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Removing Vinyl Letters and Decals Off Vehicles

vinyl decal letters

How to remove old vinyl lettering graphics from cars? There are a couple of types of vinyl used on vehicles. The first is a plotter cut vinyl that usually has an acrylic adhesive bonding the vinyl to the vehicle.

Question:  How do I remove vinyl lettering that has been on my vehicle for a couple of years?

There are varying grades of adhesives used on this type of vinyl, and most often it is referred to as a “permanent adhesive,” but there is a variety in the quality of glue used, and how well it releases from your vehicle when you’re ready to remove this type of vinyl.

Calendared Vinyl

Cheaper calendared vinyls use cheaper adhesives, and they come off with greater difficulty than the higher grade cast vinyl, but different companies use different qualities of vinyl even within the cast or calendared vinyl categories. Some of the easiest vinyls to remove, we’ve found, are manufactured by 3M (we make nothing on this recommendation).

We won’t say which company’s vinyls are the hardest to remove, but they are almost always calendared, with one exception, which I’ll address at the end of this Q&A.

Vinyl Stickers or Decals

custom vinyl lettersThe other type of vinyl that is most often used on vehicles is printed vinyl stickers or decals. Generally, the cheaper calendared vinyls are used for these decals, so the adhesives are the type that are more difficult to remove as well.

Static Clings

Some companies have gone to static cling vinyls because many car owners aren’t fond of having to remove adhesive decals, but unfortunately, they can’t be adhered to the exterior of your vehicle which is a negative when you have tinted windows.

Static clings also don’t stick to metal, and don’t bond firmly enough to the glass to keep from blowing off a vehicle once it’s in motion.

Removing Decals and Glue Residues

The best way to remove any adhesive vinyl decal is through the use of heat applied to the decals. A hair dryer or a heat gun will suffice to put heat onto the decals, thereby helping to release the glue from either the vinyl or the metal or glass on your vehicle.

Unfortunately, and one of the reasons many people aren’t crazy about attaching adhesive vinyl stickers to their autos is because of this residual glue that stays on the window or metal of their vehicle.

There are, however, mild glue removers at most hardware stores available to aid you in removing the glue that remains on your vehicle. You can either spray or dab on this glue remover to the remaining adhesive, and after allowing it to penetrate for a minute or two, a credit card or a similar rigid material can be used to scrape the remaining glue from your vehicle. A little more glue remover applied to a paper towel can finish removing any left over glue.

The most difficult vinyl to remove, though, that we’ve encountered is engineer reflective grade vinyl. Even with heat, it comes off in small pieces, and almost all the glue stays on the surface of your vehicle. The glue remover will work on this glue as well, but it will take more and can be quite frustrating to clean off completely, but it can be done with some elbow grease.

But there are types of decals and stickers that can be removable with no glue residue left behind: Check this out.


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Barry K. Brown

Barry Brown has been in the Sign, Banner, Decal and Display Business for over 20 years. It isn’t what he thought he’d do with his life, but he says he knows too much now to do anything else!


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