How To Apply A Large Vinyl Decal Graphic To A Car

There are a variety of different things that you can do to customize your car and make it stand out beautifully from the rest of the crowd. One of them is our favorite because it’s something that we specialize in. Car Decals!

You can apply a custom vinyl decal to instantly change and give your vehicle the personality it needs. There are different kinds of decals that you can put on your car, it could be something depicting your favorite sports team or your favorite rock band.

An entire decal set can even be part of the original manufacturer styling. In the 1960’s and 1970’s factory-fitted decals were very popular with many car models.

Pontiac Firebird 1977 With Factory Decals

1977 Pontiac Firebird with its original hood phoenix decal

One thing is for sure, vinyl decals on wikipedia are versatile. They can be applied to any area of your car from your hood, trunk, doors, and sides right down to the rear fenders. There are even full body vinyl wraps for cars, which have become extremely popular in recent years.

Car Full Body Metallic Wrap Process

I know that we’re not going to talk about the full body wraps here but as the application process is similar for other types of large decals, I thought that excellent video would be worth including.

So as for decals, their main advantage is that they are less expensive than a custom paint-job and you can save a lot of money by applying them to your car by yourself.

Let’s get on with that part, applying large decals, which is the point of this post! We’ll talk about how do do it, what you need and easy it really is. It may take a bit of practice though, so be prepared to learn a new skill as we take you through applying a large decal to your car, step-by-step.

What to Consider When Choosing an Auto Decal

Decide first whether you want to do a full body wrap, if you will be applying the decal to a smaller area or even if you just want to apply a car window decal. In that case head on over to our other guide: ‘How to apply a decal to a car window‘.

If you need a decal or body wrap that is absolutely massive, like a huge wrap to go around the back of a truck or trailer then head over to a supplier who deals with large commercial decals and has experience printing very large custom vinyl wraps like these guys: They will help you get what you need if it’s huge!

Once you have decided on the size of decal, this will help narrow down your choice of material.

There are a few different types of decals and each is suited to a different task. Firstly, they are all made of some form of vinyl but the manufacturing process can be different. It is usually the manufacturing process that gives the decal type its name.

Cast or Calendared Vinyl?

  1. Cast film is the most popular material. This material is very thin and has great conformability characteristics. Cast film’s thin gauge give it the paint-like finish that you might be looking for. Cast film is extremely durable, it can last for more than 7 years if properly applied.
  2. Calendared films are the other popular type of vinyl decals. They are cheaper and generally inferior to cast films. However, they have greatly improved in recent years. Calendared films are not as durable as Cast film but they are ideal for anyone who will want to change the way his or her car looks from the outside, especially on flat or moderately curved surfaces.

You can read more about vinyl decal material types in our full guide to Cast Vs Calendered vinyl decals.

The material is one thing but the most important thing of all is really the graphic design. You can put anything from flames to Minnie Mouse on your car. Whatever design you can think of can be custom printed onto the actual vinyl material that you will be attaching to the surface of your car.

A lot of vinyl decal manufacturers create designs they present as part of a catalog for customers to choose from.

If you are going for a custom design job then you need to take pictures of your car from all sides. If you want something that is going to stretch from end to end then measure what that length should be.

Get your custom graphic prints or select something from a catalog that will look good or serve whatever purpose you have for sticking a vinyl decal on your car. For example, most commercial vehicles now have their own Branded wraps or custom decals.

How To Apply Vinyl Graphics To A Commercial Vehicle

What You Need

There are some basic tools you will need to apply your own vinyl decal at home.

  1. A tape measure
  2. Masking tape that you will use to position the decal on your car
  3. An air release tool – which you will need to remove air bubbles
  4. A squeegee that you will be using to do the actual application
  5. A razor knife to trim the excess vinyl for applying the vinyl
  6. A heat gun for use in complicated spaces
  7. Bucket with soapy water
  8. Non-abrasive cloths and towels
  9. A microfiber cloth
  10. Window cleaner

How To Apply The Vinyl Decal

While the idea of peeling and sticking seems simple and fun, there are a couple of things you need to know beforehand.

Work in a space with a temperature range of 55 F and 80 F. Stay away from breezy spaces avoid doing the application in the sun. Your garage should suffice.

  1. Prepare a wetting agent
  2. Pick a spot where you want your decal to sit
  3. Stick the decal with masking tape and mark it
  4. Wet the surface thoroughly with soapy water
  5. Peel back the backing from the vinyl whilst being careful not to tear the vinyl
  6. Position the decal and place on the wet surface
  7. You can reposition as often as you need until it sits just right
  8. Apply a squeegee over the decal
  9. Peel the transfer film slowly from the car.
  10. Use the razor knife to trim the excess off by trimming around obstructions and seams
  11. If there are any bubbles, make a tiny prick with a needle and then squeegee the water or air out through the hole
  12. Dry the area with a heat gun

Those are the simple steps, and here is a detailed video with the transcription below that goes into each step at length. You will see the whole process from beginning to end.

Wet Install Using Hinge Method For Large Car Decal

Video transcription:

All right, I’m Tony from Tower Decals, today we’re going to show you how to install a large door runner decal that we sell.

First of all you’re going to get it in a tube and it’s going to be wrapped up like this. When you unwrap it it’s going to appear wrinkled and whatnot but you don’t have to worry the vinyl will not be wrinkled.

So go ahead and lay it out flat and then make sure you have a few other supplies before you start.

One; you’re going to need some sort of heat source either a hairdryer or heat gun.

You need some masking tape.

