What is the Difference Between Decal and Vinyl: Your Complete Guide

Decals and vinyl are two very commonly used materials in the world of adhesive design and aesthetics. Many people use them interchangeably, which may lead to some misunderstanding. The truth is, however, that there are significant differences between the two. Knowing these differences can help you pick the right material for your particular project and ensure that you make the most out of these products.

The primary difference between decals and vinyl is the way they are made. Decals are basically images and designs that are printed onto a special paper. You then have to cut out the design and remove the backing paper before you can transfer them onto a surface. On the other hand, vinyl consists of a layer of adhesive material attached to a thin layer of plastic. The plastic layer is peeled off to expose the adhesive, which is then applied directly onto a surface.

Both decals and vinyl have their own advantages and disadvantages. For example, decals are perfect for intricate design work due to their printing abilities, whilst vinyl is ideal for larger, continuous areas. Decals also tend to be more affordable than vinyl, but they don’t have the same durability. Understanding the differences between these two materials will help you choose the right one for your specific needs and ensure that you get the results that you’re looking for.

Definition of Decal and Vinyl

Decals and vinyl are both methods of applying graphic designs onto surfaces. However, there are differences in their composition, application, and durability that should be understood to determine which is most appropriate for a specific project.

  • Decals are images printed on a special type of paper that is transferred onto surfaces through a process known as decaling. The image is printed onto a clear or white background and then is carefully separated and transferred onto the surface using either adhesive or water to create the desired design. Decals are often used for promotional purposes such as signage, cars, and packaging. They are cost-effective and easy to use.
  • Vinyl graphics are images made from thicker sheets of plastic and require precision cutting and application to transfer onto the surface. Vinyl is typically applied onto surfaces through a process called masking, which involves a transparent sheet being used to transfer the vinyl onto the surface. They are commonly used for wall decorations, car graphics, and signage. Because of the precision required to cut and apply vinyl, it is usually more expensive than decals and requires professional skill.

Understanding the differences between decals and vinyl is key in making an informed decision about which method to use for a particular graphic design project. When deciding between the two, consider factors such as cost, durability, and ease of use.

History of Decals and Vinyls

Decals and vinyls have become commonplace in our daily lives, from adding personal touches to our cars, customizing our laptops, or even decorating our homes. However, the origins of these two popular art forms can be traced back to very different origins.

Decals, also known as transfers, first emerged around the mid-18th century. They were initially used as a way to transfer designs onto ceramics, glass, and even furniture. Decals began to gain popularity in the early 20th century, as advancements in printing technology made it easier to create colorful and intricate designs in mass quantities. Decals were mass-produced and distributed through mail-order catalogs, making them easily accessible to the general public.

  • Decals were initially used as a way to transfer designs onto ceramics, glass, and even furniture.
  • Advancements in printing technology made it easier to create colorful and intricate designs in mass quantities.
  • Decals were mass-produced and distributed through mail-order catalogs, making them easily accessible to the general public.

Vinyl, on the other hand, had its roots in the music industry. In the early days of recorded music, songs were pressed onto vinyl records, which quickly became the preferred medium for recording and distributing music. As the popularity of vinyl records began to decline in the 1980s, vinyl began to be used in different ways. Crafters began using adhesive vinyl to create custom designs for t-shirts, bags, and other items, while sign makers began using vinyl to create customized signs and graphics.

Today, vinyl is used for a variety of applications, including architectural graphics, signage, vehicle graphics, and even wraps for airplanes and boats.

While decals and vinyls both have their origins in different industries and periods of history, they have both proved to be versatile and enduring art forms that continue to evolve and adapt as new technologies emerge.

Common Uses of Decals and Vinyls

Decals and vinyls are both versatile materials that have a wide range of applications in various industries. Understanding the difference between the two can help you determine which material is best suited for your specific needs.

Common Uses of Decals and Vinyls

  • Decals are commonly used in the automotive industry for branding and customizing vehicles. They can be used to add graphics, logos, and texts, as well as to cover certain areas of the vehicle.
  • Vinyls, on the other hand, are frequently used for outdoor signage, banners, and billboards. They are also used in the construction industry as floor graphics or wall decals.
  • Both decals and vinyls are also often used in the retail industry. Decals are used for in-store promotions and window displays, while vinyls can be used for storefront signage.

Customization and Branding

Decals and vinyls are excellent materials for customization and branding. They can be printed in various colors, sizes, and designs, allowing businesses to easily create a personalized look that stands out from the competition. The durability and weather-resistance of these materials also make them perfect for outdoor branding and advertising.

For example, if you own a food truck business, vinyls can be used to create a custom wrap that showcases your menu, logo, and contact information. This not only helps your food truck stand out on the street but also acts as a moving billboard that advertises your business to potential customers.


