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Will Decals Ruin Car Paint?

If you are looking to add something a little bit different to your car, you may be considering decals. These are stickers that go straight onto the car, and they come in many different shapes and sizes. But if you are looking to put them on, you might be wondering if it will ruin your car’s paint.

Decals don’t usually ruin car paint, unless the paint is of very poor quality. They will however do the opposite, preserving the paint underneath, and thus when they are taken off, they can leave the car with patches of shiny paint, while the rest has borne the effects of the weather.

There are a few key things to bear in mind if you are thinking of adding some decals to your car. We will discuss below the likelihood of them ruining your car paint, after we first explain what decals are and some tips for applying them and removing them without damaging your car in the process.

The Difference Between Car Decals And Stickers

Easily Confused

Stickers and decals are often confused, with the terms usually being used interchangeably to mean the same thing. But there are subtle differences between the two, although it would be forgivable if you were to mix them up. Both can use vinyl as a printing method, which adds to the confusion, although where they are applied and for what purpose is usually the defining factor.

Stickers are usually printed or made from pieces of vinyl. This is usually the case for stickers intended to go outside, such as those on cars. They are made of two layers, with one being the paper on the back which you peel off, and the other being the decorative part which also has an adhesive on the back, so that it can stick to whatever you are putting it on.

Long Lasting

Car stickers can be applied to most surfaces, including metal and glass, and they are usually one-piece items. This means that you might have a word or phrase with a background, rather than individual lettering. They are also common for more generic shapes or basic logos, and they can last for up to 8 years if made from high quality materials.

Decals on the other hand are made out of three layers. They have two paper layers, with the decal itself sandwiched in between. They work by transferring the decal from the paper to the surface on which you are looking to apply it. This is the main difference between decals and stickers, and it requires a slightly different process in order to apply it to your car.

Don’t Tend To Last As Long

Decals also tend not to last quite as long as some stickers, although high quality ones may even outlast some stickers. They are usually used for designs without solid backgrounds, and for individual lettering. This makes decals the ideal choice for brand names, or complex logos without a solid background. So, how do you apply a decal to your car?

How To Apply Car Decals

A Bit Of Care Required

Applying a decal to your car is a fairly easy process, although care should be taken to ensure that you align it correctly and don’t end up losing any of the decal through ripping the paper or putting it on incorrectly. The first key step is to wash the area you are applying it to, in order to remove any dirt or grease that could prevent the adhesive from sticking down properly.

The best thing to clean the area with would be a pre-mixed solution of cleaner purpose built for applying decals, or a 50/50 mixture of water and rubbing alcohol. You should then rinse it with water so that there is no residue left behind. Soap or window-cleaning products may leave a residue behind, so they shouldn’t be used in this case.

Last Minute Repositioning

Then, before you apply the decal, we advise that you wet the area again, this time with a solution of around 95% water and 5% soap. You can remove the bottom layer of paper, revealing the sticky decal layer, and then apply that to where you want it to go. The soap and water layer will ensure the decal doesn’t dry immediately, which will allow you to reposition it if need be.

A handy for before you apply the decal is to use masking tape to mark out where you want it to go. This acts as a useful guide and will minimize the amount of repositioning required once you have placed the decal down. Then, the tape can simply be removed once you are happy with its position.

Squeeze Out The Bubbles

Then, when you are happy with where it is, use a card or squeegee to flatten out the decal carefully, removing all of the liquid below the decal in the process. This can then be carefully wiped away, and the decal can be left for at least a few hours to ensure it is dry, although if it is particularly cold it may take much longer than this.

Avoid using heat such as a hairdryer to speed up the drying process, as this can melt or warp the decal underneath. Once it is dry, you can slowly remove the backing layer, taking care not to be too aggressive as this might damage the decal if it is not fully dry. You can use a card again to smooth out any bubbles under the decal, being careful not to damage it.

How To Remove Car Decals

Slow And Steady

Removing car decals can be very easy as well, but it can be hard to do without leaving residue of the decal behind if you are not careful. Keeping the decal intact in some cases can allow you to use it again too, so it is important to take care when removing it. The first way you can remove a decal is to simply peel it off slowly. This is easier for fresher decals or ones already starting to peel.

Heat can also be used, such as from a hairdryer or a heat gun, to remove car decals. Heat destroys vinyl, as we have said already in reference to drying it during the application process. So, you can use this to your advantage by causing the decal to bubble and lift. Then, simply use a card or squeegee again to slowly scrape the rest of the decal off.

Reusing The Decal

If you want to keep the decal intact, you may wish instead to use water to remove it. Simply soak a rag in warm water and work it over the decal, taking care not to focus on one point too much as this could melt the decal. Then, as with the other methods, wait for the decal to lift and put the scraper underneath, gently lifting and peeling the decal off taking care not to damage it.

This is a much slower method, but it will ensure your decal is not damaged. With every method, you should clean the area afterwards, perhaps with an adhesive remover in order to get rid of any residue left behind by the decal. Now that you know how to apply and remove your decals, it is worth considering what the effects can be on the car.

The Effects Of Car Decals

How To Look After It

Stickers and decals can both last for several years on a car, with decals tending to last a few years at worst, and 7 or more if they are of very high quality and the car is well taken care of. There are a few things that will affect the lifespan of the decal, with the main one being the sun. If you live somewhere warm, you may find your decal begins to melt if you park in direct sun quite a lot.

Aside from the possibility of the decal melting, the design or text may also fade away due to the sunlight as well. Wet weather can also cause similar effects, as rain can contain small amounts of chemicals that might damage the vinyl. Saltwater spray from the sea can also do this, so if you want your decals to last a long time, be careful when choosing where to park your car.

Rarely Causes Damage

Most people worry about damaging their car’s paint when removing decals, but this will very rarely happen. The adhesives used in decals are made from acrylic compounds, which don’t mess around with the chemistry of the paint. This usually means they can be removed without causing any damage to the paint, unless the paint job on your car is of particularly low quality.

What is more likely to happen is that your decal preserves the paint underneath the decal. When you remove it, especially if it has been on for a long time, you may notice that the area covered by the decal is the shiniest part of the car. So, once you take it off, you might see the outline as the rest of the car has braved the effects of the sun and the rain and has lost some of its shine.

Take Care Of It

Permanent decals can be a solution to this, but not everyone wants to put these on their car as they may not plan to keep the car for more than a few years anyway. Thus, a good approach would be to not keep the decals on for too long, and to make sure to clean your car regularly and try to park it in a garage or somewhere that is not going to cause excessive wear on the paint or the decal itself.

Final Thoughts

Decals will not usually ruin the paint on your car, as they will probably actually preserve it instead. As long as your car’s paint is of reasonable quality, removing decals shouldn’t affect it. Unless you remove it very aggressively and scrape it with something very sharp, your car should be able to survive the application and removal of any decals you wish to use.