How to Remove Vinyl Decals- Part 2: “The prep-work stage ”

September 8th, 2010

Step # 1: Identify the decal materials and surfaces

If you are setting up a design for new lettering on your vehicle with Image Advantage, and you have existing decals to be removed, we have you bring the vehicle to our shop so we can attempt to identify the age, type and manufacturer of material. We will remove an inconspicuous piece and give you recommendations on problem areas you may encounter. We will also recommend chemical cleaners to remove adhesive residue.

Step #2: Assemble tools and cleaners

To a job correctly, you must have the right tools and this is true for any project. In the case of removing decals, there will be an investment in a few tools, which don’t have to be “top of the line”.

The most important, in my opinion, is a high-temperature heat gun. Hair dryers can work, but most of the time they do not get the face stock (colored part) of the vinyl hot enough to penetrate through to the adhesive. Hair dryers can burn out if used for a long period of time (several hours long) and will make you wife a little less than happy with you. In our shop, we use dual temp Milwaukee heat guns, but a lower end single temp gun will suffice.

A garbage can. A large garbage can. When you pull the vinyl off, resist the urge to just throw it on the floor. At this point, the adhesives have been heated almost to a liquid stage and like to stick to anything and a concrete floor or driveway are favorite places for them to hang out. Besides, then you have to pick them up/off the floor. Try not to handle things twice…it just makes it a longer process. Drag the can with you as you work around the vehicle.

A plastic squeegee for body work or decal install.  We set aside our old squeegees for adhesive removal. You do not want to use the same squeegee for adhesive removal and decal install. First, the adhesive will make the squeegee sticky. Second, if it gets near a heat source, it will warp the straight, flat edge.

Adhesive remover. In the “old days”, we used all sorts of (in my opinion) “evil” solvents; MEK (methyl, ethyl ketone), Prep-sol, turpentine, Xylol (Xylene) to remove paint and adhesive from surfaces. In our shop, ever since the formation of Image Advantage Signs, and before the “green” movement, we have used natural, plant based products to remove adhesives. Our favorite adhesive remover is Trapper by Northwoods/Superior Chemical. It is a citrus peel based de-greaser that removes adhesive. It is also a great cleaner for stains on trailers. We purchase Trapper in 5 gallon drums and use about a gallon per year. Why only a gallon per year? We utilize the heat gun to it’s potential to remove the adhesive with the face stock, without leaving much on the vehicle. Also the Trapper is super concentrated and you only need to use a fine mist from a spray bottle to activate the adhesive. It does however, need to be neutralized with a water rinse, in order to not damage any painted surfaces.

PPE: Personal protection equipment  Chemical resistant gloves, safety glasses/goggles just because…

“Wipers” or paper towels to wipe off adhesive etc.

Wash bucket with soap and a hose. To clean and neutralize adhesive removers.

“How?” See the upcoming Part 3 post….

Removing Decals..Part 1: “Do I Really Want to do this Myself?”

September 8th, 2010

Sometimes you have to remove decals from a vehicle or item you have and you wonder if there is a “correct” or “professional” method to remove them.

Well, unfortunately, decal removal is not an exact science, and even us “professionals” have to put a lot of time, energy and effort into decal removal.

Remember, when we install decals, they are semi-permanent; they are meant to stay on through all kinds of weather, washing and for many years. So something that should stay on so well is not going to be that easy to remove.

If you ask sign professionals, we may all give the same answer; “We can remove the decals for you at $X per hour. Without knowing what type exactly of material is on your vehicle/trailer, we have to charge it out at a Time and Material rate.”

Hmmmm, so it could cost $X or it could cost $Y or $Y+ or $X+Y+3.14 times pi…you see the dilemma as the client.

Often, sign shops will offer to give you some tips on how you can remove the decals yourself. This usually results in 1 of 3 possible outcomes:

Outcome #1: You follow the tips to a “T” and realize that even though it took MANY, MANY hours and some burned fingers, a lot of mess and a feeling that it would never be done, it was worth saving the extra cash. Now you can invest that toward some neat effects for your new lettering or upgrade to a wrap.

