While sometimes tedious, prep work is the most important step. When I painted houses back in college, it seemed like 75 per cent of the job was scraping paint, pressure washing, masking windows, and organizing materials—all to get some paint up. This type of work was not seen or noticed in the finished product, but the groundwork ahead of time was what made the actual painting go faster and look better in the end. Every surface is different, but it should generally be free of dirt, debris, grease, or any other sort of contamination which could lead to adhesion issues for the decal. The best tools to use are wire brushes, microfibre cloths, degreasers, and scrapers, plus a healthy amount of isopropyl alcohol or similar solution for the final cleaning step.
For the install, the surface, size, and material are going to determine the proper technique. Do you use the hinge method or just peel the whole liner? Do you start from top to bottom, or left to right? Do you premask or tape it in place. Do you like to use magnets or teamwork? Felt squeegees or foam rollers? Heat or no heat? Every job and every installer will do this part a little differently, which is OK. However, it is important to know your materials. Every type of vinyl has a different feel when installing it, with slightly different performance characteristics. Eventually, you will pick your favorites and grow your experience as the jobs and years go by.
The developments in films, adhesives, and ink technology, combined with the increasing prevalence of temporary and customized graphics in commercial and residential settings, point to an incredible opportunity for growth in the sign and decal segment in the coming years. Couple this with the ingenuity of installers who are pushing the limits of those technologies and forcing the development of new and different solutions to meet those evolving needs, and you have an exciting outlook on the future of vinyl applications. Print service providers who are aware of the options and can both educate and reliably deliver a quality product will lead this field. My advice for them is to continue to learn, grow, blaze trails, and try new things. Staying curious and creative is a key component in this industry.
Jay Kroll is a product manager at General Formulations, a leading manufacturer of pressure-sensitive solutions for the graphics industry. His focus is on cut vinyl, transit, and wall graphic applications. Kroll has been designing and developing various manufactured solutions for more than 20 years in the medical, aerospace, specialty tape, and graphics industries.