Visual Communications Co., Inc.


Vinyl Lettering

Vinyl Lettering is the modern technique replacing hand painted letters and images. Vinyl material for lettering is available in a multitude of colors and qualities. With vinyl lettering factors such as durability, longevity and color soundness are totally dependent upon product quality. In our opinion, the difference in price between low end and top end is insufficient to justify not getting the best. We use Oracal  vinyl exclusively because it has consistently been trouble free and long lived.

Cutting of adhesive backed vinyl in specified texts and images is accomplished using a computer driven plotter equipped with knife attachment. Through a sequence of steps the vinyl is formatted for transferal to most reasonably smooth clean surfaces. By using multiple layers and colors, text and images can be produced, outlined, shadowed, or manipulated in a broad spectrum of ways sufficient to meet most customer needs. Pre-“formatted” vinyl lettering, as we provide it for you, comes with all the lettering in position to be installed all at once. This is not a “one letter at a time” process.

Durability, chip and peel resistance of vinyl lettering when properly applied is very good but to a large extent dependant upon the quality of the materials used and the surface to which is applied. However, even the best quality of vinyl lettering is not indestructible. It will not survive abuse from sand blasting, ultra high pressure washing or mechanical abrasion such as a vehicle in a traffic accident. The advantage of vinyl lettering is that it is easily replaceable.  With proper technique, vinyl lettering is reasonably easy to remove without harming the surface on which it has been applied. This is particularly relevant in the resale of vehicles from which vinyl lettering can be removed after years of use with little or no lasting impression.

Uses include the labeling of virtually any reasonably smooth surface. Typically it is surface applied to existing windows, doors, walls, vehicles, and trailers. Glass vinyl lettering is reverse cut and designed to be installed inside where it is better protected. Vinyl lettering can also be used to create new signage from a broad variety of materials such as plastic, metal, painted plywood or wooden blanks. We stock small to moderate sign blanks of various materials to create custom signage for you. For large signs or the resurfacing of existing signs it is much more cost effective to order formatted vinyl lettering from us for your own installation. Surface preparation is important and entirely dependant upon the material of your choice. We provide detailed surface preparation and vinyl installation instructions.


Vinyl Lettering Installation

What follows is a description of techniques we use. There is no implied guarantee intended of any sort, if you should choose to use any of these techniques for your own purposes.

The vinyl lettering that you have received is ‘formatted’ to be installed as a unit. It consists of a front tape “carrying sheet” and a backer “transfer sheet” with the vinyl letters already correctly positioned and sandwiched in between. Do not peel it apart or attempt to do anything with it until you read and understand the vinyl letter installation instructions to follow. Unpack it from shipping and allow it to flatten out in a protected area away from excessive heat, sun, dust or activity. Installing vinyl lettering is quite simple but you have to follow instructions precisely with no innovations or short cuts. If you make a mistake the vinyl lettering will be ruined. Seriously. If you have doubts about your abilities get a friend or co-worker to help you.

To install vinyl lettering you will need the following. Cleaning products to prepare your surface to be free from grime, grease, tar or dust on vehicles. Next you will need a roll of masking tape, a roll of paper towels and something to measure with. Lastly you will need a good moderately supple squeegee of the type used for vinyl letter installation. Although you can try to use something like a credit card instead, it is really not smart to scrimp on this, especially considering the price of a professional grade tool. They are usually available at auto body supply shops.

Your vinyl lettering job is only as good as the surface you put it on. Raw wood, plywood or sheetrock should be primed and painted with a good quality latex paint. Existing surfaces should be washed and degreased even if they do not appear to need it. On fragile surfaces like painted sheetrock, gentle soap and water used cautiously is best. If the surface is metal and degraded with rust or pits or damage, it really should be resurfaced and repainted. Paint must cure for approximately a week in a well ventilated space prior to vinyl letter installation. If you are starting with a baked enamel blank or glass, cleaning with window cleaner is usually sufficient. Once the surface is clean and dry you are ready to proceed.

Take your formatted vinyl lettering unit and attach a couple of pieces of thin masking tape to the top edge, an inch or two in from each corner. Adhere the unit to the surface approximately where you would like it be. We rarely use a level preferring rather to reference to whatever strong visual lines are available. The vinyl should be attached as you would normally read the text except for inside glass installations which will be read from the outside. These should read reversed during the install. The “carrying sheet” always goes towards you. Next use you measuring tool to correct your former approximate location to the exact spot you letters will go. On rectangular formats as sign blanks or glass doors this is simply measuring to references and shifting the lettering by detaching the tape and moving the unit around. We usually focus on one axis at a time, horizontal then vertical. Now recheck your work. Once you start the installation there will not be any ability to shift things. So this is the point where you have to position them to be exactly right. Locating vinyl on vehicle doors can be especially challenging since it becomes a balancing act of satisfying various visual cues as pavement, running boards or trim. Often this becomes a visual preference issue resolvable by temporarily adhering the lettering and stepping back and taking the role of the viewer.

Proceed by adhering a strip of masking tape across the whole top of the of the letter unit so that the tape is half on, half off the top edge of the vinyl lettering unit. The material and the tape have to be flat and in a straight line since you are creating a hinge. Check to see it the unit will flip up easily and return back to your chosen layout location. If it does you are ready to install. Flip the letter unit up using the masking tape hinge. Check the surface beneath to ensure no grit or dirt has found it’s way there. It is not a bad idea to give the surface a swipe of window cleaner just in case. Hold up until dry. If your letter unit it bigger than a foot in length here is where a friend might come in handy. Your other option if your vinyl allows, is to make scissor cuts through the carrying and transfer sheets from the bottom up to the hinge while leaving the hinge itself intact. Ensure that you do not cut through any vinyl as letters, logos or horizontal details so as to portion the formatted vinyl in shorter manageable sections. Next reach up underneath one section and slowly peel the paper ‘carrying sheet” down from the hinge. Watch your letters to make sure they are not coming off with the backer layer. As you peel, the letters must not be touched and must be held up in place so they do not accidentally drop onto the surface and attach inappropriately. That’s where a friend holds one corner, you the other. As the backer is being peeled away, slowly and gently start letting the front carrier and letters rotate downward on the hinge. Do not let it drop and continue to hold it away. Start using your squeegee at the hinge to firmly stroke the carrier and letters against your mounting surface. Do so going sideways from the center out, first one way then the other holding the squeegee at about a 45 degree angle. Take small steps here as you stroke and attach you will also have to lower the outer edge of the carrier while peeling more of the backer away. Continue until it is all attached. The process is designed to allow air to escape from behind as you apply. The next step is to use your squeegee to firmly attach the letters by firmly stroking across each letter in multiple directions. This should be done firmly but not so harshly that you are deforming the carrying sheet. If any air bubbles are noted they should be swept towards edges of letters to allow the bubbles to escape. If you have portioned the lettering continue with each piece until they are all done.

The last step is the removal of the carrying sheet. First remove the masking tape and discard in a responsible manner. Next take a corner of the sheet and fold it completely over against itself and gently pull against the fold pulling along the surface rather than away from it. Pull gently and continuously until the entire piece is removed. The last step is to inspect for any remaining air bubbles. If any are found lay paper over the bubble area and use the squeegee to try to work them towards whatever letter’s edge is closest to allow the air to escape. Enough of an area should be covered so that you are not squeegeeing over unprotected letters. On any stubborn bubbles use a pin to prick the vinyl and delicately stroke the bubble towards the pinprick to let the air out and adhere the vinyl. Now congratulate yourself because you are done.


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