Car Decal Sticker - Made With a Vinyl Cutter




About: I like to make things and break things. I also like to cook things and I like to eat things

In this guide we're making a vinyl car decal.

Some background:
Stephanie is the director of the San Francisco office of The Humane League, an animal protection organization. She gives presentations at schools and travels a lot for her outreach work. She came to a Hack for Animals night and we came up with the idea of converting her personal car into something that promotes her organization while she travels, so I helped her make this vinyl-cut sticker.

This project was made on the vinyl cutter at TechShop.

* Some vinyl sticker paper
* Contact paper
* Rubbing alcohol 

* Vinyl cutter machine - I used the one at TechShop, I recommend looking for a maker space that may have one
* Exacto knife
* Dental tools or toothpicks
* Squeegee

Step 1: Prepare the Files

You'll need to create your artwork as a vector file. We started with a PNG logo and used live trace in Illustrator to convert it to a vector file.

Step 2: Run the Vinyl Cutter With Your Design

We used the vinyl cutter at TechShop. This machine takes our image and cuts it onto the sheet of vinyl.

Step 3: Remove the Negative Space

Using dental tools and an exacto knife we cut out the negative space in the design. It'll take some time to get it all cleaned up. You want to end up with a piece that have your design stuck to the white backing.

Step 4: Cover Your Piece With Contact Paper

After cleaning up the design, we cover the piece with contact paper so we can adhere it to a surface. Smooth out the contact paper so we can get good contact with the surface and reduce air bubbles.

After this step our big decal is ready to be deployed.

Step 5: Clean Your Car for Maximum Sticking Power

Use the rubbing alcohol to clean up the car door before placing the sticker. Remove dirt and any particles. 

Step 6: Place the Sticker

Start from one side and smooth out the sticker as you place it. This will help prevent airbubles. Use the squeegee to smooth out the sticker as you place it. 

After you place the sticker, remove the clear contact paper film. Be careful around the edges. After you remove the clear sheet, use your hands or the squeegee and push down the sticker for good adhesion. 

Step 7: Finished Product

If you need to remove the sticker at any point, you can use a hair dryer to heat up the vinyl and it'll come off a little easier.

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    17 Discussions


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I misread the door I thought it said "The Human league". Then I’m like why is there a picture of a pig?

    Eh Lie Us!

    5 years ago on Introduction

    I'm sorry if this is creepy to say, but you have a beautiful smile! :) Isn't it great to be around happy/optimistic people?

    also I use masking tape on one side of the decal when positioning it to make life easier. You hinge the decal on the masking tape and slowly remove the backing starting at the tape hinge and move away from it smoothing the decal down as you go. Just remember to keep checking that all the decal is coming off onto the transfer tape/film as you work.

    looks great, just thought I'd say that removing the negative space is known as weeding :) love that someone called it that.


    5 years ago on Step 7

    Nice job, and if you need someone to do this for you, reach out to your local Signarama Sign Shop, they can do this for you!


    Her smile is adorable. Shut up.

    I have been making and applying vinyl graphics for 28 years. (Longer than the girl with the smile in question has likely been alive) Don't use contact paper, use transfer tape. If you have a $2000+ vinyl cutter, get some transfer tape. Grimco, Tubelite and many more sign suppliers carry this. It's not expensive and works better.

    Not an exacto knife - get a cheap snap off blade knife. I have never been without one for 28 years and if you drop it it can be "resharpened" in a few seconds. If you really wanna go all out, get a stainless olfa knife. Sweet.

    When possible, do not apply wet. It will go quicker if you are really careful applying the vinyl. Although if you are reading this intructable, go ahead and do the wet apply. Just please dont use too much detergent. JUST enough to keep it from beading.

    As for the alcohol, that is spot on. Best cleaner out there.

    If you don't have a hackerspace with a vinyl cutter, go to a sign shop around 11:45 am with 2 fresh hot pizzas. Just make sure you have VECTOR FILES on your flash drive. Forget Illustrator, unless you already have it. Download FREE Inkscape and save as a pdf after doing the vector conversion.

    If you are in Athens Ohio, go to Zonez on w. union street WITH THE PIZZAS and Bruce will fix everything.

    I LOVE instructables!!!

    1 reply

    One of the posts below is correct - that is clear transfer tape. If you are applying several layers of vinyl, it's great, otherwise, go with the cheaper paper transfer tape. The clear stuff is HORRIBLE with wet apply and even worse in the sun.

    BTW, Just a pepperoni pizza should be fine. A meat lovers supreme might tip them off you have too much money to spend. - Unless you are in Athens, Ohio. The you should go to avalanche pizza.

    If you do, I will wash your car.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    If you have time I prefer the wet method of application:

    damp the surface and the vinyl with a spray of dilute detergent it is easier to squeegee out air bubbles and the vinyl remains re-positionable for a short time after application. With the wet method you do need to wait about an hour before you can remove the application tape and a couple more hours before it is properly stuck.

    The wet method is most use when there are large areas of vinyl.

    Also worth noting that vinyl application works best at room temperature, to hot and the vinyl is too flexible and any thin lines could get distorted.

    2 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    +1 for this tip, it's practically impossible to apply large and/or multicolored areas of sign vinyl whilst avoiding bubbles and rucks when dry (I speak from experience!) also try to avoid stretching the vinyl at any time in the process as it tends to pucker up, although, with sharply curved surfaces, a hairdryer or low setting heatgun will help the vinyl to comply nicely.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    The most common detergent to use with this method is a couple drops of
    baby shampoo to about a quart of water. It works for applying vinyl as
    well as window tint. Spray on the object that you're applying vinyl to, on the adhesive side of the vinyl, and on the outside of the vinyl to reduce the friction between your squeegee tool and the vinyl. A hair spray bottle is good, because you get a nice fine mist, just make sure it's thoroughly cleaned out first!

    FYI, it is not contact paper, it is clear transfer tape. It also comes in paper form, much like masking tape. Contact paper is what you put in cabinets and drawers, and while it does come in clear, most of the time has a printed pattern. It would probably work similar though.

    The process of removing any negative space as you said is called weeding. You weed a sticker.

    Bosun Rick

    5 years ago on Introduction

    I'm sure Tech Shop is a wonderful place to craft items like this.
    Unfortunately there isn't any within hundreds of miles of me, and
    probably many other followers of Instructables Suffer the same problem. It seems Instructables
    is slowly drifting away from the "Do It Yourself at Home" community. While I applaud this project, I am not able to make this project, nor many others shown in Instructables without going to my friendly neighborhood Tech Shop 518 miles & 8.5 hours away. I am not throwing rocks at our friends at Instructables, and I would love to have a Tech Shop within a reasonable distance (12-20 miles).

    I am sure the Lady shown has a great smile, but the camera person caught her in a Mid-Laugh crisis.


    5 years ago

    Very cool, very detailed. By the looks of the photos Stephanie happy... Very happy...

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago

    Yes! Very nice instructions. And she was understandably happy.


    5 years ago

    ...Humane league...