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How to Add Custom Decals to a Car?

Custom decals are a great way to make your car stand out, let your opinion be heard, or advertise your business. While many retailers can print and apply custom decals to your vehicle for you, doing the application yourself can save you money and allow for more control in exactly where and how the decals are placed.

When applying custom decals to your car, patience is important. Take your time and pay close attention to the small details in order to create a great looking final product.

Part 1 Positioning the Decal


1 Identify a location on the car for the decal. Before applying a decal, you must determine the location on the car you want to place it. This is particularly important for large decals that may extend onto multiple body components, as you will need to plan for applications that extend over gaps.

  • Assess the area you want the decal to be placed and determine if it will fit there.



2 Place the decal on the vehicle to measure. Hold the decal up against the vehicle to get a sense of how it will look and if it will fit in the area you’ve chosen. This will give you a sense of how the decal will look and the best placement for it.

  • Leave the protective backing on the decal so it doesn’t stick as you hold it against the vehicle.
  • Ensure the vehicle is dry before pressing the decal and backing into it.



3 Use a tape measure to help center the decal. While you can get a solid sense of where you’d like the decal by holding it up against the vehicle, using a tape measure can help to ensure you have it placed properly.

  • If you are placing identical decals on either side, ensure they are an equal distance from at least three points on the body of the car to make the placement match on either side.
  • Measure the distance from things like the trunk lid, door or window.



4 Use pieces of masking tape to mark the location. Once you’ve measured out exactly where you want the decal to sit, tear off small pieces of masking tape and place them at each corner of where the decal will be applied.

  • The masking tape will serve as a guide when you begin applying the decal.
  • Masking tape will not damage the paint on the vehicle.


Part 2 Preparing the Car for Application


1 Clean the area. Once you have the area the decal will be applied determined, use a soft cloth and a mild cleaner on the surface of the car. Rubbing alcohol will clean the area well and evaporate quickly, making it a common choice.

  • Do not simply spray the cleaner onto the car or it may soak the masking tape you’ve used as a guide.
  • Apply cleaner to a rag and wipe where the decal will stick to the car.



2 Do not use any cleaner that leaves a film or oil on the car. Some cleaners like Windex or spray on cleaner-waxes leave a residue intended to help maintain shine. This residue will prevent the decal from sticking properly to the vehicle.

  • Rubbing alcohol or basic car wash soap both will clean the area sufficiently.
  • Be sure to rinse the area thoroughly if you use car wash soap.



3 Allow the cleaned area to dry completely. Decals won’t stick as well to a wet surface, so either dry the area you cleaned with a towel or allow it to air dry completely before moving on. If you opt to use a towel, use a chamois cloth to avoid damaging the paint.

  • Wait for the surface to be completely dry before applying the decal.



4 Peel off the beginning of the backing. Depending on the size of the decal, you may choose to remove the entire backing or just a portion of it at a time. If the decal is larger than your forearm, you may want to peel off the backing in thirds to make application more manageable.

  • Decals that are only a few inches long can have the backing completely removed.
  • Only peel off a bit of the backing at a time for larger decals such as ones that will stretch the length of the vehicle.


Part 3 Applying the Decal


1 Apply the corner of the exposed decal to the car. Use the tape on the car as a guide as you begin by applying the corner of the decal to the vehicle. Press the corner into the vehicle firmly, then use a straight edged tool such as a credit card to press more of the decal down in a controlled manner.

  • Keep the decal pulled taught as you press it into the vehicle to prevent bubbling from occurring.
  • Using a straight edged tool helps ensure you apply pressure over the entire decal, which will force out small bubbles.


2 Unpeel the backing as you go. As you apply more of the decal to the vehicle, peel more of the backing off to reveal more of the decal. Peel the backing off a few inches at a time to ensure you can keep the decal straight as you apply it without worrying about other parts sticking.

  • Continue to apply the decal to the car while peeling back more of the backing as you progress.



3 Leave the transfer tape on the decal while it dries in place. While you may be able to remove the transfer tape immediately upon pressing the decal into the car, it’s best that you leave it to dry for a bit of time. Waiting 30 minutes can make removing the transfer tape much easier and reduce the chances that you’ll pull any of the decal off with it.

  • Allowing the decal to sit in direct sunlight will make the transfer tape easier to remove.
  • Do not attempt to speed up the process by using a heat source such a hair dryer, as it may melt the decal.



4 Peel the transfer tape off. After thirty minutes or so, peel the transfer tape off starting at one corner. Peel the tape back slowly while watching for any areas the decal may peel back with the transfer tape. If the decal begins to peel off with the tape, press the tape and decal back into place firmly, and begin peeling the tape away again from another angle.

  • Be careful not to tear the decal while removing the transfer tape.
  • Slow, steady movements are the best way to prevent damage to the decal.



5 Use a credit card to press out any bubbles. With the transfer tape removed, you will be able to see the decal on the vehicle. It is normal for there to be some bubbling in the decal. Some of those bubbles are easy to remove by pressing a credit card or other flat tool onto the decal and pushing the bubble toward the edge.

  • Be careful not to press a sharp edge into the decal or it may tear it.
  • Small bubbles will disappear on their own over the first few days.