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I was working on a bike for an art raffle, I had my design idea and I looked on Instructables for tips on making reflective stickers but came up empty. After a little trial and error I found a straight forward method using stuff most people already have. I documented the process for other people to make their own versions. Enjoy

You will need

  • Tape to reinforce the printed designs and to work as sticker backing. (I used painters tape, packing tape will also work)
  • Printer
  • Gimp (or similar)
  • Any material with sticky backing, for the actual stickers. (Vinyl sheet, reflective tape, designer duck tape, etc.)
  • Scissors, x-act-o knife, etc. to cut the stickers out.
  • Patience (cutting and peeling the stickers is slow going because 3M vinyl is want to tear)

You may want

  • Denatured alcohol, or similar (To prep bike surface for decals and top coat)
  • Clear varnish or enamel (To protect your art from the world)

Step 1: Designing Your Art.

The very first step in designing your custom art is calculating your surface area. I am using reflective tape that comes in 2" x 24" strips. Actual vinyl sheeting comes in much larger dimensions so you can use the full area of your printer paper. I would suggest a "height" of no more than 2.5" for bike decals as an image larger than that will be impossible to to see once it's wrapped around one of your tubes.

  • Create a new document in your image software that has the dimensions you want your decal to be.

I made a document that is 2" x 6", then used clip art to fill as much space as possible. (I recommend using a border on this image to help guide your layout when applying it to the transfer sheets.)

  • Create a document that matches the size of your printer paper, and copy/ paste your smaller image until you have what you think you'll need

This was made specifically with bike decals in mind, so relatively small surface area (smaller than printer paper anyway). If anyone wants I can ad the steps to cover larger objects.

  • Reverse your image before printing. This is how I failed in my first attempt.
  • Print

NO NEED TO PRINT. If you can draw by hand just follow the guidelines for surface area and remember to draw the reverse of what you want your decal to be.

Step 2: Printing and Cutting

Once you've printed your design there are two things you have to do.

  • You have to cut the excess paper away from your design
  • You have to apply tape to the back of the design

As I am using thin strips of tape I am cutting the 2" x 6" patterns out before applying the painters tape.

If you're using larger sheets of vinyl I'd recommend cutting it and the printed design down to the same size before applying the tape backing.

  • Now that your transfer sheet and design have the same dimensions apply painters tape to back of your design sheet and trim the edges.
  • Next remove the backing off of your transfer sheet and stick it to the tape side of your design.
  • Cut out the printed images

Step 3: Application

This is time consuming. Be warned.

  • First prepare the area you're going to apply the decals to by cleaning it with with water and a little dish soap. Make sure everything is dry before moving on. If you're using any other surface prep products use them after the initial cleansing.
  • Start peeling the improvised backing off of your decal, if it too hard to start use a knife. Go slowly!! Also starting from a wider part of the decal will help prevent tearing.
  • Once your decal is in place go over it with your finger nail or a credit card to push out the air bubbles and make sure every part of the sticker's edge is making contact with the bike.

Repeat until you are satisfied.

Step 4: Extra Steps for Durability and Style.

Paint, accents, and pigments.

Did I mention this was for an art raffle? I had another artist friend go behind my decals with her paints, as you can see adding a little color goes a long way. There is no real instruction to this part as it is a matter of style, make sure the surface is clean, and make sure everything is dry before you move on.

Top coat.

You can choose the overall finish of the bike depending on the top coat you use. Sealing the edges of the decals will make them last longer and protect your bike look overall. Varnish comes in aerosol cans as does a number of similar products. I used about 5 coats of rust-oleum crystal clear enamel.

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