7 Mistakes to Avoid When Applying Decals to Cars

Image of a person removing a decal sticker

Some people look good in anything. The way they stand, the tilt of the hips, it all comes together. Other people look horrid no matter what they try.

Applying decals to cars goes much the same way. Some people have got it down. Other people, not so much.

Like any decoration, a car decal makes a statement. Adding something novel to a car makes it feel fresh and new. It gives you a charge to create something unique out of something standard.

Check out these examples of what not to do when applying car decals. That said, it’s also fun to watch a train wreck in motion (figuratively, not the real sad kind).

Applying Decals to Cars Fails

When it comes to ‘how to install car decals’ there is a right way and a wrong way.

We cover the right way in detail. This list should give you some cringes, some chuckles, and some heavy reminders on why to follow instructions.

1. The No Stick Hitch

Ever seen a decal flapping in the breeze right after being applied? One of those jobs where it looks like they tried to tape it on and forgot to use the adhesive?

More often than not, this happens because they didn’t clean the surface before applying the decal. Cleaning is important. It removes gunk that shows through the decal, making it ugly and removes chemical treatments.

What chemical treatments? Auto glass these days comes pre-treated with water beading chemicals that assist wipers in doing their jobs. Those chemicals repel liquids.

Liquids like the adhesives in a decal. Not washing an area before application leaves little room for the glue to stick.

At least with this mistake, adjusting the placement won’t do a lot of damage. It won’t stay when you get it in the right place, either.

Avoid this mistake by washing your application area thoroughly.

2. Eyeballing (and It Shows)

Like a grade-schooler making a sign, some people seem to trail off at the end of an application. They start off great, well-aligned and clean fitting. Then each letter gets a little bigger or smaller, up or down, and in the end, they look like they’re making a ransom note.

The last child in a stick figure arrangement seems to be able to fly, or perhaps lost their legs.

Half an image is attached to the side panel, effectively gluing a door shut.

We’ve seen it all.

Avoid these errors by following the great woodshop advice of old, measure twice, apply once.

3. Bubbles Everywhere

Love looking at a decal filled with so many bubbles you can’t make out the text? Ever seen a decal peeling from the middle out like Jabba’s tongue sliding out of his face?

Bubbles of air form from escaping bits of water from a surface not properly dried. That or they are trapped when applying a decal and not getting pushed out.

Bubbles ruin the look of a decal and cause them to peel and break over time.

Avoid bubbles by pushing out air after application. Normally you can do this with a squeegee or a smooth plastic card. For some troublesome bubbles, pierce them with a pin and then shove them out until smooth.

4. Bad Temps

Nobody likes a burnt up brown decal or a sickly purple bulging one.

These are examples of decals applied in improper temps.

When a surface is too cold, the decal won’t stick properly. As the surface heats up, it stretches, the decal tries not to stretch with it and gets bubbles.

When the surface is too hot, the adhesive melts and the decal itself melts or burns.

Avoid these issues by always applying decals in the 70-degree range. Working at these temps provides flexibility to heating and cooling without destroying your decals.

5. The Rip and Destroy

You would be hard pressed to think of a dumber thing to do than ripping off the installation film. Maybe those people that drive off from gas stations with the pump still in the tank.

Nothing says not paying attention quite like wasting time. Time and effort spent to align a decal properly, press out the bubbles, and then rip off the film like they’re waxing hair.

The adhesive doesn’t set instantly, pulling too hard on the sticky, though not as sticky, film can rip the decal. Avoid destroying a well-placed decal by peeling the film off slowly.

Start at a corner, at an angle to reduce the upward force, and peel bit by bit to preserve your decals.

6. Decoupage for the Automotive Set

How many decals is too many decals? That is up to the viewer.

You may want to make a simple, bold statement with your automotive art. You might want to make a bunch of statements. You may even want to make sure that no matter what angle someone views your car, they see something you put there.

Regardless, what you don’t want is a bunch of things overlapping each other and jumbling up. Not only does this look terrible from an outside standpoint, but it also engineers failure.

Decals placed on top of decals cause cascading problems in application and removal.

Plan out a design ahead of time, and when you need two things to come into contact with each other, carefully cut the decals to fit together without overlap.

7. The Insta Wash

Well, you’ve made it this far. You applied everything properly, carefully, and with diligence. Your designs look great. Time to power wash the ride for the grand unveiling to friends and neighbors!

Or not.

Avoid washing the vehicle after applying decals for at least 72 hours. This gives the adhesive time to finish bonding and sealing.

Never power wash areas with decals, the sharp water strikes can peel them off. Gently hand wash around decals to preserve their quality longest.

Make a Statement

Decals make a statement. Applying decals to cars with expertise makes another.

Now that you’ve had a chuckle at the worst failures that can befall a decal application, you are ready to avoid them.

Got an idea for a decal and haven’t seen it anywhere? We can custom build you that.