Vinyl Removal & Installation

Written by webmaster.

In most instances, it is possible to remove vinyl lettering with no residual damage to the applied surface. While this is typically the case, different substrate materials can react in different ways, so if you’re unsure of the resulting reaction, it’s important to test an inconspicuous area of your surface before applying the following techniques to the entire area. The upside is that most surfaces, including vehicles, respond well to the vinyl removal technique outlined below, with no resulting damage to the surface.

(Note: When working with decals that have been in place for a significant length of time, there is the slight possibility that the paint around the decal will appear discolored or faded upon removal. Usually this only occurs in cases where the decal has been exposed to the sun for extreme periods of time. This significant sun exposure will result in a tan line effect on the surface, whereby the unexposed area under the decals will appear nice and shiny next to the faded, exposed surface.)
In the case of an old signs, where the paint is already chipped and peeling, it is important to keep in mind that the paint will most likely peel off with the vinyl letters when you remove them.

The following step-by-step instructions provide a good basic plan for removing old vinyl decals, stripes and letters.

  1. Heat the surface of the decal with a heat gun or torch. Then scrape the vinyl from the surface. See Fig. 1 (Note: if the vinyl is old and brittle, it will most likely come off in small pieces. If the vinyl is not that old you may be able to pull it off in bigger chunks.)
  2. Once you have peeled all of the vinyl off, you will have to clean the adhesive off the surface with a product designed to remove adhesive without damaging the paint. Rapid Remover or Citrus Stripper work great.
  3. Clean the surface with soap and water then check to make sure there are no remaining pieces of vinyl or adhesive stuck to it.


At this point, you are done. If you intend to apply new vinyl to the surface, be sure to clean it thoroughly, then wipe it down with alcohol to ensure that none of the adhesive remover is left on the surface.

  1. Assumptions
  2. Tools
  3. Surface Preparation
  4. Positioning
  5. Installation Hinge Free Horizontal and Vertical Hinge Center Hinge SlamWrap Install Notes Non-Masked Graphics- Windshield Sun Visors, "Eyelids", Fill-Ins, Printed Window Perforated Vinyl, etc. Multi-Layer Graphics
  6. Tips, Tricks, and Trickery

I am assuming you have never applied a vinyl graphic before and you have set aside some time in your busy day to apply the graphic so you are not rushed. The graphic you have purchased is cut to your desired design and size, and is ready to be applied. The vinyl graphic is made from a highperformance, high quality vinyl (you need to make sure it is a “2 mil Cast 7 year” vinyl). Anything less will fade, peel, and not conform to curves as easily. Don’t settle for the cheap stuff! And my last assumption is you want to learn everything you can to do the job right in a short period of time. Well let me tell you, you’ve come to the right place and ANYONE can do it! But you must follow some orderly instructions to get everything to turn out right. So let’s get on with it.

The list below outlines the necessary tools and materials you’ll need to install your graphic correctly. We’ll discuss each of these individually.

  1. Squeegee made for applying vinyl
  2. Masking tape
  3. Magnets with rubber coating (optional)
  4. Ruler or measuring tape/Ribbon
  5. Vinyl application fluid {App Fluid} (3 parts Water | 1/2 part Rubing alcohal | 2 drops of dish soap)
  6. Denatured Alcohol and Silicone/Wax remover (RAPID REMOVER)
  7. Spray bottles
  8. Water hose
  9. Cheap paper towels
  10. Razor knife
  11. Utility knife (oflia Blade)
  12. A sewing pin
  13. Level (optional)
  14. China marker (optional)
  15. And a garage or covered area (optional).

We’ll discuss each of these tools in depth so you know the why and how.

First, the squeegee is usually made of vinyl or plastic and is single or double edged about four inches in width. Wherever you got the graphic should carry them. If not, you can purchase from your local sign shop. Be sure the edges are not nicked. They should be smooth. If they are not, it will cause streaks or bubbles when you apply your graphic (if it’s nicked, contact me and I will share a trick with you on how to make it smooth …) . If it’s new, you should be fine.

Masking tape will be used to position and hold the graphic while you are squeegeeing (more on that later)/MAGNETS. Have a ruler and/or measuring tape available to position and align the graphic properly to your surface.

The “applying graphics with fluid (App Fluid) vs. dry” debate continues, but let me tell you, for beginners (and many seasoned pros agree), using a “wet” application is the best way to go for larger graphics. Application fluid allows much more freedom in positioning, you are less prone to getting wrinkles, premature sticking is alleviated, and many more problems that could be encountered are avoided. Using a vinyl application fluid made specifically for vinyl graphics is by far the best way to go. If you want your installation to go smoothly and last, be sure to use vinyl application fluid. App Fluid - It’s sort of a “one-in-all” product. It cleans the surface, promotes adhesion when you start applying pressure, lets you “float” the graphic into position, great on glass, etc.

