How To Apply Decals

Vinyl decals are designed to adhere primarily to a smooth hard non-porous surface. Automobile paint is ideal but new paint should be allowed to degas and cure for at least 30 days in moderate temperature between 50 and 75ºs.

Smooth acrylic, after curing over 30 days can work as well.  Latex paint is generally not consider a good surface as it can remain porous and or flexible for an extended period time.


You would think preparing the surface is the most obvious part of the vinyl installation process, but frequently poor surface preparation is the number one cause of decal failure. The founder of the Professional Decal Application Association, says “The biggest mistake when applying decals is not prepping the surface adequately. Contaminated surfaces are the leading cause of decal failure.”

Obviously trailer and camper decals are applied most frequently to the the front front of a trailer but this is the hardest surface to get clean.  It’s the one catching all the road tar, dirt and bugs. On older surfaces for best results, start with a bug and tar remover, found at auto supply stores.  Then wash with a mild soap and water mixture.  I’ve found a few drops of liquid dish soap in warm water works well. Some folks add a cup of white vinegar to two quarts of water.

Then wash a second and third!  time and rinse repeatedly.

You can dry the surface with a cotton towel but finish with a paper towel or micro fiber cloth as towels and shop rags can leave lint. After wiping vigorously if you see dirt on the town or cloth, then you need to clean again. Some professionals advise allowing the railer to sit for 24 hours to ensure they are completely dry.

Just prior to installation wipe the surface with a cleaner.  I recommend Isopropyl alcohol applied with a lint free cloth. Do not use Windex or cleaners with ammonia as they may leave a residue that will affect adhesion.

Remember this step is the most important step in the proces!!

Surface Type

There are two basic methods for applying vinyl decals.... the "WET" way and the "DRY" way.

The general rule of thumb is that you do what works best for you. All decals can be applied using either method, it really comes down to size and/or personal preference. The dry way is faster, the wet way is safer. Smaller stickers can usually be "dropped" dry onto the surface without having to be taped up and done in sections. Larger decals should be done wet or must be taped in place and laid down in sections. Either way, be careful and work slow. Dry applied decals tend to stretch out if they stick by accident (and then have to be pulled off and re-stuck), and this can easily distort the decal. The wet method allows you to slide, or remove the decal and re-position it safely during the application.

Regardless of "Wet" or "Dry", preparation is the most important part of the process!

* Professional Tip:

Always lay out your decals flat and go over them with a squeegee or credit card after you remove them from the shipping package and before you start the application process. This is to re-affix the transfer tape to the decal after shipping, should any separation occur. A simple laying flat and giving it a once over with a credit card or other straight edge will make sure your decal’s transfer tape is nice and evenly stuck before you begin the application process. The transfer paper only needs to carry the image.

Do not allow the decals to freeze prior to applying and  the surface of the trailer should be above 60os when applying the decal!

When the instructions specify:

“Backing Side of Paper”, it refers to the white release paper attached to the back of the decal.

“Transfer Paper", it refers to the adhesive backed translucent paper on top of the decals front.