Decals are a fun way to personalize and individualize things like tumblers, laptops, shirts, walls, and car windows.
When you put a decal on something you usually want it to stick well, but there are times when you want to be able to remove the decal or replace it with another one. So are decals removable?
As a general rule, decals that are made from removeable vinyl are designed to be removable from most surfaces regardless of the time that’s passed since application. Decals with permanent adhesive can possibly be removed with some work, but the adhesive can damage the surface that it was stuck to. Regardless of the type of decal used, if it is removed after the specified cure time for the adhesive has passed, you should assume that the decal won’t be reusable.
Wendy Tanner, owner of Merry Mayhem Designs, summed it up by saying that decals are removable, “but it takes some work.”
I asked some professional decal makers to give me some tips about removing decals and what the factors that affect the removability are.
Table of Contents
- Permanent vs. removable vinyl decals
- Vinyl quality and thickness of the vinyl
- How to remove a vinyl decal, and can you reuse them?
Please note: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which will give me a small commission at no cost to you if you buy something when you use them.
Permanent vs. removable vinyl decals
Permanent vinyl decals have an adhesive on the back that cures to a strong bond after a certain amount of time. Although the decal can be adjusted as it’s being attached to the surface, the glue will resist removal after a certain length of time. Removable vinyl decals don’t create as strong a bond, and can generally be removed much easier and with less surface damage than permanent adhesives.
Because the two types of adhesives have different “hold strengths,” they’re used for different things.
Anything that needs to withstand washing, sun, or that will be used outdoors should be made with a type of vinyl that’s intended to be permanently attached.
For indoor applications, or for things that don’t need to be washed, like wood signs for home decor, removable vinyl can be used.
Lyndsay Niederhuth, owner of Pony Express Graphics, says that “Removable vinyl is intended to be put on a surface, like a wall for example, and taken off at a later point.”
Mary Avelis, owner of Lil Fox Designs, sells some decals and also makes them for personal use. She has a toddler and says “I use removable on my cabinets for my son to learn words, and permanent for car decals or for cold cups.”
And Brandi Langevin, owner of Lolli and Pop Shoppe, says that removability basically boils down to what type of vinyl is used. And as she points out, there are a lot of specialty vinyls on the market, which can affect removability.
In addition to adhesive decals, there are also decals that are made from heat transfer vinyl. These don’t have an adhesive, but they’re adhered with a heat press or an iron.
Those types of decals are generally used on soft surfaces like clothing or pillows, and probably shouldn’t be removed without expecting some damage to the item it was applied to.
Vinyl quality and thickness of the vinyl
Kelley Rynearson Cox, owner of Heart Sole Creations, points out that “how easily decals can be removed depends on a few things. How thin or thick the lettering/decal is, and the quality and what type of vinyl. Lyndsay agrees, saying that “Reflective vinyl is a lot harder to remove due to the several layers it has to become reflective material.”
Different types of vinyl have different thicknesses and can be different quality. Depending on whether the vinyl the decals are made from is higher quality or a cheaper version, it can be more or less difficult to remove without ripping the decal. The adhesive used can also end up leaving residue that can be left on the surface when the decal is removed.
Cheaper vinyl decals can also be affected by sun and the elements by becoming brittle and peeling off the surface.
We’ve all had car window decals that ended up peeling off and cracking, then are impossible to remove when you try to do that.
Aimee Swofford, owner of Country Custom Printing, points out that the longer a decal has been on a surface, the elements that it’s exposed to, and the quality of the initial installation can also affect how easy they will be to remove.
I find that to be 100% true since I have a decal on my car window now that’s about to crack off, sadly, and I’m going to have to go scrape it off. I probably didn’t put it on the window correctly to begin with, so it’s partly the decal quality and partly my own fault!
So if you do want to remove a decal, how should you do that?
How to remove a vinyl decal, and can you reuse them?
To remove a vinyl decal, use a blow dryer on high heat to weaken the adhesive bond. Heat the decal for a couple of minutes until the glue softens, then immediately start peeling it off of the surface. Use a plastic squeegee or a credit card to detach the edge and start peeling the decal off of the surface, being careful not to tear the vinyl. Remove the adhesive residue using a variety of Goo Gone that’s appropriate for the surface material, then clean the surface to remove any residue of the Goo Gone.
Lyndsay says “Permanent adhesive can be removed with some help and elbow grease. I once removed decals from a truck that were on there well over 15 years. It took hours to remove, but I finally got it. It did also leave slight ghosting of where the decal was originally.”
Be aware that any kind of adhesive can affect the paint, so unless you’re putting your logo on a car and you never intend to remove it, it’s best to put them on a window, not on the paint. Aimee Swofford, owner of Country Custom Printing, points out that the longer a decal has been on a surface, the elements that it’s exposed to, and the quality of the initial installation can also affect how easy they will be to remove.
Andrea Haglund Ross, owner of My Very Crafty Life, says that “If you choose to put a decal on a wall, be sure it’s made of a product that won’t peel the paint. While decals are removable, they are not reusable. You can take them off, but that will ruin the decal.”
Lyndsay agrees, adding “When removing decals, be prepared to not be able to use the decal again. The adhesive has been compromised and will no longer have the same durability and longevity as it did in the beginning.”
When it comes to smaller items like laptops, removing decals isn’t as difficult a process as removing them from cars is.
Faye Berriel, owner of Chillipaper, says “I made some decals for my laptop, they were on there a few years, and it just needed a bit of a wipe down once I took them off.”
If you can’t use Goo Gone because you’re afraid of ruining the surface of the item, you can try using white vinegar to remove any residue, then wiping it down thoroughly.
So when buying decals, consider what you’re putting them on, how long they need to be there, and how easy it needs to be when you decide to remove them.
Decals can be removed, but how difficult the process will be is going to depend on the type of adhesive and the surface it’s applied to, as well as the quality of the decal itself.
When I fill orders on Etsy I try to get things in the mail as quickly as I can, but I've slowed down on that a little recently. Etsy wants us to ship things fast even, but is that the best...
Whether you're looking for a Christmas gift for new grandparents, a pregnancy announcement, or a gender reveal gift to let your parents know that they're going to be grandparents, our Artisan...