In comparison to traditional paint or signage, decals and vinyls are cost-effective materials that can be easily installed and removed. This makes them an ideal choice for businesses that are working with a limited budget or want to experiment with different designs and branding strategies. Decals and vinyls are also less labor-intensive than other methods of customization, which can save businesses time and money in the long run.

Pros of Decals Cons of Decals
Easy to install and remove Not as durable as vinyls
Great for intricate designs and small details Prone to fading and peeling over time

Ultimately, the decision to use decals or vinyls will depend on your specific needs and requirements. By understanding the differences between the two materials and their common uses, you can make an informed decision that meets the needs of your business.

Durability of Decals and Vinyls

Decals and vinyls both offer different levels of durability. Decals are generally not as durable as vinyls, and their longevity depends on various factors such as the type of decal material used, the quality of the printing, and the conditions in which they are exposed to.

On the other hand, vinyls are known for their durability and are commonly used for outdoor signage, vehicle wraps, and other applications that require lasting visibility. Vinyls are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which is a strong and durable material that resists fading, cracking, and peeling even in harsh environments.

  • Decals can last up to 5 years with proper care and maintenance.
  • Vinyls can last anywhere from 5 to 10 years or more depending on the quality of the material and installation.
  • Both decals and vinyls can be laminated for added protection, which can extend their lifespan.

Decals are suitable for short-term applications such as promotional events, giveaways, and product labeling. However, if you need a more robust and long-lasting solution, vinyls are the way to go.

When it comes to cost, decals are generally less expensive than vinyls due to their shorter lifespan and lower quality printing materials. On the other hand, vinyls are more durable and have better color retention, but they come with a higher price tag.

Factors Decals Vinyls
Durability Short-term Long-term
Quality of Printing Lower quality Higher quality
Cost Less expensive More expensive

In summary, both decals and vinyls have their pros and cons when it comes to durability. Decals are suitable for short-term applications, while vinyls offer a more robust and long-lasting solution for outdoor signage, vehicle wraps, and other applications that require lasting visibility. Consider your specific needs and budget when deciding between the two options.

Cost Comparison of Decals and Vinyls

When it comes to cost, the price of decals and vinyls can vary depending on a few different factors. Here are some things to consider:

  • Material: Vinyl tends to be more expensive than decal material. This is because vinyl is a more durable material that can withstand harsh outdoor conditions better than decals.
  • Size: The bigger the decal or vinyl, the more it will cost. This is because it takes more material to produce a larger piece.
  • Quantity: The more decals or vinyls you order, the more cost-effective it becomes. Many printing companies offer discounts for bulk orders, so it’s worth considering if you need a large quantity of decals or vinyls.

Aside from these factors, it’s important to consider the quality of the product you’re getting. Cheaper decals and vinyls may not last as long or adhere as well as higher quality ones. In the long run, it may be more cost-effective to invest in a higher quality product that will last longer and require fewer replacements.

If you’re wondering whether decals or vinyls are the better option for your project, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each and consider your budget. Below is a table that compares the average cost per square foot of decals and vinyls:

Type of Material Average Cost per Square Foot
Decal $2-$10
Vinyl $3-$15

As you can see, vinyl is generally more expensive than decals, but it’s also a more durable material that can be used in a wider range of applications. Ultimately, the type of material you choose will depend on your specific needs and budget.

How to Apply Decals and Vinyls

Now that we’ve covered the difference between decals and vinyl, it’s time to talk about how to apply them. Applying decals and vinyls is not as complicated as it may seem, but it does require some patience and attention to detail. Here are some steps to follow:

  • Clean the surface: Make sure the surface where you are going to apply the decal or vinyl is clean and free of any dust or debris. Using soap and water or a cleaning solution specifically designed for the type of surface you are working on, wipe the area clean and let it dry completely.
  • Measure and position: Measure the area where you are going to place the decal or vinyl and mark it with a pencil. Use a level or a measuring tape to ensure the placement is straight and precise.
  • Peel the backing: Depending on the type of decal or vinyl you are working with, peel off the backing paper or transfer tape to expose the adhesive side.
  • Apply the decal or vinyl: Carefully place the decal or vinyl onto the surface, starting from one end and working your way to the other. Use a squeegee or credit card to smooth out any bubbles or wrinkles as you go. If you are working with a large decal or vinyl, you may want to use a spray bottle with a soapy water solution to help slide and position the vinyl before smoothing it out.
  • Remove the transfer tape: If you are working with a vinyl decal, once it is fully applied, carefully remove the transfer tape to reveal the final product. Be sure to apply pressure on any areas that may not have adhered properly.
  • Let it dry: Once you have successfully applied your decal or vinyl, leave it to dry for at least 24 hours before touching or sealing it. This will ensure the adhesive has enough time to fully bond with the surface.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Even though applying decals and vinyls is a straightforward process, there are some common mistakes that can ruin your final product. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Don’t rush: Taking your time is key to a successful outcome. Rushing through the process can lead to crooked placement, air bubbles and wrinkles.

