How Should I Prepare My Surface For A Sticker Installation?

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Surface Preparation & Cleaning Guide

This will describe a good general baseline for cleaning and preparing a surface. Some surfaces such as painted drywall, or windows may require less or more of the cleaning methods described in the step-by-step. We will mention some additional cleaning and prep topics at the bottom of this page.

Cleaning Surfaces For Vinyl Installation

Before You Start

A helpful starting point is to ensure the cleanliness of the application area for the vinyl. This extends beyond just the surface itself, encompassing floors, tables, and any space where the print might come into contact with dirt or dust. For example, placing the print on a dusty table or floor can result in dust collection on the liner’s edges or adhesive areas, impacting the cleanliness of your surface when positioning it after cleaning.

Indoor Installation

Make sure the surface where you’re applying the vinyl is at a temperature between 50°F to 90°F (10°C to 32°C) for optimal adhesion. Surfaces must be completely dry and clean for proper adhesion, so keep the humidity in mind when preparing for installation.

Outdoor Installation

When installing vinyl graphics outdoors in diverse climates, certain guidelines should be considered:

In colder environments, it is advisable to carry out vinyl graphics installation during moderate temperatures. Extremely low temperatures can render the vinyl material rigid and challenging to handle. Follow these steps:

  • Temperature: Opt for days with temperatures exceeding the manufacturer’s specified minimum application temperature. Cold vinyl tends to become brittle, making it susceptible to cracking during installation.
  • Surface Preparation: Ensure the surface is thoroughly clean and dry. Cold conditions may slow down the adhesion process, underscoring the importance of a well-prepared surface for effective bonding.
  • Warm the Vinyl: Prior to installation, store the vinyl in a warmer environment. This can be done indoors or in a heated vehicle, enhancing the material’s flexibility.

In warmer climates, elevated temperatures can pose challenges during installation. Adhere to the following recommendations:

  • Temperature: Choose days with temperatures below the manufacturer’s specified maximum application temperature. Excessive heat can render the vinyl excessively soft, complicating the installation process.
  • Surface Temperature: Be mindful of the surface temperature. If it’s too hot, the vinyl may adhere too quickly, making repositioning difficult.
  • Work in the Shade: Whenever possible, work in the shade to avoid direct sunlight. This helps control the temperature of both the vinyl and the substrate.
  • Avoid the Wind: It’s not recommended to install during windy days. This can lead to issues handling the material, or cause debris to make contact with the adhesive side when the liner paper has been removed.

Different vinyl products may have varying temperature tolerances. Contact us if you need to know the technical specs for installation recommended by the manufacturer for the specific material ordered. Adhering to these recommendations ensures a successful and durable installation in a variety of climates.

If you are performing a vinyl floor sign installation refer to the linked article for surface preparation.

Recommended Installation Tools

 What You’ll Need:

  • Mild soap
  • Water
  • Paper towel, sponge, or clean cloth
  • Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol)
  • Lint-free towel or microfiber cloth
  • Gloves (optional)

Preparation & Cleaning Steps

Alright, let’s break down the process of preparing a surface for your custom vinyl installation into simple steps. For surface-specific tips scroll below the steps for additional information. Here we go!

Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Clean the Surface:
    Begin by washing the surface with a mixture of mild soap and water to remove any dirt, grease, or grime. Use a paper towel, sponge, or a clean cloth for this step.
  2. Rinse Thoroughly:
    After soaping up, rinse the surface well with clean water to ensure no soap residue is left behind. Any remaining soap can prevent the vinyl from sticking properly.
  3. Dry It Out:
    Grab your lint-free towel or microfiber cloth and dry the surface completely. Any moisture left can cause bubbles under your vinyl print.
  4. Final Wipe with Alcohol:
    (optional but recommended)
    Put on gloves if you prefer, then moisten a cloth with isopropyl alcohol and wipe down the area where the vinyl will be applied. This will remove any remaining oils or residues and help the vinyl adhere better.
  5. Let It Evaporate: Wait a few minutes after the alcohol wipe to allow the surface to dry completely as the alcohol evaporates.
  6. Inspect the Surface: Look over the area one last time for any imperfections or remaining particles. The cleaner the surface, the smoother your vinyl application will be.

Troubleshooting Tips

  • If you notice bubbles after application, gently press them out towards the edges with a flat tool like a credit card wrapped in a soft cloth.
  • In case the vinyl isn’t sticking well, check if the surface is too cold or too hot. Vinyl has an ideal temperature range for application.
  • For textured surfaces, using a heat gun or hair dryer in a medium-low setting can help the vinyl conform to the texture better. Just be careful not to overheat and damage the vinyl by getting too close.


Remember, patience is key! Take your time with each step for the best results and beautiful custom vinyl prints.

Ready For Installation?

Now that you've got the preparation knowledge, get ready for the next step!

Additional Information

One of the most important steps, and often overlooked, is to clean the surface from all dirt, oil, dust, or loose particles that the surface may present. Failure to clean properly may result in the adhesive not sticking properly long term, or dust particles trapped under the print. Both of which could lead to the failure of the installation.

This varies by how much interaction there is with the print or the surface energy of the actual surface.
It is also recommended to make sure the backing liner is clean. Do not lay the print down on a dirty surface such as a floor while cleaning your surface. The liner will be touching the surface you are installing to. So if the liner is dirty, it will also get the surface you just cleaned dirty.

Spray and wipe the surface down with a lint-free cloth or towel. Use mild soapy water or water to clean drywall or other smooth surfaces. Do not use any harsh cleaning solutions. Use glass cleaner (Sprayway recommended) for glass, plexiglass, mirrors, and vehicles. Allow to fully dry for a few minutes after cleaning before installing.

After the surface has been cleaned wipe down one more time before installation, but this time with rubbing alcohol. Wipe the alcohol and allow it to evaporate for a minute before installation. This will be the final preparation before you are ready to install.

You will want to remedy these common issues prior to installation.

  • Bumps on the surface that may affect the material from making contact with the surface. A Putty knife can be used to remove small bumps on surfaces such as drywall.
  • Surface issues such as rust, low-quality drywall, dirt, dust, hair, oil, etc. that may be affecting certain areas of the surface. 

Wall, window, floor, vehicle, etc. You will want to make sure that you are taking the surface type into consideration for your preparation techniques. Each has its own adhesion characteristics. Surface energy is something to be prepared for. For instance, an adhesive sticking to an ultra smooth window is going to have a lot less forgiveness than painted drywall when it comes to repositioning if there is an installation error.

Smooth, rough textures, paint type, coatings, etc. You will want to make sure that you are ordering the correct products that are compatible with the types of finishes you are installing to. For example, some removable adhesives may not adhere to surfaces with textures or flat paints.

Indoor, outdoor, humidity, or extreme temperatures. The rule of thumb is to never install in extremely low or high temperatures. High temps (above 90 degrees) will make the material very soft and hard to handle without stretching, and low temps (below 45 degrees) will make the material very brittle and crack/tear easily. Situations, where there is a great amount of humidity or condensation, will also play a factor. Any amount of moisture will prevent adhesives from bonding with the surface area.

If you are working with a very large print it was most likely rolled up for shipping purposes and has a heavy curl (especially with thicker prints). Lay the print flat on a clean surface for a couple of hours before installation. Make sure the surface is clean otherwise, debris may be on your backing liner that may affect your installation. If you are experienced with installing vinyl prints this may not be necessary.

You may notice some tunneling of the print from the release liner after laying flat for thicker prints such as floor decals. This is because it was rolled up and is now slipping off the liner as it is being laid flat. This is not an issue and once you begin the installation the material will lay flat on the surface.

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