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Crafting With Self-adhesive Vinyl

by Samantha Watson on October 13, 2020
Crafting with vinyl | Vinyl Craft Projects | How to use Self-adhesive Vinyl
Colourful and versatile sticky back plastic is a perfect medium for all types of crafting, up cycling and home décor projects.
Relatively inexpensive and simple to use, once you’ve tried self-adhesive craft vinyl you will be finding excuses to use it all around your home and garden, to create beautiful bespoke items and for product personalisation.
As with any creative medium, you will achieve a more professional finish with experience, these hints and tips will fast-track your progress and help you to avoid any pitfalls along the way.

In this post you can find a step by step breakdown on how to create a self-adhesive vinyl project:

• Before you start - Storage!
• Step 1 - Tools For The Job
• Step 2 - Surface Preparation
• Step 3 - Creating Your Digital Design
• Step 4 - Cutting Your Design
• Step 5 - Weeding Your Design
• Step 6 - Apply the application tape
• Step 7 - Apply your design to the material
• After application - Looking After Your Craft Vinyl Projects

 

Before you start - Storage & Suitability

When storing rolls of craft vinyl, try to store them rolled up and on end rather than stacking them horizontally, this will avoid too much pressure which can bruise the face film. If you have sheets of vinyl, store them flat and don’t stack them too high as the added weight will cause a similar problem.

Try to keep your vinyl in a relatively stable environment and be aware that if it is too hot you may see some adhesive oozing from the edges which will make your media sticky. If it is too cold you may find your vinyl shrinks more quickly and becomes brittle. If it is too humid the release liner may cockle and curl causing problems when using a vinyl cutter.

Is your application surface suitable?

Certain plastics give off gases, especially when new, as do freshly painted surfaces, these can compromise or react with your adhesive causing it to fail, generally if you can smell paint fumes or similar then you need to allow the surface to fully outgas before applying your vinyl.
Similarly, soft or flexible PVC (i.e. banners) will contain plasticisers which can affect the bond and longevity of your vinyl.

Certain man-made surfaces such as Polypropylene (i.e. Wheelie Bins) have what is known as a Low Surface Energy (LSE), this is a problem for most generic adhesives which are unable to sustain a strong bond, however there are specialist products (such as ImagePerfect SuperGrip) which are designed to adhere to such surfaces (layer with ImagePerfect 5700 vinyl range over the top for multi-coloured graphics).

Rough or textured surfaces can be problematic for regular craft vinyl as the adhesive layer is so thin that it has minimal contact with the surface, internal walls are a good example of this, in these cases a high-tack product such as ImagePerfect 5700HT (coming soon) is an ideal solution as it features a much thicker and stronger adhesive layer which flows into the surface texture, as before, this can be layered with ImagePerfect 5700 if you require a wider colour range.

If your surface is porous, delicate or you are unsure of it’s suitability we recommend to try applying a scrap of vinyl to a small inconspicuous area first to ensure the adhesive will bond and that it doesn’t damage your surface.

Step 1 - Tools For The Job

Scalpel, snitty or scissors

Surface cleaner and lint free cloth

Weeding tool, can be a hook, tweezers or simply long fingernails!

Application tape to transfer your shapes to the application surface.

 

Squeegee or scraper to smooth down the tape.

Spray bottle with application fluid and cloth if wet applying.

Masking tape for positioning and if using the hinge method.

 

Hot air gun or hairdryer for wrapping with 3D Wrap Vinyl

Cotton gloves, not essential but useful when wrapping to protect your hands and the vinyl.

Top Tip!
Using a lint roller to collect dust is easy and effective.

Step 2 - Surface Preparation

Don’t stint on this stage - prep like a Pro!

Grease and grime can compromise the adhesive bond between the vinyl and the application surface and can also cause a reaction with the adhesive that negatively affects some of its technical features further down the line.

Brush over your surface with a soft brush to remove any loose particles or dust. Specks of dust that seem to become magnified when trapped under the face film will spoil your flawless finish and can even cause the vinyl to tear when squeegeeing during application.

Spray your application surface with a suitable oil and silicon free cleaner (we like ImagePerfect Surface Cleaner from Spandex as it leaves no residue) then buff and dry with a lint free cloth. Unless you are using the wet application technique it is vital that your surface is completely dry.