You’ll need Denatured Alcohol to remove any residues (more on this later) and Citrus Cleaner & Degreaser (Rapid Remover), Total Prep, Prep Sol, etc.) to remove any wax, tar, silicone and/or grease from the surface. This is a critical step. These types of products can be purchased at your local paint or hardware store. Always follow the instructions on the label, make sure it can be used on painted surfaces (or fiberglass if it’s a boat) and test in an inconspicuous area.

The spray bottles can be purchased at any hardware store. They might carry them at your local drug store, not sure. The spray bottle is used to spray the application fluid and cleaning fluids onto the surface and graphic.

You’ll use soap and water to clean the surface initially. Household dishwashing soap is fine. Just use a few drops. Have a hose available to wash down and rinse off the surface.

Use the cheapest paper towels you can buy. Make sure these don’t say “lint free” or something else. Only the cheapest. They will not have any chemicals in them to contaminate the surface. It’s all about contamination these days! Use a clean paper towel for each step.

A small razor knife (the kind with breakable blades) with a new blade to make any needed cuts. You’ll use the sewing pin to prick any bubbles to release trapped air under the graphic. Yes, it happens, but it’s NO big deal. It happens to everyone including the pro’s, but you would never know it once the bubbles have been popped.

You may want to use a level if you intend on installing the graphic, well, level. Don’t eyeball it. The contours on a car and the lines will throw you off big time. It’s OK not to use a level however- “if it looks good, it is good.”

If possible have a covered area where you can work. It makes a big difference. Not only will it keep “things” from landing on your surface, but it shields against wind. Wind is not your friend, especially when doing a large graphic installation. It can be done, but it’s just more tricky. It also helps you regulate the temperature. The optimum temperature range for vinyl graphic adhesion is 60 – 80 degrees F. It can be done colder (the air and surface should always be above 40 degrees F) or hotter (use a hose and water to cool the surface), but between 60 – 80 is ideal.


Surface Preparation

The most critical part of installing a graphic has nothing to do with “installation.” It’s all in the cleaning preparation. Your goal is to get your surface as clean as possible. Not only will it make your graphic stick much better, but it will last longer and be easier to work with and position. You need to get rid of two elements: organic (bugs, sap, dirt, etc.), use the soap and water to do this. Easy! Now dry it with those paper towels. Next you need to get rid of petrochemicals (wax, tax, grease, oil, gas residue, etc), this is where the other chemicals mentioned comes in. Wet one towel with the chemical and put in one hand. Hold a dry paper towel(s) in the other. As you wipe with the wet towel, follow immediately with the dry towel. The goal is to not let the chemical dry on the surface. Okay, almost done. Finish using the same technique (two hands, two towels) but with the Denatured Alcohol | Rapid Remover. This removes any remaining residue from the surface. (Of note, ActionTac is a cleaner as well and does all of this in one fail swoop). You’re ready to install. Move the car (or boat, motorcycle, whatever) into the garage or undercover if possible. If not, try at least to be in the shade. Now, admire how freaking clean your car looks! WOW! (As a note if it’s not clear already, DO NOT wax your car in advance if you know you are going to install a graphic – wax is not your friend here). In addition, wait at least 60 days after a fresh paint job before installing a graphic- or make sure the paint is fully cured.


Examine the area where you want to install your graphic. Be creative. Even though you imagined it on the rear quarter panel for example, move it around. Turn it upside down (don’t try this if it’s letters). You may find it looks better in a different spot than where you imagined it. Your car or boat is a palette for you to express your creative juices, let’em flow! Once you’ve determined where you want it, tape the graphic’s edges with the masking tape and step back again for a final look. Make any necessary adjustments. You can use your China marker to make marks for alignment, or use some extra masking tape directly next-to and above the edges of your graphic. Tape comes off easy, is a straight line and is easy to see- works for me. Remove the graphic off the surface leaving the alignment marks or tape. Now you are ready to install!


Hinge Free Method (for all types of small graphics- “peel and stick it”)

Since we are doing a “wet” application using application fluid, follow these steps.

  1. Use your spray bottle to soak the surface with the application fluid.
  2. Slowly peel off the “release liner” (this is the wax paper on the back of the graphic) away from the graphic. The top sheet is called “transfer tape” (it’s similar to large masking tape… ours is sometimes clear). Make sure the graphic sticks to the transfer tape. You don’t want any part to stick together.
  3. Next, Spray the sticky side of the graphic with your application fluid as well. You can spray thesticky side as you are pulling the graphic away from the liner.
  4. Apply the graphic to your surface and flatten it by pulling the corners into position. Try to get all the wrinkles and air bubbles out without applying pressure.
  5. Squeegee technique is very important here! Hold the squeegee at a 45 degree angle and with overlapping firm strokes, begin squeegeeing the graphic from the middle to the edge. Firm pressure. It’s rare you’ll use too much pressure, but very common to not use enough pressure. This will get rid of most air bubbles, adhere the graphic properly, and squeeze the application fluid away from under the graphic.
  6. Spray the top of the graphic (transfer tape) with the application fluid and squeegee once again. This will loosen the transfer tape and make removing the tape much easier.
  7. Begin by pulling the edge of the transfer tape at a zero degree angle. The transfer tape should be pulled directly along the surface. Don’t pull it straight up. If the graphic is not sticking, resqueegee it back down and WAIT a little while. It WILL stick. Glass takes the longest to dry.

