Picture of Apply Big Decals Without Wrinkles or Bubbles
Here's how the pros put decals on.
Ever turn a nice decal into a wad of crap and wreck your paint job in the process?
Learn the true secrets here. The same methods work with bumperstickers, contact paper, etc.

Don, Dan, and Vincent bust out the masterful skills and put some major decals on the catamaran "Nalani".

They printed these decals on a huge inkjet printer/sign cutting machine made by Roland.
The decals come attached to some heavy shiny paper with some thinner cover paper over them.
So it's a sandwich with three layers, decal in the middle.
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up

Step 1: Big Tape at Top

Picture of Big Tape at Top
Leave the decal attached to the wax paper.
Face the decal with the tissue paper cover toward you.
Tape the decal at the top edge using the biggest masking tape you can find.
Don and Vincent are using foot wide masking tape. Don says "that tape is the hinge".

Step 2: Cut the Decal Into Sections

Picture of Cut the Decal Into Sections
This decal has separate pieces and it's going onto a curved surface.
That's easier if you cut it into sections.
That way you can deal with one area at a time.
Don wields the big scissors.

Step 3: Final Cleaning

Picture of Final Cleaning
Dirt under the decal will cause damage in later steps.
Dan carefully wipes the surface with a wet cloth.

When it's clean enough it will gleam like in the second photo.

Step 4: The Soapy Water Secret

Picture of The Soapy Water Secret
This is a major trick. Dan is spraying the surface with soapy water.

That way the decal doesn't stick in place immediately. They can reposition it if necessary.
It makes it possible to to squeegee out any wrinkles or bubbles.
The soap and water dries in a few minutes and the decal is firmly affixed.

Vincent says: "use 5 or 10% max liquid dish soap mixed with water, it doesn't really matter what kind of soap it is."

This method would also work with window tint gels.

My husband has been asking me to put vinyl decals on his truck for a few weeks now, and I have been coming up with excuse after excuse to avoid it because I don't want to mess it up. The design is quite large so cutting it into sections sounds like a great idea! I can't believe I haven't thought of that before! Also, the tip about spraying it with soapy water is great! It will be nice to know that I can reposition it if necessary!

trimoh4 years ago
windex also works great as well instead of soap water
gemtree4 years ago
Oh, this is fabulous! I was wanting to put a white or silvery decal on the roof of my very hot black van. It is like an oven getting into the flippn thing in the summer. (Texas Gulf Coast gets real hot) I may look into making my own decals.
mweston5 years ago
Is Dan really praying? Check step 4, little typo I used the soap and water method to apply decals to R/C planes and boats - it gives you a little leeway because you can move the piece around before you squeegee out the solution below it. I never thought o using it on a decal this big though, good tip, I'll remember it next time I do something like this!
TimAnderson (author)  mweston5 years ago
Thanks! fixed it
mrmath7 years ago
What's the soap to water ratio, and what kind of soap?
TimAnderson (author)  mrmath7 years ago
I added that info to step 4, thanks for the question!
Hi Tim,
Thank you so much for sharing. I wanted to ask you about the part :
They printed these decals on a huge inkjet printer/sign cutting machine made by Roland How can I get my design pre-cut like this - which kind of stores do this, and how does the machine actually cut the middle layer only?
TimAnderson (author)  rik.magon5 years ago
I think they cut and pull off the stuff they don't want before sticking the cover paper on there. I've seen a vinyl cutter in action, the business I think is called a "drag knife" and it's just an exacto blade on a swivel. The backing is pretty hard to cut through, so you can actually do it pretty easily by hand with an exacto blade if the place you get the decals from doesn't offer the service. Can any readers recommend a service bureau?
Thanks! I've been thinking of covering my laptop with contact paper, and this would really help with the air bubbles I was expecting to get.
etlerd6 years ago
Wish I'd read this before I tried to apply heat blocking film to a window. Now that was frustrating. Thanks.
Why is he "praying the surface with soapy water?"
DWRead6 years ago
I use plain water under the decal.
salazam6 years ago
the soap... it doesn't affect the adhesive? How does it work???
Namsab7 years ago
This is great! I've been planning to put some contact paper designs on my walls, my laptop and lots of other stuff.. and knowing me, I'd end up with hundreds of bubbles! Thanks for the tut.
I would put a bunch of rubbing alcohol in your application fluid.
Nice work Tim, looks great!