Don’t overstretch: Overstretching the vinyl can cause it to rip or warp, which can be difficult to fix. Be sure to work with the material’s stretch factor, and cut away any excess material before applying it.

Don’t use the wrong tools: Using the wrong tools can damage the vinyl or decal, or leave marks on the surface you are working on. Make sure to use a squeegee or credit card with a smooth edge, and avoid using sharp objects that can puncture the material.

Application Methods for Complex Surfaces

Applying decals and vinyls on complex surfaces like cars or helmets can be challenging, but there are methods that can help you achieve a smooth finish. Here are some tips:

Wrap the edges: If you are working with a curved surface, wrap the edges of the decal or vinyl around the surface for a seamless finish.

Use heat: If you are working with a surface that has tight corners or crevices, use heat from a hairdryer or heat gun to soften the vinyl and make it more pliable. This will allow you to bend the vinyl around corners, and prevent wrinkles or creases.

Surface Type Recommended Application Method
Flat surfaces Standard application method
Curved surfaces Wrap edges, use heat to soften vinyl
Complex surfaces Combine wrap and heat methods for best results

How to Remove Decals and Vinyls

Removing decals and vinyls from surfaces can be a challenging and time-consuming task. In this section, we will discuss how to remove these two graphics materials with ease and in the shortest time possible.

  • Decals Removal: When removing decals, you need to consider the surface type and the type of adhesive used to stick the decal. Listed below is our recommended procedure for removing decals:
    • Start by heating the decal with a heat gun, hair dryer, or any other heating source. This will soften the adhesive and make the decal easy to remove.
    • Use a plastic scraper to gently pry the decal from the surface. Avoid using a metal scraper as it can scratch the surface.
    • If the decal leaves a residue on the surface, use a commercial adhesive remover or a home remedy like vinegar or baking soda to remove the residue.
  • Vinyls Removal: Vinyl graphics are more challenging to remove than decals due to its strong adhesive. However, with the right tools and technique, removing vinyls can be easy. Here’s how to do it:
    • Start by heating the vinyl with a heat gun, hair dryer, or any other heating source. This will soften the adhesive and make the vinyl easy to remove.
    • Once the vinyl is heated, use a plastic scraper or a putty knife to pry off the edges of the vinyl. Take care not to damage the underlying surface.
    • Continue prying the vinyl off, heating it intermittently as needed. If the vinyl is stubborn, you can use a commercial adhesive remover or a home remedy to loosen it up.
    • If the vinyl leaves a residue on the surface, use a commercial adhesive remover or a home remedy like vinegar or baking soda to remove the residue.

Tips to Make Decal and Vinyl Removal Easier

Here are some tips that can make it easier to remove decals and vinyl from surfaces:

  • Use a heat source to warm up the decal or vinyl before removing to soften the adhesive and make it easier to remove.
  • Choose the right scraper for the job. A plastic scraper is ideal as it won’t scratch the underlying surface.
  • Avoid using a razor blade or any metal scraper that can damage surfaces.
  • If you’re not sure what type of adhesive is on your decal or vinyl, do a patch test on a small area to avoid damaging the surface.

The Bottom Line

Removing decals and vinyls can be a daunting task, but with the right tools and techniques, it can be done effortlessly. Always use protective gear and follow the recommended procedure for the safety of yourself and the underlying surface.

Materials Recommended Tools
Decal removal Heat gun, plastic scraper, adhesive remover or vinegar/baking soda
Vinyl removal Heat gun, plastic scraper or putty knife, adhesive remover or vinegar/baking soda

With these materials and tools, you can successfully remove decal and vinyl graphics from any surface without damaging it.

What is the Difference Between Decal and Vinyl?

1. What are decals made of?

Decals are traditionally made of paper or plastic. They are a thin, flexible material with a sticky backing, used for decoration or identification purposes.

2. What is vinyl commonly used for?

Vinyl is often used to create signs, banners, and custom designs. It is a durable material that is resistant to weather and fading, making it ideal for outdoor applications.

3. What is the main difference between decal and vinyl?

The main difference is in the materials they are made of. Decals are typically made of paper or plastic, while vinyl is a synthetic material.

4. Which material is better for long-term use?

Vinyl is generally considered better for long-term use because it is more durable and resistant to fading and weather damage. However, the specific application and environment will ultimately determine which material is better suited.

5. Can decals and vinyl be used interchangeably?

Not necessarily. While both can be used for decoration and identification purposes, their durability and flexibility differ. Decals are generally thinner and less durable, while vinyl is thicker and more resilient.

Closing Thoughts

We hope this article has helped clarify the difference between decal and vinyl. While both materials have their uses and benefits, it’s important to understand their differences to choose the best option for your needs. Thanks for reading and be sure to check back for more informative articles in the future!