DIY Vinyl Car Decals

From Acuras to Volvos, cars are starting to look more and more plain. Sometimes the basic colors, standard windows and common design are all someone needs. Many people rely on their trucks and cars for the simple use of transportation.

But if you’re a car enthusiast who spends a majority of your free time boosting your vehicle's appearance, as well as the performance of your ride, custom vinyl decals can give you a personal touch that lifts you away from the average Joe.

You can distinguish your car or truck in more ways than you can imagine. You can put racing stripes down the side of your Camaro, or highlight your favorite sports team on your rear window. Whatever your passions and interests, car decals can one-up the look of your vehicle and add unique character that no one else has. You can use DIY labels to showcase your business, support a cause or show off your style.

What Are Vinyl Car Decals?

Imagine placing a massive sticker onto your window or the side panels of your truck or car. And not a tiny paper sticker, but one on a larger scale that pops to onlookers. That’s what you get when you create a decal. Whether you want it to fit the entire left side of your car or you want something to customize a portion of your window, decals are an easy addition to apply to your vehicle to boost its image.

Vinyl is a material that acts as a temporary surface when you create an image for a decal. The vinyl helps you transfer a graphic or set of letters to a more permanent surface such as a car window or panel. Vinyl car decals are adhesive, like a sticker, but with a stronger and more long-lasting hold. They are thin and flexible sheets made with pressure-sensitive backing. Therefore, the adhesive won’t activate until you push the vinyl onto another area.

While the labels adhere to your truck or car through years of driving and harsh elements, they are not permanent. If you no longer like the style you’re portraying, you can swap out your decals. If you want to take a graphic or lettering off your windows, you can do that too.

Custom Car Decals You Can Make

Sometimes it’s worth spending a little bit of time and effort to make your own decals as opposed to shopping online. DIY car decals allow you to illustrate anything you want. You can show support for organizations and causes you are passionate about or demonstrate your love for your family by adding the classic stick figures of your members, including pets.

Do your children attend college or play on a sports team? Are they a member of the military or did they achieve an incredible honor? Decals are the best way to express your support, commitment and love for whatever suits your fancy. Support your community, favorite professional team and local businesses or choose an inspirational quote, thought-provoking words or even a one-liner from your all-time favorite movie. Anything you select can add a streak of personality to your windows.

You can also illustrate your style by applying an impressive set of racing stripes to the side of your car or truck. If you have a particular design in mind that you want, your DIY project can turn from racing stripes to patterns, animations or lettering. If you have a business you want to promote, stick on a decal that advertises your establishment or put different logos on your car. Even if you’re thinking about patterns for the exterior of your vehicle, your options are limitless. The most common type of vinyl decals people add to their windows and sides include lettering, custom designs and machined images.

Materials You Will Need

Completing a DIY car decal is a simple process. There are two main methods you can follow — by hand or by machine. Depending on what materials you have, one will be the more obvious choice over the other. For example, if you’re free-handing your decal, you will need the following:

  • A design
  • Application or transfer tape
  • Cutting mat
  • Pencil
  • Squeegee
  • Vinyl sheet
  • X-ACTO knife, tweezers or a weeding hook

If you have a die-cutting machine, you can download images from your software or the Internet as opposed to free-handing a design or printing one off. The device will print and cut the decal on a vinyl sheet with clean lines. For machine use, consider working with materials such as:

  • Application or transfer tape
  • Cutting machine software
  • Cutting mat
  • Electronic die-cutting machine
  • Scraper or squeegee
  • Vinyl sheet
  • X-ACTO knife, tweezers or a weeding hook

Custom window decals are often not intricate photos, but basic outlines of simple objects. The more complicated you make them, the harder it will be to print and see it once you transfer it to a window or side. For example, a clean outline of a surfboard or soccer ball generates excellent decals. But a complicated sticker with several layers and a lot of letters can become difficult to read.

How to Make and Apply Vinyl Car Window Decals

You can craft a family tree, promote your up-and-coming shop, emphasize the side of your car or place a small phrase on the back window that represents your personality. Think about your interests and how you want your persona to be exemplified. Once you’ve found the best decal idea, think about which method makes the most sense for your situation. If you don’t have a die-cutting machine, completing the project by hand is the way to go.

Implementing the Free-Hand Method With Lettering

If you want to add words or lettering to your car, the easiest, as well as quickest way to do so is by using pre-cut lettering. Insert words like “Family” or “Beach Bum” by placing the letters face down onto transfer tape with the sticky side facing upward. Make sure to spell the words backward during application.

Application or transfer tape is what adheres the graphic or lettering to a surface. It leaves the vinyl backing behind and moves your decal to another surface. The decal is what sticks to your truck or car, and then you peel away the tape. The easiest way to apply your sticker via transfer tape is to slightly bend the decal by bringing both the left and right side together. Position the bottom of the bend onto the surface and push both ends outward. Always use a squeegee to activate the adhesive properties and to remove bubbles.

