Introduction: Vinyl Decals on Finished Wood - a Careful Application Process Step-by-step

About: Based in San Francisco I strive to incorporate custom lettering in the art that I design, print, and make.

Here is the final Datatist decal applied on finished wood. In this instructable I've shared several tips and methods learned through trial and error on how to best apply a stencil to finished wood.

1) When applying a vinyl decal to wood work slowly and methodically to get the best final result. 

Some wood finishes will not accept a vinyl decal while other wood finishes will allow vinyl decals to stick well. Consider using a test vinyl piece to test adhesion rather than a sacrificial decal to check if you chosen spot will work.

I made it at Techshop
Submitted by SFlettering for the Instructables Sponsorship Program

Step 1: Place Decal on Wood Without Backing : DATATIST Decal

Remove the white backing from the vinyl decal and place decal onto the wood carefully considering alignment to the final surface.

When cutting the decals if you did not leave a straight edge or a 90 degree corner consider using a sharpie to draw a line across the bottom of the letters of the decal for best alignment with the finished wood application location.

Step 2: Squeegee in Place

Pay careful attention to the squeegee step to promote adhesion to difficult surfaces like finished wood. When applying a vinyl decal to finished wood consider using the finger squeegee method for best adhesion especially if the vinyl decal lifts away from the wood during application (see step 4 for recovery from a minor error)

Step 3: Begin to Remove Plastic Sheeting : DATATIST Decal

To begin to remove the plastic sheeting start from the right side and lift at an angle to the surface. 
If you maintain a constant 45 degree angle to the stencil (see image) and pull back (165 degrees plus to initial surface) instead of up and away (~90 degrees to surface) you will get better final results.

Step 4: When Errors Occur With Vinyl Decals

Here I made a slight error and the left leg of the letter "A" started to pull away. 
When this occurs simply put the plastic sheeting and the vinyl decal back into place, apply finger squeegee technique (and/or rigid squeegee) to re-adhere decal to surface. 

When an error occurs make a special effort to slow down and repair the problem rather than giving up and wasting a decal or creating an imperfect application. 

In a pinch you can use a knife or a rigid squeegee to "pull" the vinyl away from the plastic sheeting and to stick it in place.

Step 5: Recovery From Minor Error : DATATIST Decal

After a minor error make sure that the decal will remain in place before pulling the plastic sheeting fully away from the decal. For best adhesion make sure each letter is applied perfectly before moving on to the next. 

Most errors that occur with vinyl decals applied to wood can be reduced by making a stencil which is better suited to difficult surfaces through smart design and fewer small pieces.

This example of the DATATIST decal was used to show that even complicated decals can be applied successfully to finished wooden surfaces.

Step 6: Final Decal on Wood : DATATIST Decal

Once you have followed the steps and done a great job to apply your stencil you can carefully promote adhesion by further "finger squeegee" pressure slowly and carefully to one piece or one letter at  a time.

When applying the decal it is smart to treat it like something that you just glued in place.
Consider leaving the decal in place without sliding anything over it for at least 5-15 minutes.
(this step can vary with the ambient temp and it is more important when very warm to let the glue settle in place for best final adhesion.)

thank you for reading about how to put vinyl decals onto finished wood.