Hopefully it looks pretty sweet! The graphic is sometimes still “moveable,” so be careful immediately after applying wet. If the graphic starts to pull up with the transfer tape, just lay it back down, squeegee again and wait a little while. This might happen with a wet application. Professional application fluid sticks it pretty good. If it’s just not staying down for some reason, you might want to use a hairdryer to heat the graphic a bit.

Once the tape is removed, look for any air bubbles. You’ll probably have a few if it’s a large graphic. No worry. Simply press around the air bubble to raise the air as much as possible to a single point. Next, take your pin and poke a small hole at the edge of the bubble and use your finger to press the air and fluid towards the pin hole. After the graphic settles and with a little time you never see it.

If you are applying a layered graphic (two colors) with application fluid, it’s a good idea to let the graphic you just installed sit a day or two before beginning the next one. You don’t want the graphic you just installed to move any or pull away when you lay the next one on top or remove it’s transfer tape- just a precaution. It is also my advice aesthetically to go with multiple colors. It looks so much better (red graphic with a black outline, etc.). It’s also very easy to align the colors perfectly using the “wet” method since you can see through the transfer tape to make a perfect alignment. It’s amazing how far you could go!

The next three application techniques are very helpful. If you do a dry installation just skip everywhere application fluid is mentioned and hold the graphic taught a few inches above the surface while you are squeegeeing (just high enough so it doesn’t touch the surface). It is also preferred, when installing dry, to not fully remove the release liner. Just pull it back a little at a time as you squeegee. This gives the graphic some “body” and holds the shape as you squeegee.

The “Horizontal and Vertical Hinge Method” are the most common hinge application techniques. Hinges are used to hold the graphic in place while you squeegee.

Horizontal (best for large lettering that is not “connected” like script fonts)



  1. Position lettering or graphic on clean surface. Tack to desired location with small pieces of masking tape on either end.
  2. Apply a long piece of masking tape across the top of the lettering or graphic.
  3. Remove small pieces of masking tape at both ends.
  4. Cut lettering or graphic into smaller areas vertically. (With letters, cut between the letters. With graphic, cut between sections taking care not to cut through any vinyl). The hinge at the top holds the graphic and maintains the graphics spacing in tact. You are basically just making the graphic “smaller” by installing smaller sections of it at a time.
  5. Starting at the right (if right-handed), flip one section over at a time and remove release liner.
  6. Apply the application fluid to the surface and the back of the transfer tape (sticky side).
  7. Lay the graphic on the surface pulling the corners to remove any bubbles and wrinkles, etc. as described above.
  8. Squeegee each section into place using the squeegee technique described above.
  9. Re-squeegee entire line of lettering or graphic when complete.
  10. Remove application tape.
  11. Check for bubbles and release as described above.

Vertical (best for medium to large sized graphics that are continuous)


  1. Position lettering or graphic on clean surface. Tack to desired location with small pieces of masking tape on either end.
  2. Apply a long piece of masking tape across the right side (if you are right handed or viceversa).
  3. Remove small pieces of masking tape at both ends.
  4. Starting at the right (if right-handed), flip the graphic back and remove release liner.
  5. Apply the application fluid to the surface and the back of the transfer tape (sticky side).
  6. Lay the graphic on the surface pulling the corners to remove any bubbles and wrinkles, etc. as described above.
  7. Squeegee using the squeegee technique described above.
  8. Re-squeegee entire line of lettering or graphic when complete.
  9. Remove application tape.
  10. Check for bubbles and release as described above.

The “Center Hinge Method” will allow you to work from the center of a graphic outwards. It effectively makes the graphic half as small from an installation standpoint.

Center Hinge (best for windshield or large “connected” or “continuous”
lettering (i.e. script) or graphic)


  1. Position lettering or graphic on clean surface. Tack to desired location with small pieces of masking tape on either end.
  2. Run another piece of masking tape vertically through the center of the lettering or graphic, making sure it adheres firmly above and below the lettering as well. Vertical tape will act as a center hinge.
  3. Remove one small piece of masking tape from either end.
  4. Lift graphic or lettering from that end and pull release liner away. Continue to pull liner away until close to vertical center hinge.
  5. Cut release liner with scissors and discard while holding the graphic and transfer tape away from the surface. (Yes, this is much easier with two people)
  6. Apply the application fluid to the surface and the back of the transfer tape (sticky side).
  7. Lay the graphic on the surface pulling the corners to remove any bubbles and wrinkles, etc. as described above.
  8. Starting from center vertical hinge, squeegee lettering down onto prepared surface using the squeegee technique described above.
  9. Remove small piece of masking tape on other end as well as vertical tape used as center hinge (what you just squeegeed will act as the “tape” to hold the graphic in place). Lay remaining half over applied lettering or graphic.
  10. Remove the rest of the release liner, apply fluid and again, beginning from center, squeegee into place.
  11. Remove application tape.
  12. Check for bubbles and release as described above.