  1. Start with a clean surface by washing the window.
  2. Place your strip of tape on a flat surface with the sticky side up.
  3. Write out your word using the pre-cut letters, also face down and backward.
  4. Transfer the image to your car window.
  5. Use a credit card or squeegee to release any bubbles for full adherence.
  6. Remove the tape by pulling at a 45-degree angle.

The Free-Hand Procedure With a Design

If you’re looking to form a personalized decal sticker, it can be anything from a picture of a house or holiday decorations to cartoon characters or pets. Free-hand decals with the following steps:

  1. Print out the image you want on regular paper.
  2. Using a pencil, cover the back of the design in lead to help you see the picture.
  3. With the lead surface down on the vinyl, trace your picture.
  4. Cut the decal from the vinyl with a knife, making sure to make cuts over a cutting mat.
  5. Remove the areas you want to cut out.
  6. Make sure you’re working with a clean surface whether it be your car window or side panel.
  7. Place your design onto transfer tape.
  8. Put the depiction onto the tape face down and relocate it to your car or truck.
  9. Glide a credit card or scraper tool across the image with pressure to remove unwanted bubbles.
  10. Remove the tape at a 45-degree angle.

Using the Machine Process

You can invest in several different types of die-cutting machines depending on how often you will use it and the size of the images you need. But no matter what brand or model you have, follow these steps for a vinyl car decal:

  1. Find a picture, word or phrase online or through your machine’s program.
  2. Save the photo to your computer and begin a new project with your die-cutting sequencer.
  3. Upload your design and choose which type you would like — simple, somewhat complicated or complex.
  4. Choose which pieces of the picture you don’t want on the final cut — people often rid all the white areas to create an outlined design.
  5. Make it a cut image and insert the new version to adjust the direction or size.
  6. Print out your decal and get rid of the excess vinyl.
  7. Apply transfer tape to the finished product and place it on your window to keep each section in place.
  8. Make sure you’re working with a clean surface and stick your decal onto the glass.
  9. Peel away the paper backing to release the decal from the sheet and apply the sticker at any angle.
  10. Press over the picture with a scraper to release bubbles and take away the transfer tape.

Helpful Tips on How to Master DIY Decals

Crafting decals for the windows or side panels of your vehicle gets your creative juices flowing and is a simple process. Take a look at a few additional tips to ensure a smooth procedure:

  1. Always clean the surface before installing your image. After washing, you can apply a coat of rubbing alcohol to the glass to enhance the adhesion process. If you leave it dirty, the grime will pick up onto your decal and lessen its sticking properties. As a side note, stray away from window cleaners because they often leave a residue behind.
  2. Determine where you want to place your new sticker beforehand. You have the option to set your logo or phrase to the windows, tires or bumpers. You can also test out a decal with electrical tape and take a look before the final pressing.
  3. Avoid touching the back of the sticker once you’ve removed the paper backing from the vinyl sheet. The oils and dirt from your fingers will deactivate the adhesives.
  4. Take your time setting the graphic or lettering. Position the graphic by putting one end on the glass and sliding it down or across in one sweep for a smooth finish. Work with a credit card or another item with a flat, sturdy surface that you can use to remove any air bubbles.
  5. Never rip off the backing film. Make sure to peel the sticker back at an angle as opposed to ripping it off because it can damage your decal.

How To Remove Your Window or Panel Decal

If you’re ready to upgrade the racing stripes to something else or want to replace the love symbol on the back window with a quote, you can always take off your graphics and lettering:

  1. Clean the decal and the section surrounding it with soapy water.
  2. Warm up the decal using an item like a hairdryer. The heat will help release the adhesive properties, allowing you to lift it with ease.
  3. Using a plastic card or another tool like a razor blade, scrape under the graphic and begin peeling. Be diligent not to scratch the paint of your car if the decal isn’t on a window.
  4. If you’re having difficulties releasing the image, use glue removal products. Let a glob of the removal product sit on the decal for about one minute, then remove it with soapy water. Repeat until all the glue clears.
  5. Once the vinyl decal is off, clean the surface once more.

Why Are DIY Vinyl Car Decals a Great Project?

Advantages of car sticker decals are that they’re a removable and a cost-effective DIY project. Whether you go for a more elaborate side decal or a customized window graphic, you can one-up the style of your truck or car. Restyling enthusiasts can affordably personalize the exterior of their vehicle. You can always remove decals and replace them with other ideas. Decals are not permanent and help you can take pride in designing the exact look you want. Auto customization is boundless when applying sticker decals.

Time to Personalize Your Vehicle

Rvinyl thrives on supplying DIY applications, and we love to see ordinary sets of wheels transform into incredible works of art. All of our vinyl products come with a three-year warranty against peeling, cracking and fading, and we will replace any defective items. Shop our craft vinyl and vinyl films online and receive free shipping if your order totals more than $59. You can even earn a rebate when you submit a photo of your incredible work.

Our vinyl options range from chameleon films to neon vibes — it’s all about how you want to portray your car style. Choose between different colors and patterns of vinyl like white, silver, blue, yellow, red and black as well as matte and camo. Imagine any design you want from animals, racing stripes, words and movie characters to religious symbols, funny sayings and fierce claw marks.