Boat Name Decals Graphics and Lettering

Installing Decals

Decal installation help

HOW TO: Installing Decals 

There are 4 typical problems or issues when installing reflective vinyl decals, or installing  ordinary decals for that matter.  Hardest to install are large decals on irregular surfaces such as curved fenders, other irregular shapes, and motorcycle helmet decals.

Here are the key issues to anticipate when installing decals:

  1. Mishandling….  The decal material folds onto itself making the decal stick to itself and likely destroying the decal.  Or, the decal is handled with dirty or oily hands inappropriately thereby reducing the adhesive problems
  1. Blisters, Warts & Pimples and Folds.   Blisters are caused by getting a pocket of air under the material  and are compounded by pressing on the bubble rather than removing the air.  Warts and Pimples are caused by contaminants such as cloth, lint or a spec of dirt or sand getting onto the adhesive side of the decal.   Folds happen when you apply over an irregular surface such as a round helmet, flared fender or motorcycle gas tank.  Folds often result when trying to bend a decal around an irregular object..
  2. Peeling Edges… Peeling edges happen when you have handled the tip of the decal so substantially that the adhesive has broken down and will not longer hold or bond. This problem also happens when you didn't clean the road film and contaminants from the vehicle or object.  If it looks clean, wash the object anyhow!   One outing on a motorcycle for just a few hours will cause a road film to cover every object on your motorcycle or car. 
  3. Stretching Distortions….  This happens from repeated removal and retry of the same decal or branch of a flame decal over and over again.  Stretching distortions can cause a decal to crack or break loose from it's bonding agent in just a few short days or weeks.

We will start by teaching you a few procedures and showing you a few fixes to complete your installation process.   First, and most important,  wash your hands!   Remove all body oil with a good hand washing.   Body oil is a primary cause of decals that peel.    Also, clean the surface of your project with soap and water.  Eliminate every possible trace of road grime,  dirt,  oils or other contaminants.    Motorcycle Helmets should be wiped with a cleaning solution as well.  Just one 1/2 hour ride will put a road film on your helmet that will ruin the durability of the decal application.  Prepare the work area!    Any contaminant  that touches the adhesive side of your decal will stay there and ruin the appearance.   And most importantly, take your time, don't rush the installation!

Please note:  Since our customers include a large percentage of Motorcyclists,  we design our reflective helmet decals to be helmet friendly.  A case in point, we designed our Winged Skull to be cut into 3 sections for helmet installation.   Vinyl will bend around a surface, but there is a limit to how much it can bend.   Especially Reflective Vinyl which is a different formula from ordinary vinyl.   Reflective Vinyl is easily damaged causing cracking and peeling. 

After preparing all surfaces, dry everything and do a trial  application with the backing still on the decal.  This is especially important for helmet and motorcycle applications.  This will give you an idea where the Folds are going to naturally occur.     Position the decal in place and try and hold it against the surface.  If the surface is irregular (round or shaped)  you must determine if application is possible (all helmet decals sold by StreetGlo are helmet friendly).  In some extreme cases you may have to pick a less curved location if the decal does not seem to be conformable to the shape of the item.  Fitting a flat decal to a round object is a combination of choosing the first stick path, then slightly bending any branches off the main path around the object.  In the case of flame decals,   cut the backing of the decal so that you can apply the main flame body first, then apply each flame extension afterwards slightly pulling the flame in the lay down direction necessary to prevent folds.   If you have a large multi component decal such as our winged skull,   it will be much easier to cut the decal into sections and apply them in different steps.  

Our flame designs can be applied to nearly all Helmets and Gas Tanks if you follow the procedures herein…  Our winged skull is better applied in a cut format (see link below).  At a recent bike week attraction we passed out our smallest reflective skull decal measuring only  1.5" tall.  The large majority of bikers had no problem installing this tiny decal.  However, the larger the decal, the more effort to get the flat object to "bend" around the irregular object. 

At the bottom of this document,  if you see a link for a specific product,  click it….  There is more information and possibly even photos.


