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Decal or sticker material
I often get the question whether someone should buy a decal or sticker material for their planned project. This choice is has to be made from personal desires and often is not dependent of a restriction in the material. Of course I try to give advice as specific as possible, but which product to choose exactly remains the choice of the customer. In this article I would like to explain a few things, and hope that you can make your choice of material easier based on this. If you have a question that is not mentioned here, you can always send it by email. Perhaps I will adjust the information here based on your question.
Decals or sticker material?
A very frequently asked question is whether someone can opt for decals or stickers for a specific project. This is and remains a difficult choice and it is often difficult for me to give good advice at once. The choice of material often lies with the substrate, the requirement for the result and whether there is a possibility for clear varnish. Both decals and stickers stick on almost every surface, where stickers can often be used just a little more often. This is mainly due to the permanent bonding and that no seperate glue or water is involved. Both decals and stickers have different types, and all have different properties. I can not go into all the specific kinds because this would become more of a book than an article. For this reason I discuss the most popular and used solutions. The biggest difference between the materials is the thickness and ease of use. Waterslide decals are very thin, need to be clear coated after application, and sometimes also directly from the printer. Processing is a bit cumbersome, but gives the best result (when done properly). Rub-on decals are also thin, it can be used on moisture-sensitive surfaces which waterslide can not. Processing is also a bit cumbersome and gives a somewhat less good result than waterslide decals. It is therefore a compromise between the thin property of waterslide decals and the need to use water. Sticker materials are very simple to use, the result is almost the same as "real stickers". They are very versatile but often thick and very present because of the "edge". Below I will go deeper into the materials and their pros and cons.
Waterslide decal paper:
This is by far the most used material to transfer stickers from photos, logos and illustrations onto a surface. The reason for this is that the material can be used very versatile, and it is almost invisible or the least visible atleast. Waterslide decal paper can be used on any surface that is smooth and resistant to water. Some examples for the use of waterslide decals are: Candles, scooters, bicycles, modeling, wood, furniture, machines, glasses *, ceramics * and much more. * glass and ceramics require additional processing for the inkjet printer, see the article "Decorating glass and ceramics". A waterslide decal is not much more than an adhesive layer with a printable coating. With the laser version there is a heat resistant film layer processed and the print is directly water resistant from the printer. The inkjet version dissolves directly from the printer when it comes into contact with water, so there is no foil that holds the ink together. For this reason, the inkjet version MUST be (if not otherwise specified) coated when it comes out of the printer. The clear coat ensures that the ink is water-resistant and this clear coat forms the foil of the sticker. There is a inkjet waterslide decal that does not need to be varnished after printing, and is called waterproof decal paper. With the clear coat you can decide how thick or just how thin the inkjet decal is, this counts also for a laser version. Even though the laser version does not need to be lacquered because of the wafer-thin film layer. Waterslide decals can be placed on any surface which is free of grease and dust, and is resistant to a little water. A disadvantage of waterslide decals is that they do not have a very strong layer of glue. Water, wind, dirt and contact can already release the decal. For this reason, a decal must also be clear coated after application, the side of/part of the object with the decal as a whole, or only the edges of the decal. which connect to the object so that no moisture and dirt can reach under the decal and thus no longer loosens. An advantage of topcoating is that the decal becomes one with the object and it looks like the image is printed directly on it.
Rub-on decal paper:
Rub-on decal paper is a compromise solution for the waterslide decal paper, when no water can be used. This material contains a thin coating on which you can print, here you have to apply an adhesive layer yourself. This glue layer can be in the form of a glue spray, but also by means of double-sided self-adhesive sheets. The advantage of Rub-on decals is that they can be applied to any surface, where the adhesive layer adheres. A disadvantage, however, is that Rub-on decals are quite visible, especially when using a glue spray. If you use an adhesive spray, look for one that dries clear and with that the rub-on will become less visible. Rub-on decals is a good alternative when no water can be used on a surface, but when the application requires you to use a very thin decal.
There is a great diversity of sticker materials on the market, from self-adhesive paper to waterproof sticker foil. I do not go too deep into all the different kinds, because here too I could write a book about. The biggest differences are for which printer it is suitable, clear or white material and whether or not it is waterproof. When you make a sticker for an object inside a dry room, any kind of material can actually be used. However, you should take into account whether it adheres to your type of surface, but as long as it is smooth, dry, dust and grease-free, almost everything can be used. If you want to use stickers outside or in damp rooms, the choice becomes somewhat more limited. Also make sure that the material only has a water-resistant adhesive layer, or that the print will also become water-resistant. However, the word waterproof needs a little extra attention. It is often thought that when a material is water-resistant it can be stuck to a car without any problems, and that it can then pass through the car wash or wind again and again. However most of times it is only the adhesive and the film that is water-resistant, the print however is usually not considered waterproof. One reason to choose sticker material for your project is ease of use. When the print is dry, and you have or not have finished it, you can pick up the backing and apply the sticker directly. As said before, a sticker adheres to almost any surface as long as it is smooth, dry, greasy and dust-free. Stickers can also be used on untreated wood, or very moisture sensitive substrates such as MDF, paper, cardboard etc. A rather big disadvantage of sticker material is that they are often quite thick, so it is clearly visible that a sticker is placed on an object. Although there is a lot of development in this area, materials like PET and PP have become much thinner than regular vinyl films.