Outcome #2: The client (you) uses the tips the shop gives you, but you decide to “speed up” the process. After burned fingers, cut hands, some chipped paint and being only a quarter of the way done, you decide to let the pros handle it. Some things just aren’t worth the time and energy. However, it may take longer and have some additional cost to repair the damage done with the razor blade.

Outcome #3: After pondering the pros and cons of the removal process, you decide to just let the shop take care of it. They know what they are doing and you won’t have any burned fingers!

Let’s assume you have opted to give it a go and try your hand at decal removal.

What do you need to know and what materials do you need? (See Part 2)

How to install vinyl decals.

April 25th, 2010

At times, you will be able to install some of the decals from your local shop.

Usually, they will be smaller sized decals for equipment, tools or other items. Sometimes they will be large graphics, for a trailer or race car.

At Image Advantage, 90% of the decals we cut are 3M Comply which has an awesome air-release adhesive that virtually eliminates bubbles and creases during installation. The balance are high performance 3M vinyls that can be applied with a “wet” solution or as-is “dry”.

The following link and post, will help guide you through the steps. In either case, the method for install is the same, as shown:

How to apply your vinyl graphics

Friday, May 08, 2009

Proper prep and careful application will yield the best results

By Roland R. Irish III

So you have to install some vinyl lettering! Here are some instructions to help you through the process. First, keep your decals away from any liquids and overspray. While cleaning and doing prep work, put the vinyl graphics in a safe place to avoid damage. The backing paper will wrinkle if it gets wet,and the transfer tape adhesive can also be affected by moisture.

Above all,take your time and be careful during installation. This material cannot be peeled up and put down again if you wrinkle it during application. We are not responsible for graphics damaged by application problems.

The sign surface must be warm for proper application. Our rule of thumb is that it must be at a minimum of 60 degrees for several hours before application. We do not recommend applying graphics outdoors.

The surface must be clean and dry. Wash vehicle door panels with degreaser (an automotive product or dish detergent is fine) and rinse off. Wash same area a second time with spray-on window cleaner and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Do not leave the surface wet.

To begin, mark off a straight line on the top of the decal with a pencil and straightedge. Mark center points on the top and bottom of the decal then proceed as follows.

1. Choose a straight line on the vehicle and measure up or down from that line to the line you drew on the decal to position the decal on the door. Measure and mark center points both vertically and horizontally. Center the decal on the panel using the center points you made on the decal.

2. Apply two strips of masking tape down the center of the decal. Then, tape down the left edge to the truck. If your masking tape doesn’t stick, you didn’t dry the surface adequately. Remove everything and start over!

3. Fold back the right side of the decal and separate the backing (also called the liner) from the decal.The vinyl graphics will remain stuck to the application tape. Cut the backing paper up close to the tape “hinge” you made. Keep a good grip on the vinyl—don’t let it flip down or fold over. It sticks like crazy to whatever it touches.

4. Now, holding the vinyl away from the vehicle with one hand, use a squeegee in the other hand to press the vinyl down to the surface, as you see Dave Collise doing here. Always begin in the center and rub out and away towards the edge. Work up and down, away from the center hinge and out towards the right.Take your time.The slower you, go the fewer bubbles you’ll end up with!

5. Once you have finished the right side, remove all the masking tape. Lift the left half of the decal and remove the remaining backing material. Hold the decal in your left hand, keeping it away from the surface of the door. Squeegee from the center up and down, working towards the left edge. Once the graphic is down, use very firm pressure to re-squeegee the entire image again, starting at the center and working towards the edges.

6. Starting from a corner, peel back the application tape and pull it diagonally. Pull firmly, keeping your hand close to the surface so the application tape is peeled off almost over itself. Don’t pull it out towards you—you’ll lift the letters. If your decal starts to lift off, odds are the surface was not completely dry after cleaning. Rub the tape back down, squeegee hard, and let the decal stand for 24 hours. Then try again.