You need a squirt bottle. For a bottle this size you just want a couple drops of dish soap, maybe two to four drops of dish soap and then the rest water

And either a license, credit card or squeegee like this and you’re ready to go

And then oh yeah and you’re going to need something to cut the decal with on the door in here in case some of the letters go over that hinge.

Now you can try your best to line it up to where you don’t have any letters going over that hinge but as you’ll see from what we’re going to do, we’re going to line this up.

I’m gonna get my masking tape ready and I’m going to tape. I found about where the middle of this was. You want to tape right in the middle, right on there like that and then you’re going to want to line it up.

Now, I pre-position this so I know exactly where I want the slit in the door to be. So we’re going to go right there so it’s just portion of the T.

I’m going to make sure it’s level and then I’m going to press the tape up like that. Make sure this is all level. Yep all the way back, good to go.

All right, so we’ve done a couple things right here.

We tape down onto a long piece of tape going this way. We’ll show you why later. You can tape a couple more here and there to hold it straight. Obviously we have this straight and level which won’t be important after we spray it down because you’ll be able to adjust it, but the meantime what you’re going to do is you’re going to…

First of all I’m doing this by myself, but we highly recommend that you have somebody help you, because of the difficulty involved in keeping the vinyl from touching itself.

So, as you peel this back, as you can see, sometimes the vinyl sticks. You don’t want to pull too fast because you’ll tear the vinyl, so what we’re going to do is we’re going to slowly undo this back and then I’m going to take a knife, and I have my partner hold this part and I’m going to cut right here carefully.

Don’t cut your truck or on the paint, then I’m going to take my water and soap solution.

All right so we’re spraying down the truck surface the decal with the soap & water mixture. You want to spray it kind of liberally. Don’t worry about it too much, eventually we will squeegee out the water and have it stick.

So this is where you probably want two people because you’re going to want to lay this and work it down. So you’d have one person holding the side where my right hand is now, and then you’d have another person working it down.

So if you get any wrinkles you want to kind of go back and start again, but we have enough water and soap on here to where this thing can move around quite nicely. So you can kind of just lay it down and work it.

You want to push all the water out see how to kind of move there so you want to move it back you want to keep pushing the water out so it gets a little sticky. There we go. You’ll see all the soap coming out the more you get the water out from underneath it.

Now the faster it will dry and less bubbles you’ll have, so I’m going to hit this with a heat gun so that we can peel the other side. Easy, that should be good enough to start the next side.

All right so now we’re working the other side and let me go ahead and remove my tape. I don’t want it to be too tacky right here, as you can see the decal still coming off which is good because I’m gonna have to peel back a little bit to get this tape off.

So go ahead and push that down and I’m going to remove this tape. I’ll probably have my partner hold right here as I work this thing.

Yeah can you push that way, no, this way, yeah flattened out. I got the whole decal off I’m going to spray again probably use a little bit less water this time.

Now I’m going to do the same thing as I did on that side. I’m just going to lay this down get it as straight as possible. As you can see I can move it around touch perfect now that I have the decal all up there.

Now it’s just a process of heating it with the gun and working the bubbles out and the water out.

All right, so now we’re just going to continue to squeegee it and dry it, and once you get it to where it’s pretty tacky like it’s not sliding around like this, once it gets to that point you can go ahead and go to your other side of your truck and apply the other one and let this one dry.

Probably going to take about, I mean, depending on how much soap water you use and how hot it is outside I mean it could take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. You’re gonna have to let this sit before you can pull the tape off of it.

All right, we were doing this for about 20 or 30 minutes well we were let it dry anyway. Once you get it done like that with a squeegee jar you want to test a corner and peel back make sure it’s not going to bubble.

This has bubbled a little bit, we probably could have waited a little bit longer but for all intent and purposes we’re going to go ahead and press on anyway.

You’re going to just want to peel. As you can see, some of these are coming up. You just want to pull them down nice and slow over the high detailed areas and over the leading edges. You don’t want to peel fast, if you peel fast over the leading edges then it will come up so as it comes up a little bit you might get some of these bubbles.

You can work them as you go with your fingers and we’ll show you how to get rid of them when you’re all done.

So there you go. This is going pretty good. You want to peel as close to the and this backwards angle as possible. Don’t pull out. If you pull out you’ll bubble it, so pull straight back. As you can see when you do that you get less problems.

All right, so you’re going to want to do that the rest of the way down.

All right, so now we have the whole thing installed. Hopefully there aren’t too many bubbles in it, but it’s okay if you do, you can work some out. But real quick, before we work out the bubbles we’re going to go ahead, and as you can see ru was on the edge here so we just push that in you can open your door up and make it look even nicer, but for times sake we’re not going to show that.

Anyway you’re going to want to take this, cut as close to the middle as possible. Again try not to scratch your truck and just work these over the edges. Again if you open your door it will wrap around much nicer but since we don’t want to do that right now, I’m just going to press this in, that in and you’re good to go.  And as you can see ,that’s how you do the slice.

Now for bubbles. It’s hard to see on camera, but I have some bubbles here all over the big areas.

Now, the best thing to do is to work them out right now with your finger. If it’s already too dry to move the bubble, don’t wrinkle it, just take a pin or a little exact knife and you’re just going to find the bubble and poke the Center of it just like that, and then just take your finger and press down and it’s gone just like that.

You can do that for every one or you can give it a couple days in the Sun. The Sun will get rid of about 90% of the bubbles. And any bubbles you have left over after a couple days, go ahead and pop it and work it out.

Do not wash the truck or any of the surface area for until all the bubbles have been worked out. And then probably a day after that,  just to let it set and seal. That way your solvents that you wash your vehicle with don’t get in there and ruin the backing, the tacky part anyway so there you go!

Installing a Large Decal Using The Hinged Method

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