you’re thinking about overlaying the custom window decal part on the window and part on the body. Using cast film is often the most preferred material for custom decals as it makes the graphics appear very paint-like.
Calendered film on the other hand is almost twice as thick. Essentially it’s an economy choice and is proven to be less durable than the cast film choice.
Will custom vinyl decals cause damage to the car?
When done properly, car vinyl decals won’t incur any damage to your paint work, however if you’re not careful and don’t follow the appropriate instructions, this can have dire consequences at a later stage. It can cause cracking and bubbles in the paint and leave you requiring a whole new paintjob just to repair the damage.
If you’re choosing to apply your vinyl car decals yourself, then make sure you go through the appropriate steps for application. Incorrect application can result in damage to the paintwork. It’s not impossible to install them correctly yourself but if you’re unsure, it might be worth finding a local garage to help you out.
Is there anything I should know before applying my custom decals?
When it comes to selling your car, custom car graphics can be a serious off-putter and may turn people away from purchasing your vehicle. As much as they’re an extension of your personality, they may not be suitable for others. This isn’t the case for all custom decals, as when it comes to building hotrods, flame decals are a very popular choice and blend seamlessly with the personality of the vehicle. In this instance, adding your own car graphics is more likely to work in your favor, but it’s something to remember if your building customized cars for a living.
Before you get stuck in the nitty gritty application of your very own custom vinyl decals, it’s worth spending a few extra moments making sure the graphic is the right size and in the right position. If you get this wrong and decide to move it slightly, you’re likely to weaken the adhesive bond and the decal won’t last as long.
How long can it take to install custom vinyl decals?
The answer to this question entirely depends on the size of the car graphic you’ve chosen. Things like bumper stickers only require a single person, but if you’ve chosen an all-over flame decal, then you’re going to need an extra pair of hands.
Always remember to give yourself lots of space and don’t think about doing the installation in poor weather. An average day is exactly what you need, as well as time to get it right. Getting it wrong can lead to a lot of frustration and a poor result.
If your custom decal covers the whole side of your vehicle then allow at least 3 hours to complete the job. If you chose to use a car decal maker instead of doing it yourself, it’s likely they’ll be able to provide some installation instructions based on the specific design.
Rushing the installation will offer you no favors and it will ultimately be in your best interest to do it slowly. If you want amazing results, than take your time. There’s no prize for doing it in half an hour, except maybe some ugly bubbles in the middle.
The main aim is to flawlessly install your car decal without any damage to the graphics or any under the surface bubbles. The best way to achieve this is by keeping the backing paper taut and using a squeegee or similar tool to help release any trapped air.
Work slowly and methodically to make sure that everything looks good. An extra pair of hands, or an extra pair of eyes can really be helpful at this point to provide an overview and some direction.
What about the weather? Are auto decals weather resistant?
Whether you’ve made your custom decals yourself or used an online car decal maker, the material is designed for outdoor use and should withstand weather very well. You shouldn’t even see cracks or fading from normal weather but if there’s a storm coming, it might be good idea to move your car inside.
How long does the average car decal last?
Bumper stickers and custom vinyl decals can have a life of up to 7 years if the vehicle remains in a showroom, but given the natural wear a car goes through on a daily basis, the lifespan is more likely to be around 3 years.
The main issues you may have is seeing the age of the car in comparison to the area covered by the decal. Due to the material auto decals are made from, they protect the bodywork of the car from weather and UV damage so when it comes to removing it, you may be faced with a patch that’s shiny and new. To avoid these ghost images, the best thing to do is to remove any custom vinyl decals after about 18-24 months.
Do custom decals need any special treatment once on the car?
The best thing to do is to avoid any extreme weather conditions, in particular conditions that could affect the paint work of the car, like sandstorms. Once the vinyl car decal has been installed, avoid very wet and very cold weather just so the adhesive has time to bond correctly.
You can still wax your car but avoid using a power waxer or buffer as this could catch the vinyl and pull it off, subsequently causing damaging to the paintwork underneath. And I would advise that you DON’T wax before installing the car graphic as this could interfere with the adhesive and result in poor application.
How do I remove the decal?
If you’re looking at selling your car and need to remove any custom decals that have been installed, we have a number of tutorials in our resource post that provide an array of advice for this step – everything from using boiling water, rubbing alcohol, WD-40 or a blow-dryer. Any of these methods will effectively work and won’t damage your paint work.
Will the adhesive leave any marks?
When it comes to installing your vinyl car decals, it’s important that you follow any given instructions. Correct application should not result in adhesive residue upon removal, yet if the paintwork is in some way damaged, oxidized or simply very old prior to installation, chances are a residue mark may be found.
Can auto decals be reused once removed?
Generally no. If you’re removing the car graphics completely, the image is likely to stretch and distort during this process. Alongside the stretched image, the stickiness of the adhesive will have been used up too and it will be unable to bond to a new surface.
Car graphics such as the aforementioned flame decals and bumper stickers have become increasingly popular in recent years and with the boom of an online market, you can now become your very own car decal maker with just a few clicks, but for those of us who not only want a car that looks good, but want to take care of it, there are a few things that we need to know.
I hope that we’ve covered most of the basics – there was a lot to take in there – and now armed with this new information you can customize your car any way you like. But do you have a question that we haven’t answered? Let us know!