So now that everything has been prepared, where do you start?
In the shop, we begin by seeing if any of the decals will peel off by themselves without and assistance from a heat gun or chemicals. Hopefully if a high quality vinyl was used and the truck or trailer was well maintained, some of the decals will come off without any heat and without leaving any residue behind. Usually, this does not happen. We then apply a little bit of heat to the decals to see if they will peel off.
The heat stage is a bit tricky; not enough heat, the adhesive will stay on the surface. Too much heat, the face stock melts and becomes goo. It takes a bit of practice to get the heat settings correct for each material that we remove. Different brands and quality levels will remove differently. Be careful not to heat the surface too much, as you will burn the paint under or around the decal.
Try to heat the decals so that the adhesive removes WITH the colored face stock. Depending on the quality of vinyl, this may or may not be possible. A high performance or air-release vinyl is manufactured so that the adhesive is sprayed on to the colored face stock, making the product “one” piece and usually removes together. A calendared vinyl or intermediate is made by applying pressure to a sheet of colored face stock and a sheet of adhesive to bind them together. This type of material usually comes apart in (2) layers as well; colored face stock peels of easily form the adhesive that is still stuck on the vehicle.
To actually remove the decals, heat the decal evenly and pick at an edge of the decal with your fingers to try to get a “hold” section. Move the heat gun away from your fingers and the decal while you are pulling with the other hand.(We hold the heat gun in our left hand-as we are right-handed, and pick with our right hand.)Once you are able to get enough to pull, alternate heating the decal and pulling at a 45 degree angle. Try not to heat the decal while you are pulling it as this will cause the decals to stretch too much and most likely break away from the balance left on the vehicle. Expect your fingers to be hot and sore after a few minutes. This goes with the territory.
Be sure to keep track of the hot end of the heat gun while you are working. Make sure it is not leaning against the vehicle, heating up an area you don’t want heated! But most importantly, make sure that the hot end of the gun NEVER TOUCHES YOU! We have had some close calls with clothing burning through by just touching the end quickly and unfortunately have been branded permanently by the tip grazing our legs upon setting the gun down. We do leave the gun on while we are heating and pulling; there would be too much heat loss if we shut it off between heatings.
We have experimented with gloves and squeegees and all sorts of things to remove decals. Unfortunately, the best method for us still seems to be the “burned finger” method. We can feel the tension on the edges of the vinyl, it comes off a bit easier than being stuck to a glove and it is just faster.
(If the decals are old, dry and cracked, we will utilize a decal removal disc that is mounted on a corded drill. We use a corded vs a cordless so that we can get the RPM’s high enough to remove the decal and adhesive quickly without heating the surface much, which causes streaked decal residue and surface warping.
This would be the point in the removal process where it is best to let the professionals handle it. It is a messy process, with decal material flying about, requiring safety equipment and quite a bit of shop and personal clean up after.)