If you follow these procedures you should be able to install just about any decal from 1" to 20 feet long.  You will need to decide between wet decal installation and dry decal installation.  For our helmet flames, we recommend wet application even for decal installation experts. 
Here are the procedures: 

  1. Clean your hands and the application surface thoroughly!
  2. Make a solution of 1 cup pure water and 2-3 drops of Palmolive liquid dish washing detergent.  You want a mixture that will cause water to evenly spread over a surface like a film and not like a freshly waxed surface like when your car is freshly waxed.  If you remove all wax from the application surface, you can use plain water alone.
  3. Hold up the decal to the surface and mark it's position with a reference tape such as masking tape.  Decide on position now and not while handling the decal.  Usually two markers applied will guide you during installation.  When installing, you will be aligning the decal to the reference points pre determined before you actually install the decal.
  4. Apply the solution evenly to the object to receive the decal.  Make sure the object is fully wet and saturated.
  5. Remove the decal from the backing (fully for small objects or partially only for large objects).  If you are working with helmet flames or stripes, remove only the first decal component you will be installing and place lightly on the wet surface and carefully prevent the decal from folding upon itself or tangling.   Wet the adhesive side of the decal with the solution and carefully put it in place against your pre-marked locations.   It is ok for the decal to be sloppy at this point. You are only laying the decal on the object at this point, nothing more.    Once  you have the position you want start at the broadest end point of the decal and using your fingers as a squeegee, begin to push the solution out from under the decal..  Work your way down the most center point of the decal until you reach the longest end.   As you apply the decal, you might notice the beginning of a fold or roll just ahead of your pressure point.  In this case, lift the unstuck portion of the deal and tug slightly to clear the fold or roll.  In the case of flames install along the main flame centerline and leave all branches of the flame unapplied.  Once the main flame body is applied, only then lift each extension and tug outwards as you work your way up the flame extension.   The centerline is the only part of a decal that will not have to be stretched during installation when applying on an irregular surface. .
  6. Inspect now for air or water pockets in the centerline.  If there are no issues, we are ready to complete the remainder of the decal installation.  Note: During installation, do not apply any ends or tips of decals until the last step.   These are your  lift and tug  points should you need to start over.  Leave all tips unapplied until the very last step.
  7. Once you have applied the center of the decal, then starting from the center begin to apply the decal to the edges, always using your finger as a squeegee and not skipping over any section. Here you can apply slight stretching techniques to conform a flat decal over a curved surface.  Just don't stretch more than necessary, excessive stretching will cause durability problems including cracking later as the decal cures.   You want to push all the water solution from under the decal.  (if installing flames or other decals with multiple tips, leave these tips alone until the very end).
  8. Once you have applied all branches of the decal,  it is time to apply the tips on any multi ended design such as flames, etc  To apply the tips, Rinse the whole decal with fresh water.   This removes any trace of the solution which will ensure a full and complete bond of flame tips.  Once you have rinsed the work area, push down the tips
  9. Once the decal is fully applied, now you can start applying a little more pressure.  If the decal lifts at any end or on the inside of a flame curve,  just push it back down.  Eventually the adhesive will begin to cure and the decal will stay in place.
How to solve problems:

Blisters - The best way to avoid them is to not allow pockets of air to form as you install.  However,  if the decal installation is pretty perfect except for blisters,   you can solve problems by simply pricking a tiny hole with a very sharp sewing needle on the side of the wart.  Use only brand new fine point hand sewing needles to puncture a wart or blister.  Any other needle will leave a visual mark.  This will allow you to push down the blister  as the air or solution exits from the tiny hole.  DO NOT PUSH ON WARTS WIHTOUT A PINHOLE OR YOU WILL STRETCH THE DECAL CAUSING A Permanent WRINKLE

Warts or pimples.  The only way to solve these problems is to remove contaminants prior to installation.  Once you have installed a decal with a speck of dirt or lint under it,  you can't get it out again.

Folds-  A fold usually happens at a point where excess material collects resulting from bending the decal around an irregular shape.  Minor folds can just be pushed down and held against the surface until the adhesive bonds.  Severe folds must be resolved by gentle stretching the decal in opposing directions to remove some of the excess vinyl at the fold.   If you manhandle the decal while stretching, in the case of reflective decals, you can expect the decal to crack within a few days to weeks.   Typically you can stretch branches of decals without harming the decal as long as your stretch is no more than necessary to correct the fold.    Another option is to cut the folds out with the edge of a new razor.  Cutting out a fold does not look bad.  Experts do this trick all the time and only the installer notices it usually.   You can also slit the fold and overlap which really isn't noticeable to any one except for you.  Please see illustration link below for examples of how to cut out a fold.

Installing reflective helmet decals and other reflective decals or stickers using advanced methods.

also see:
Decal installation Videos