7. After the tape has been removed, cover the squeegee with the Teflon sleeve. Working from the center out, rub the graphics down firmly, rotating the sleeve around the squeegee as you go. (The sleeve will last for weeks if you do this.) If you have a few small bubbles prick them with a pin to allow air to escape and squeegee down. (Or you can wait for the sun to do it.)

8. Another quick way to remove bubbles, and also seal the vinyl down is to use a heat gun or a hair dryer to warm the film. As you warm the bubble, it will enlarge slightly. Prick it with a pin and it will pop right down flat. Remember, that it takes pressure to bond the adhesive to the surface, and heat helps the bond. Use heat if you must seal the film around a rivet or other irregularity.

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“Shades of Grey” or “What Goes with Grey????”

January 18th, 2010

Often, people come to me with question of  “What color goes with…?”

Usually, I will throw out whatever comes to mind, as in the past 18 years, I have lettered almost every color vehicle made. Some combinations are monochromatic-(the same color family), complementary-(opposing colors in hue, contrast and value) or unusual (purple, orange and green-which is a terciary scheme).

However, in these 18 years, there is always one color that scares me; grey (or silver).

Grey is a touchy color. If you put bright colors on it, they look dull. If you put dark colors on it, they fade out and you can’t read anything. Yellow on grey? Brown on grey?

Recently I had a client discuss lettering his fleet of vans. We talked and I got a good idea for the project. He gave me his business card which used a cute icon and a medium blue background. The lettering was less than stellar in font and layout, but was yellow with a black outline. I suggested we revise the lettering a bit and use his icon and setup the layout.

Now, I know the story that goes with “assuming” things. I “assumed” the van was either blue or white. I assumed wrong.

The vans were silver grey Fords. Hmmm….

I asked my client if he HAD TO HAVE yellow lettering. He responded by saying “You’re the sign professional; you decide. I’m sure it will look fantastic!”

As much as I love hearing someone toot my horn for me, I love clients who let you have somewhat free-reign.

Off the hook for the yellow lettering, I began to design away. Trying to keep withing his budget, I added some fades and removed them. Bevelled the letters and took it off. Hmmm….that yellow was still stuck in the back of my head. I then used a complementary blue as an accent and left the lettering alone. Perfect!

He came by yesterday and picked up the van. He has been in business for 20+ years and never had a lettered vehicle. He was very pleased with the results; clean and easy to read, used his icon, not “flashy or boastful” and within his budget. Traditional black & white lettering, in a block font, generally reserved for “newbie” designers, somehow make this a very attractive design.

And I think I might like grey now!

What is the best size letter for my sign?

January 18th, 2010

As sign professionals, we often “intuitively” decide letter sizes based on our own experiences and the space available for the message. We choose fonts that will be easily read and increase spacing between letters, heighten them or shorten them, outline them to make them bolder, modify letters that don’t quite “fit” the way we like.

Sometimes, our artistic eye needs to take a backseat to the purpose of the message. If it looks really great, but no one can read it, how effective is the message? Even further, if it can’t be read and understood, why pay for it?

Often our design enlarged on the screen, will not perform adequately in its application.

A design to be viewed further than arms length needs to have it’s “pulse checked” with a letter visibility chart.

Gemini Incorporated, a formed letter supplier to the trade, distributes a chart listing the letter size, the best viewing distance and the maximum viewing distance to assist designers and clients in determining the best size for the signage.

As shown below, this is an invaluable tool:

As you can infer, the best distance for viewing is 10’ per inch of letter height.

This is for static or non-moving viewing. See the entry on viewing letterforms and logos in traffic patterns.


December 25th, 2009

Welcome to the Image Advantage Blog!

Herein you will find information about common sign materials, terms and standards.

There are personal stories and step-by-steps scattered about, so please check out all our categories.

Some of our projects will be shown as case studies, with images to show different perspectives on accomplishing a design initiative.

We are including links to valuable industry info from publications about design to vendors.

As our blog continues to grow, please check back to see what we are working on.

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