Time saving hack!
 If you have a small design with multiple colours, use the sticky mat. As long as they are of the same thickness and type of vinyl you can cut all colours at the same time. Check carefully that you have positioned them correctly on screen.

Step 3 - Creating Your Digital Design

When designing your graphic consider the media you have selected and your cutting method. When using a craft cutter there are a few tricks which will ensure success first time.

Unlike printing where the ‘raster’ file is composed of thousands of tiny coloured dots, cutting requires a continuous path to follow around a shape, this is called a vector file and can be saved in a number of formats. There are many different vector-based design packages available, such as Adobe Illustrator, but you will probably find that your cutter is supplied with its own software which will allow you to access and/or purchase many pre-made designs and create more of your own.

When creating a design file you will have the ability to colour your shapes so that you can see a visual representation of how it will look when cut and applied. This will also tell your software which shapes need to be cut on which media if you are using multiple colours in a project.

Craft cutters such as Silhouette and Cricut have two methods of loading and cutting vinyl. If your roll or sheet is a suitable width and cut squarely, you can feed it directly into the device ensuring that it is secured by the rollers either side. Alternatively, if you are using small scraps or irregular shaped pieces of film you can apply them firstly to a sticky mat which will transport them through the cutter.

If you are layering multiple colours, different types of vinyl or laminating films it is important for long lasting graphics that the vinyl types are as similar as possible, i.e. layering a monomeric and polymeric vinyl on top of each other can cause plasticiser migration between the two films and it is likely that over time they will become brittle and start to crack, if the different types sit next to each other without overlapping that is fine.

Make sure shapes are ‘closed’ with no open points so the cutter can follow a continuous path, for example check scripted typestyles to ensure letters are joined together and closed at the beginning and end of each word.

Add your own ‘weed’ lines or ‘weed borders’, these are cut lines or boxes between lines of text and around shapes to help when weeding away waste vinyl.

Ensure your designs are always cut in the correct order i.e. inside shapes are cut first, this prevents any movement and misalignment that can happen if the outer shapes are cut first as they are not anchored as tightly to the release liner once they have been cut.

If you have a multi-coloured or panelled project, create registration marks in your design – a small triangle or similar shape that you cut in each colour or panel to help alignment during application, see How to apply multi-coloured designs.

Avoid very small intricate text or shapes:
- If the vinyl is particularly thick, as the knife will not turn cleanly causing the film to ruck up or deform on corners, a new sharp blade will help to minimise this.
- If your vinyl has a repositionable adhesive, this can reduce the level of tack to the release liner which can cause small shapes to move or flick off.
- If your vinyl has an air release feature, as this reduces the surface area of the adhesive and very thin areas such as serifs on text may not stick down.

Silhouette Cameo 4 | Silhouette Craft Cutter

Step 4 - Cutting Your Design

Load the vinyl into your cutter, making sure that you have enough media for the job.

When using irregular pieces and scraps on Cricut or Silhouette cutters you can load them by adhering the vinyl, with the release liner still attached, onto the sticky mat. If the media is cut squarely and of a suitable width, you can load it directly into your device as the release liner will hold your shapes in place and transport them smoothly through the cutter.

Make sure your knife blade is seated correctly (or pen if you are drawing your shapes) and perform a test cut to ensure the blade settings are correct.

Select the colour or shapes that you wish to cut and press 'Send' to transfer the information to the cutter, remembering to reverse/mirror them if required such as for window graphics.

 
Top Tips!

- Ensure your vinyl sheet or roll is cut squarely to avoid the media running skewed. We love a snitty for this – it will slice easily through your vinyl without damaging your work surface.
- Get the right temp! Vinyl will cut cleanly and more evenly at room temperature, too cold and the knife can skid over the surface, too hot and the adhesive seeps into the cuts.
- Don't leave it too long after cutting - Weed and lift the vinyl soon after cutting as the adhesive can seep into the cut lines meaning it will become more time consuming and fiddly to do later.
- Always perform a test cut! We have a guide to the settings for various craft cutters here, however temperature, design and knife age will all affect the cutting performance so use these as a guide only. It is important to fine tune your cutting depth, as if you don’t cut deep enough the design will be difficult to weed and if you cut too deep the liner will delaminate making your vinyl difficult to transfer.

