I pretty much taught myself how to do this out of frustration for the rip-off shipping costs of online sellers of decals. I am fortunate to live down the street from a plastics store (S&W Plastics on University Ave) that carries a huge selection of adhesive vinyl for sale by the foot or by the roll. They also have the transfer tape.
In this instructable I attempt a two-tone decal. It's just double steps and lining up the two parts properly and I even ended up with an extra sticker when I cut out the shading part!
List of ingredients:
- A design. Preferably two colors only with high contrast and not too much detail. Keep in mind; gradients are impossible to cut but photoshop filters can help. For starting off, the simpler the better... practice on line-art stuff then move up to more detailed work.
- An X-Acto knife or other suitable sharp cutting utensil.
- A cutting surface I use the poster board mailers my "other vinyl" comes in. This part totally depends on how much you care about your work station surface, although I still recommend something as you'll see explained in step 2.
- Scotch tape
- Adhesive-backed colored vinyl color choice is up to you.
- Tweezers I prefer a needle-nosed pair, really sharp points.
- Transfer tape specially made tape with the adhesive strength in between that of scotch tape and a post-it note.
- Patience and a penchant for the meticulous.
Once I save up for an electronic cutter I will laugh at my once archaic ways... but until then I like doing it this way.
Step 1: The Design
After you have your design on paper and the size you want cut it with about a half-inch margin (you can use this as a template and hold it up to whatever you're sticking it to in order to make sure you have the right size and the placing looks good).
Since I did a multiple layer design I printed out two of the same image. I could have also printed each layer separately but I didn't feel like it. It's kinda like screen printing.
Note: Had I printed out each layer individually I would have been able to combine the two post-cutting onto the same backing with a tricky application of transfer tape. I preferred to combine the two on the actual surface itself because it is easier... but if you're making a multi-layered decal for someone else or don't yet have somewhere to stick it, you can do it that way.
Step 2: Vinyl Selection and Securing Image to the Vinyl
Tape the template to the vinyl as flush and in as many places as you can. If you have big empty spaces in the middle of your design, cut a hole in it and tape the middle too. As you start cutting you'll find the paper moving a lot. The more anchor points, the less this happens. Small pieces of tape make it easier to remove the template afterwards.
Step 3: Cutting
Tips for cutting:
- This step is where you have freedom of interpretation. When doing a detailed work, you may want to round corners, ignore small details or straighten edges. This is the last step for creative input on the design.
- Probably most important: cut inner designs first (see pic description) like the inside of an "O" or "A" for example. If you cut the border first you'll have to tape it back to cut the inside part.
- Better to cut too deep than too shallow. Also, better to overlap cut-lines (on corners for example) than to leave a gap. Re-tracing cuts when you're picking and the template is off is a pain. If you cut through the paper, you can fix it by taping the back (see pic description) when you're done. After a while and depending on the thickness of the vinyl (and template paper) you'll find the right depth. Until the blade dulls, that is, and you replace it with a new one. Then you're cutting all the way to the table until you adjust all over again.
- You'll soon find certain lines are easy to speed through, especially if it's shading or folds or something organic. However, it's important not to get complacent and forget where you are in the cutting. Certain lines need to be straight or your whole piece will be off; borders, circles, parallel lines, and text especially. Take glimpses at the whole picture occasionally to make sure you're on the right track. It's easy to get tunnel vision when you're just looking at the lines.
- If you make a mistake, wait until you take the template off to correct it. The paper gets in the way and your repair cuts won't be as clean.
Step 4: Picking
Start by cutting the border into sections to make removal easier if you have a design with a complex edge. If your design is a circle or something, obviously you don't have to do this (although you still may). Then just pick a piece with the tweezers and begin. I find the corners are usually the easiest places to grab from.
Once you have the design picked, you can go over it and trim edges or line up straight lines.
Step 5: Add Transfer Tape and Trim
After the tape is on trim it to about a half-inch from the decal and leave one end overlapping (it helps with decal placement later on, in addition to making it easy to take the backing off).
Step 6: Apply to Surface!
Once it is in the proper spot, take the backing off and roll it down, making sure it goes down even and minimizing air bubbles. Press firmly on the decal to make sure it is adhered well. Rub it all over making sure every little piece has been covered.
Take the tape off pulling back at a 180 degree angle. Small details and pieces will give you trouble and stick to the transfer tape. On bigger pieces, air bubbles are your worst enemy. A trick I read on-line for applying larger pieces and allowing some flexibility after placing the sticker is to spray a mild soap mixture on the surface before applying the decal. I've never tried this because I don't know how you'd get the decal away from the transfer tape without adhesion to the surface. If you get it to work, this method allows easier brushing out of air bubbles and even minor placement adjustments.
If you get air bubbles you can't squeeze out, just lance them with the x-acto (in a slicing motion, not poking... you don't want to stretch the vinyl). If you get creases or folds, simply slice them then make them overlap each other so that the decal lays flush (creases stick out like a sore thumb, seams are practically invisible).
Do a final rub of the decal on the surface to make sure every piece is set. Take a step back and admire your work. You are finished!
That is unless you're using the decal as masking for painting, in which case remember to take the decal off after roughly an hour after the last coat of paint is applied. You want to take it off while the paint is still soft so it doesn't tear or stick to the mask.
Vinyl decals are easily removed unless they've been on your car a few years. They will still come off cleaner than a regular sticker but will be brittle from sun exposure (you'll end up with lots of vinyl pieces wedged under your fingernail from scraping). A little Goo-gone gets rid of the adhesive gunk.