There is a certain knack and skill-set assigned to sign making and vinyl creation that you wouldn’t necessarily appreciate before starting your first project. Professional sign makers have built their expertise through years and years’ worth of experience and practice. It takes at least a couple of initial attempts, a few cut fingers and an array of blurted curse words before a vinyl application process becomes second nature to you. You either have it or you don’t. For those of you who don’t, here are a few top tips to get practicing:
Cutting Your Vinyl
For the perfect cut you must select the right blade depth, set at the correct degree and apply the right amount of downforce. Standard blades are usually set at 45 degrees, but these may have trouble cutting through thicker materials. A steeper blade set at 60 degrees is tall enough to slice through thick materials, but be careful with the amount of downforce you are applying; too much pressure can cause the blade to cut through the backing paper too.
The ease and quality of any cut will largely depend on the sharpness of your blades. A cutter gauge allows you to precisely allocate the depth of your blade, ensuring your cutting process runs as smoothly as possible. This will also extend the life of your blade. As with most things in life, practice makes perfect with the cutting procedure!
Preparing Your Surface
Preparing your substrate properly is perhaps the most important part of the application process; as this will determine how effective the adhesive performs over time. Your surface must be free of dirt, dust, oils, wax, silicon and any other contaminants. Use warm and soapy water to clean your substrate and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Also, make sure the surface is dried properly before applying your vinyl. Here are some handy cleaning tips for four popular vinyl substrates:
Painted/Papered Walls – There is some wallpaper and paints out there that will not hold vinyl very well and therefore may cause your design to peel after a while. It is worth taking a sample and testing this before starting a big project. It is really important that walls are cleaned beforehand as they will hold a lot of dust and grime.
Tiles – It is best to choose low/moderate textured tiles if you wish to apply vinyl to them. This type of substrate is relatively easy to apply vinyl to as the surface is smooth. Again though, it is extremely important that the surface is cleaned properly with warm soapy water.
Glass – Applying sign vinyl to glass surfaces is a little trickier and requires extra care. It is best to clean your glass with vinegar and water rather than a household soap product, as the vinyl will stick better. Bubbles form more often on glass than any other substrate so be mindful of this when applying your vinyl.
Metal – Much the same as tile this substrate is smooth and flat, making it one of the easier surfaces to apply vinyl to. This material can hold dirt and grease invisible to the eye, so a surface cleaner is highly recommended.
The Application Process
Reel out some application tape and press it on top of your required vinyl, using a roller to squeeze out any air bubbles. Transfer the vinyl to the allocated substrate and squeegee it down with small strokes; moving from the middle of the piece outwards. Do not worry about applying too much pressure – the more the better. Then starting from a corner, gently lift the application tape by pulling back along itself. Try not to pull up at 90 degrees as this may lift the vinyl back up off the substrate; instead try peeling back at 45 degrees.
If your application tape is too hard to remove, try spraying application fluid to the area causing difficulty. Once the tape has been removed, squeegee the vinyl down again and eradicate and air bubbles as you go. Any remaining air pockets can be popped with a safety pin and smoothed down with a squeegee.
Your first attempt at this will never be your best, but as with anything, practice makes perfect. Follow these tips and you’ll be a pro in no time!