The Many Shapes and Sizes
With modern advances in production, vehicle wraps and decals are only limited by one's imagination. Just a few years ago, advertising on vehicles was limited to single color, vinyl graphics.
Now days, the industry has taken digital full color capabilities and applied it to the industry with what is called full vehicle wraps where literally, the entire vehicle can be "wrapped" in full color graphics. This has taken vehicle advertising to new levels of visual enhancement and stimulation.
What Goes on, Often Must Come Off
Removing decals is becoming more and more a problem for people and companies looking to update new logos or advertising. In order to add the new, the old must be removed first. As a professional with many years of car decal removal experience, removing decals in the many configurations and applications they exist, is something not for the inexperienced. But since all vehicle decals are not crated equal, many vehicle decal removal jobs can be performed by the Do-It-Yourselfer. My years of experience has taught me a few things along the way that can make your job of removing car decals less of a nightmare! (There I go being dramatic again)
The Decal Removal Process
Regardless of the type of car emblems or vehicle decals you are removing, the process is always the same:
Removing vinyl decals or vehicle wraps can be broken down into those (4) steps. The same steps necessary in also removing car emblems and badges. Regardless of what visual enhancement is attached to your car, unless it is done so with fasteners, basic rules always apply:
Removal of Top Layer
The first step in the process is removing whatever top layer exists. On car emblems this usually means chrome plated hard plastic, to semi-soft or rubberized material. On vinyl vehicle decals, this means the first layer of color decal. On vehicle wraps, this means the vinyl sheeting. For car emblem removal, this requires the use of fishing line or dental floss. For vinyl graphics and digital vehicle wraps, this means simply pulling and picking with your finger nails. Use of the plastic razor blades I made available over in the right hand column are also safe and effective for lifting the edge when removing decals; just use some common sense in regards to safe use. Some additional tips and points of concern are as follows:
Removal of Adhesive Glue
One of the many critical things we have learned is that no magic decal remover exists that you simply spray on from the beginning to remove car deals. After you have removed the top layer, you will have some level of adhesive to remove. This could be anything from a very thick and spongy material used for applying car emblems called double sided tape, to a transparent and tacky glue used on most forms of decals and vehicle wraps. Depending on the thickness of this glue, 100% removal will require much rubbing with adhesive remover, and will be a process of dissolving the adhesive little by little until completely removed. Since each decal removal job will be unique, you will have to experiment with the process to see which technique works best.
Removing Decals Strategies
Once you have removed top layer of decal, use the following strategies for the removal of the underlying adhesive:
Meguiar's Professional Clay Bar
Polishing the Abraded Area
There are a few factors that will determine how much polishing will be necessary after removing decals from any surface:
Any surface you are removing decals from will be scuffed and marred during the removal process. On light colored surfaces, this marring and scuffing will be less visible; but trust me, it will be there. You simply are not looking in lighting that will expose the abrasions to the surface material. You need to find the correct angel and lighting in which to view this area of removal so as to determine the level of polishing required. I have laid out some tools and additional polishes you can use depending on the material you are working on.
Polishes that Work
There are endless choices when it comes to car polishes. For those of you who enjoy spending hours searching the Web for the "perfect" choice in car polishes, then have fun! But for those of you looking to know what actually works based on real world experience, then you are at the right place. I recommend Meguiar's polishes as I use them professionally and know they can deliver exceptional results.
Not only is this polish kit perfect for the beginner, but is the same polishes I use professionally and can be used for any level of polishing you are capable of. Also ideal for use on difficult fiberglass and gel coats. These polishes will work on which ever type of car buffer you decide to purchase or are currently using. These polishes will take your removing decals to a truly professional level with the ability to polish out and completely remove the scuffing left behind on these types of decal removal jobs.
The Car Buffer
Below are my top 2 choices in rotary car buffers. If you are looking to take your results to the next level, or happen to be sitting on the fence as to whether to learn and mater car polishing, look no further as I have personally tested and continue to use these 2 buffers in the professional world. These are truly professional grade machines!
Removing Decals from Fiberglass and Gel Coat
Because of the durable nature of fiberglass and gel coat, whether you are removing decals from RV's or boats, you will need the aggressiveness that can only be delivered by a rotary buffer and wool pads. Sure, if you are a beginner and want to learn to use a rotary polisher you can use the foam pads from above, but if you are looking to remove scratches and marring done in the car emblem or removing decals process, you will need to use a rotary polisher along with wool pads. The Meguiar's polishes from above are also an excellent choice for use with wool pads and can remove the color sanding marks of 800 grit sand papers, as well as any form of scuffing or marring that may remain after removing decals.
Polishing Fiberglass and Gel Coat
This kit from Makita is perfect as it contains the heavy duty polisher necessary for work on these heavy duty jobs, but also contains the wool pads necessary to actually remove scratches, not just polish them so you have shiny scratches. You can count on a certain level of scratching done removing decals and the removal of the adhesive.
There are many horror stories about the infamous car buffer and the damage they can do. Unfortunately people are too willing to repeat unverified information and stories which can deter others from experiencing what could otherwise be a good experience. If you have been sitting on the fence when it comes to car buffers and learning to master this skill, you need to realize that doing everything by hand is only good for so much. Polishing by hand will only take you so far and will never be able to duplicate the friction and consistency that car buffers can produce. It is only through this level of friction and heat production that scratches and oxidation can be effectively removed. It is one thing to polish scratches so they are now shiny scratches, but another thing to actually be able to remove them. With the combination of the above polishes and buffers, you can learn to apply whatever polishing is required by selecting the appropriate amount of aggressiveness through the selection of buffer speeds, polishes, and polish pads.
If you are first learning, simply select the lowest RPM speed on the buffer, start with the most mild of the 2 polishes above; Meguiar's 205, and use with the softest foam pad. It would literally be impossible to actually do any permanent damage to paint of fiberglass. The greatest danger at this level is ripping off trim pieces from a car, if that is what you are polishing on. Use my checklist from below to help improve your results.
Last Words of Advice
Removing decals is an undertaking many people are willing to try. Unfortunately, the job can get out of hand quickly, or many will not take the removing decals process to completion. I hope these steps will help you get the professional results you are after. The biggest problems I see out there with removing decals is these 2 areas:
I hope my "removing decals" tips page has helped you become an informed Do-It-Yourselfer!
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Decal Removal Products and Tools
Use the 3M adhesive remover for any type of decal removal you might be working on. From full auto wraps to individually die-cut decals, this adhesive remover is an essential product to use after first layer of decal has been removed. Safe on all cured paints, use with your choice of mocro-fiber or terry cloth rag.
These plastic scrapers are a suitable and effective tool for the decal and adhesive removal process. Your finger nails are probably the most effective and safe "tool", but your fingernails will tire quickly and become sore. The plastic razor blades are a perfect alternative and will cause minimal abrasions to the material you are working on.
After complete removal of adhesive, use one of the polishes below by hand, to polish and restore luster to removal area, followed up with your choice in car wax. I recommend the use of Meguiar's Ultimate paste wax below, that also happens to be ideal for both light and dark colored cars.
Meguiar's Ultimate Paste wax is the winning combination featuring the durability of polymer, and the visual enhancement capabilities of a quality paste wax.