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Stick It and Win: Using Die-Cut Stickers to Create Your Livery

Adding a livery to a competition car usually means a full vinyl wrap. Wraps are actually a cost-effective alternative to a full paint job and can be easily removed at the end of the season.

But even wraps have their downside. Despite the versatility of the initial design, making changes once the wrap is in place is difficult. And although a wrap is more affordable than paint, it’s still not inexpensive.

Most amateur competitors are going to be doing a lot of work with regular die-cut stickers. Most manufacturers will freely supply die-cuts to competitors using their products, or a competent vinyl shop can efficiently produce them.

Side Effects Custom Wraps of Daytona Beach, Florida, helped decorate our Mustang using die-cut logos sourced from digital files that we provided. Rather than cutting the logos out of yellow vinyl, Side Effects Graphics used an industrial printer to print everything onto white vinyl. This allowed us to create some additional visual excitement, like adding a thin black stroke around our logos to set them off a bit.

Side Effects estimated the cost of our complete job at well under $1000, including their professional installation. Installing the vinyl ourselves would have saved us considerably more. While we watched these pros work their magic, we figured we’d pass along some tips for getting the most bang for your buck from cut vinyl graphics.

1. Pros Are Pros for a Reason:

The pros have access to perfectly scaled digital illustrations of your car, allowing them to precisely size your decals before they even print and cut them. Having a pro do a digital mockup of your vinyl before hitting print can save lots of trouble.

2. Prep Is Everything:

Use a wax-removing cleaner to prep the car surface, followed by a wipe-down with 90-percent alcohol. This cleaning helps the vinyl adhere evenly, and prevents foreign particles and moisture from creating bubbles and causing poor adhesion.

3. You Get What You Pay For:

Cheap vinyl may save you a few bucks up front, but it can be hard to work with and end up shrunken or faded down the road. The folks at Side Effects are big fans of Oracal, a German brand of vinyl. It’s a little more expensive than average, but it’s much easier to install and releases cleanly even years later. Unlike other brands, it has microscopic cross-hatches in the adhesive layer to make working out bubbles far easier.

4. For Contours, Work High to Low:

Cars are three-dimensional objects, so your vinyl will have to work around these curves. When working with large sheets of vinyl, work from the peaks to the valleys. Good vinyl will let you stick and unstick the sheets repeatedly, so don’t be shy about peeling up the layer and reapplying to get it right.

5. Heat Is Your Friend:

When working those contours, a little heat will soften the material and let you press it into the curves better. The heat will also slightly shrink the material, so be careful to not make it too taut around corners. The pros use a propane torch since it provides instant, intense heat, but a heat gun may be a little more controllable for the novice.

6. Tape Is Your Friend:

When working with large pieces, create a hinge with masking tape to hold the vinyl in place and make manipulation much easier. Remove the backing and squeegee the vinyl down to the surface while the tape supports the weight of the piece and keeps it straight.

7. Use the Right Tools:

All the guys at Side Effects have their own custom-built, personal squeegees. Each one features a piece of soft leather affixed to an edge, and they’re great for smoothly working the vinyl onto the surface. A good alternative to the leather strip is a piece of the fuzzy part of Velcro. It provides a bit of cushion and glides smoothly over the vinyl surface.

The pros also know that special tools help the job go smoothly. Sharp razor knives are an obvious must for a decal shop, but the true pros know that having a variety of blade angles means always having the ideal tool available.

Pros also have access to some cool specialized stuff, like this cutting tape. It contains a thin filament that is applied under vinyl sheets then pulled up and used to garrotte out shapes in the vinyl.

8. Simple can be effective:

While it may not be as fancy as a full wrap, by going with die cut logos we still managed to produce a cohesive livery and save a ton of money in the process. We’ve also produced something that can be easily added to in the future.

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