How to use craft vinyl | How to apply self-adhesive vinyl | Crafting with sticky back plastic

Step 5 -Weeding Your Design

This simply means removing the unwanted vinyl from your design. Tools are optional but long fingernails, tweezers, a dental hook or a scalpel are all helpful here.

Ensure you are in an evenly and well-lit area as it can be difficult to see the very fine cut-lines especially on a glossy white vinyl or clear window film. Some vinyl such as our ImagePerfect 5700 white are lined with a blue contrast liner to make weeding easier.

Spend a moment working out which bits need to be removed, you don’t want to weed out a crucial full stop!

It is safer to weed inside shapes first as you have less chance of displacing the shapes around them. If you have lots of tiny inside shapes, such as the texture on a chalk effect typestyle, consider patting the un-weeded vinyl using a tacky piece of application tape to lift all the bits out, or even try a sticky lint remover roller.

Top Tip!
If your design is very fine and particularly intricate, consider applying the whole non-weeded patch of vinyl to your substrate then remove the excess once the design is in place.
The adhesive bond to the application surface should be stronger than the bond to the release liner so this will allow you to keep thin shapes and lettering in place, just remember that the adhesive cures over time so don’t wait too long before weeding!

 

How to use craft vinyl | How to apply self-adhesive vinyl | Crafting with sticky back plastic

Step 6 - Applying Application Tape

Also known as transfer tape this allows you to pick up your pre-spaced letters and shapes and transfer them easily to your application surface. It is useful to have a squeegee or similar to add pressure to your graphics
There are many application tapes available for different vinyl and applications, generally speaking a medium-tack tape is a good all-rounder. If your design is large, has a repositionable adhesive and the vinyl has a very smooth surface then a low-tack tape may be useful. If you have a small graphic with less surface area or a highly textured vinyl then a high-tack tape may be appropriate.

A must have for multi-coloured or layered designs is a clear application tape, these tend to be film based rather than paper and command a higher price but generally incorporate more technical features and can often be reused offering value for money. Our iSee2 clear application tape makes lifting and aligning multiple shapes a doddle, if you choose to reuse then simply protect the adhesive side by attaching it to the silicon release paper left over from your vinyl graphics.

Cut your application tape a little larger than your graphic or alternatively frame your graphic with tape the same size as your application surface for easy and accurate positioning.

Drape so that the centre of the tape connects with the centre of your graphic and squeegee, firstly lightly, then more firmly outwards to remove air bubbles and adhere the tape to your vinyl.

How to use craft vinyl | How to apply self-adhesive vinyl | Crafting with sticky back plastic

The next technique is purely down to personal preference, either lift the vinyl slowly at a slight angle away from the release liner, checking that the graphics are lifting with the tape, if not replace a little and squeegee again until all the vinyl is attached to the tape. Alternatively, turn the whole thing upside down and peel the release liner back on itself to leave the graphics on the tape below, again adding more pressure where necessary.

How to use craft vinyl | How to apply self-adhesive vinyl | Crafting with sticky back plastic

Step 6 - Applying Your Graphics

There are a few recognised methods for applying vinyl. The method chosen will, to some extent be determined by the size and complexity of your design or by the features of your chosen vinyl and application surface.

To select which is right for you, please review the details below and select which option works best for your chosen project.

 

After Application - Looking After Your Vinyl Graphics

Once you have applied your design you’ll want to keep your creations looking good for as long as possible. Keep your vinyl clean with a simple soap solution and a soft cloth, steer clear of any harsh chemical or abrasive cleaners, and dry carefully afterwards if you have used an indoor vinyl.

Premium vinyl decals with a permanent adhesive can withstand more aggressive cleaning such as a dishwasher or hose pipe but will last much longer if hand washed. Avoid using a high pressure spray,especially on small or intricate shapes, or at an angle which can lift the vinyl and penetrate under the adhesive.

 

Top Tip!
Once applied you should wait up to 48 hours for the adhesive to cure enough to withstand washing your vinyl decals.

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