Posted by: skyshab | January 13, 2009

How to Apply a Cut Vinyl ‘Sticker’

I had some custom stickers made to decorate my two recent hackintosh projects, my HackBox Media Server, and my HackBook Nano. The stickers aren’t stickers in the “peel and stick” sense, but rather are cut from vinyl in the manner used for the fabrication of professional signage. The benefit of this type of ‘sticker’, is that it goes on much cleaner. By this, I mean that it is thinner, and looks less like there is a sticker there, and more like said sticker is supposed to be where it is. The other benefit is, these things are not going to accidentally peel up or get destroyed when cleaning the surface with some Windex. In fact, this quality can sometimes be not so good, especially in the application process. If you stick it on, and decide you want it to be “a little bit to the left”, you’re pretty much SOL. That thing, as Bob Dylan once said, “aint goin’ nowhere”.  After my first attempt at putting one of these things on, I decided that there had to be a more accurate way to get the sticker exactly where I wanted it to go. I thought about it for awhile, and then gave it a go. My technique worked quite well, so I decided to share what I came up with, just in case any of you for some reason or another find yourself wanting to apply a vinyl sticker in the near future.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A cut vinyl sticker
  • A ruler
  • A speed square
  • A squeegee. If you don’t have one, you can get away with a credit card. A squeegee does work better, but this isn’t high art.
  • Two widths of painter’s tape or masking tape. I used 1″ wide and 2″ wide.
  • A pen or pencil with a fine point.
  • A die cast replica of a 1971 El Camino. Ok, you don’t really need one for this project, but man… cool!

Vinyl stickers like this usually come sandwiched between two pieces of paper. The cut vinyl is actually affixed to one side, and the other is just there to protect it until you are ready to apply it.

Step one: Decide where you want your sticker to be. In this example, I wanted the sticker centered on the top of my media server’s case, a little towards the front.

Step two: Use a speed square, and line up the edge about an inch in front of where you want your sticker to go. Tear off a good length of the narrow painter’s tape, and stick it on the surface, using the edge of the speed square to line it up perfectly parallel to the front and back edges of the case. Now, if the object to which you are trying to affix the sticker to is not square or rectangular in shape, you may be standing there with the speed square you borrowed from your brother-in-law, scratching your head and feeling a little foolish. Sorry, I should have mentioned that this will only work if you have a straight edge to go off of. If not, you’ll have to just eyeball it, and skip ahead to a step that looks like it makes sense in your circumstance.

sticker1

Step three: Find the center line of the of the piece of tape that you just stuck on, and mark it with a pen or pencil.

sticker2

Step four: Now find the center line of the sticker. If you have a light table, you can use that. I just held it up to the window, and marked a tick in the center of the top and bottom of the sticker. Then use a ruler or other straight edged object to draw a line right through the center of the entire sticker. You are wanting to make this line on the side that the sticker is attached to, not the one that you will peel off in a couple steps here. To figure out which is which, just peel it apart a little bit, and see which side the sticker stays attached to. That’s the one.

Step five: Use something with a 90 degree angle to draw another line, perpendicular to the last line. Make it right on the front edge of the actual design on your sticker,  as close as you can get without overlapping the vinyl. Again, you might have to hold it up to a window or something so you can see where the sticker actually is on the other side of the paper. You should now have something resembling an upside down “T” on the back of the sticker that looks like this:

sticker-t

Step six: Tear off a length of the wide tape that is a good couple of inches longer than the width of your sticker. Now attach the tape right along that perpendicular line that you made in the last step. The sticker should just barely be stuck on the tape.

sticker-tape

Here’s a view of the back, with the sticky side of the tape showing.

sticker-tape2

Step seven: You are now going to line up the edge of the wide tape that is attached to your sticker with the narrow tape that is already on the surface, and stick it down on there. Use the two lines you marked to get the sticker centered. Press the tape down onto the other tape, so that it is firmly attached, but only along the edge farthest away from the sticker. You don’t want the protective layer of paper to be stuck under the tape, because you are about to peel it away.

sticker4

Step eight: Peel away the protective layer of paper out from underneath (see!), and press the tape the rest of the way down. Be very careful not to let the vinyl touch the surface yet!

Step nine: Use the edge of the squeegee to firmly press the sticker down onto the surface, working from the edge near the tape towards the opposite end. Hold that end of the sticker up and away from the surface as you squeegee towards it.

sticker7

Step ten: Now, use the squeegee to really get that sucker… oops, I mean sticker, down. You’re wanting to squeeze out any air bubbles that may have gotten trapped under the vinyl while sticking it down. Work from the center, towards the edges. It works better if you push the squeegee towards the edges, rather than pull.

dscf49851

Step eleven: Now you are ready to peel up the paper. Do so slowly and carefully, using a very wide angle. Something close to 120 degrees seems to work good. Once the paper and tape is completely removed,  bundle it into a ball. Now, throw it at someone that you want to annoy, like your sister, your kids, your dog, etc. If you smile really big at them when they give you that look, they’ll think you’re just being playful, and won’t return the gesture by throwing an ashtray at you. Hopefully.

sticker9

Step twelve: Use the squeegee to make sure the vinyl is stuck on there really well, and work out any air bubbles that might still be trapped under it. This stuff is pretty tuff, so don’t be afraid to give it some oomph. Remember, work from the center to the edge, and push the bubbles out instead of pulling or dragging. If there are any stubborn bubbles that just won’t budge, you can try using a pin or needle to make a small hole in the vinyl and flatten it down with the squeegee. This should allow the trapped air to escape and the vinyl to stick all the way down on the surface.

Step thirteen: Once you’re satisfied, use some Windex and a paper towel to clean off any tape residue or fingerprints that are on the surface of the case.

You did it! Hopefully it looks something like this:

sticker-final

It is possible to remove the vinyl, but it’s not exactly easy, so make sure you really want this thing there before you go sticking it on.

Oh, and if you’re not as anal retentive as I am, you could just peel the back off, and slap that sticker… oops, I mean sucker,  on there, hoping for the best. But I like things to be centered, aligned, squared, and proportionately placed, which is why I went through all of the above steps. It’s up to you. Just don’t go crying to the person you bought the sticker from if you didn’t follow the directions and it didn’t work right.

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Responses

  1. Very cool!!

    Where did you get the vinyl cut? Do you still have the image?

  2. ciao
    well done
    i was wondering if you have these stickers also for a white medion1210( msi wind)
    they look really great!
    greetings from rainy cold berlin
    neil

    • I only had them cut for the Black model of Wind. You need the version cut from gray vinyl. Sorry.


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