One of the great things about vinyl graphics is that they can be applied to almost any surface. Yet there are some substrates that even expert installers avoid altogether. Unless the substrate is clean, smooth or nonporous, the installation will ultimately be a waste of time and money.
Types of Vinyl
Before you determine whether you can apply vinyl to any surface, you first must determine which kind of vinyl you should use — cast or calendared film — and whether it’s appropriate for your application. This video from Arlon Graphics is a really great resource for determining the difference between them and the types of projects they can be used with.
100% No Good for Vinyl Application
There are some substrates that you shouldn’t bother with.
100% Perfect for Vinyl Application
Applying to Plastics
There are many different kinds of plastic, so giving a yes or no answer here can be difficult. Success on plastic ultimately depends on the type of plastic you’re using and its chemical composition. Wet application generally turns out the best results.
Applying to Wood
As long as the wood has been painted with a high quality paint or glossy enamel, wood is an excellent substrate. However, raw wood or wood that hasn’t been coated thoroughly can affect adhesion and fail prematurely.
Applying to Concrete
While applying vinyl to concrete may have been difficult in the past, new film technologies have been introduced that make application to concrete surfaces possible and effective. Vinyl film can be applied to unsealed concrete and asphalt surfaces as well as certain smooth and slightly rough wall surfaces.
Applying to Rubber
Since rubber is a very low energy surface, long-term adhesion is unlikely. This is why most shops don’t apply vinyl to rubber or plastic bumpers. However, this may change in the future as paint manufacturers are in the process of developing products that could make this more realistic.
Applying Reflective Film to Stainless Steel
Not recommended since the film will ultimately show dull spots. These spots are caused by the difference of the material in the metalized layer of the film and the stainless steel substrate. This electronegativity creates a voltage that causes an electric current to flow between the metals. This reaction ultimately causes the metal in the reflective film to oxidize and degrade over time.
Applying to Painted Surfaces
There are many different types of paint, so you’ll need to know what kind of paint you’re dealing with to determine if adhesion will occur.
A factory paint job on a vehicle is an ideal surface for vinyl application when it’s completely clean and dry. This means paint should be allowed to dry for at least 3 weeks before application. The vehicle should also be fully cleaned and all residual cleaners must be rinsed away.
Yet latex paints contain surfactants, which are compounds that lower the surface tension between two liquids or a liquid and solid. This means that adhesion will generally not occur. If it does, it’s likely that it will fail prematurely.
General Rules for Applying Vinyl Film
Never apply vinyl to a rough, dull, porous or dirty surface. When it comes to long-term adhesion and fewer bubbles, the goal is always a smooth, clean substrate.
If you’re ever unsure about whether vinyl can be applied to a surface, test a small piece in an inconspicuous area first. That way you won’t waste time and money on something that can’t be done.
Team Acme has over a decade of experience installing vinyl on a variety of surfaces. We’ve wrapped everything from cars, boats and airplanes to walls, floors, bars, tabletops, windows, pool tables and pianos.
If you want to wrap something but aren’t sure if it will work, contact Team Acme today and let us help you figure it out!