How to Apply Custom Decals to a Car

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A popular way to put some personality into your car’s look is with custom decals. People use them to show support for their favorite sports team, add flavor to a flashy race car, or even promote their business with brands and logos.
With so many reasons to get a custom decal, it’s no surprise we see so many on the road. If you’re thinking of joining the decal team, or even just putting a small bumper sticker, here are some steps to help you do it yourself and avoid a costly service fee while still getting a professional quality appearance on your car.

Measure and tape the area off

First, measure the area where you want to apply the decal. Use a measuring tape for this step. Once you know where you want to place the decal, mark the area off using masking tape. The following covers these steps in more detail:
Step 1: Decal fit. Look for areas where you want to place the decal and make sure it fits before proceeding.
Step 2: Measure the area. Hold the decal up to the area where you want to place it. Use a measuring tape to center the decal and to measure the distance between the decal and any edges to make sure it is straight.
Step 3: Tape off the area. Using masking tape, mark the corners of the decal to serve as a guide. Masking tape represents a great material to mark a decal’s location without damaging the paint of the car.

Clean and dry the area

The best way to apply a decal is to a surface as clean as it can possibly get. Use soap and water to scrub the area and remove as much dirt and dust as you can. After scrubbing, rinse and dry the area thoroughly.
Make sure there is nothing that will come between the sticker and vehicle surface. Be careful trying to apply decals in overly windy and dusty or sandy locations since you don’t want anything to blow back onto the car as you’re placing the sticker.
Step 1: Clean the area. Using a soft clean cloth and mild cleaner, clean the area where you want to place the sticker. Rubbing alcohol makes a great cleaner as it can remove dirt and oil for a cleaner surface.
Step 2: Cleaners to avoid. Avoid using cleaners that leave a residue as this makes it harder for the decal to stick. If you use soap, rinse the area thoroughly with water before drying it.
Step 3: Dry the area. Once sufficiently clean, allow the area to air dry or use a dry clean towel to dry the area.

Apply the custom decal

Applying the decal represents the last step in the custom decal application process. As long as you take your time while applying the custom decal, you should have little problem in doing so. The following steps detail how to properly apply a decal:
Step 1: Run a squeegee or credit card over the decal. Take a squeegee or similar item with a sharp edge like a credit card, and run it over the surface of the decal. This will eliminate any air bubbles and make sure the decal is as straight and flat as it can get, making placement easier and smoother.
Step 2: Remove the decal backing. Start peeling off the decal backing and placing it in the location you want it. Use the tape as a guide while applying the decal to keep it straight.
Step 3: Start with the corner. Starting with the exposed corner of the decal, press the decal firmly into place.
Step 4: Apply the decal slowly. Using a straight edge tool, slowly press the decal down, working your way across the decal, removing air bubbles while you do so. Make sure to keep the decal taut to help prevent any bubbling.
Step 5: Peel off the decal backing. Unpeel the backing of the decal as you work across the area. Only removing a few inches at a time allows you to keep the decal straighter while applying it.
As you lower the decal onto the surface area, use a squeegee or similar item to flatten the sticker tightly on the car as you go. Then, once the sticker is completely in place, use the squeegee again to go over the entire surface, flattening completely.
Sometimes, removing the backing and placing the sticker can actually be done at the same time, known as the “half-and-half” way of applying decals. In this method, just peel back one side of the backing and place that on the surface area. Then, using the squeegee, slide the decal onto the car as you slowly peel the rest of the backing out from under the sticker. This method can help if you want to make sure nothing will get between the sticker and the surface of the car.
Step 6: Allow the decal to dry. Once on the vehicle, allow the decal to dry completely before removing the transfer tape. This helps reduce the likelihood that the decal comes off while removing the transfer tape.
Step 7: Smooth out the decal. Smooth out the decal with a straight edge to remove any remaining air bubbles. Use caution to not cut the surface of the decal by pressing too hard with the straight edge.
Step 8: Remove the clear film. After the sticker is placed firmly on the car, the clear film can be removed from the decal. For best results, it’s best to wait approximately 24 hours to remove the film to allow the decal time to stick and make it easier to get the film off.
If the decal starts to come up with the film then stop, lower the clear film back down and use the squeegee to flatten the decal back out. Then wait awhile to try again.
Custom decals can make your vehicle stand out and show your support for a favorite team, hobby, or cause. Whether you want to apply a decal to a window, bumper, or other area of your car, keep some things in mind, including making sure to clean and dry the area where you want to place the decal. Also, take your time when applying the decal to make sure it goes on correctly. Complete the look by touching up any nicks or scratches, removing stuck-on bugs, and cleaning up any wayward paint that may have made its way onto the finish of your car.

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