What is the difference between vinyl stickers and vinyl decals?

Andy Dewhurst

In addition to supplying custom vinyl lettering, we also have a range of vinyl decals and stickers in our web shop at Lettering Direct. What you may be wondering, though, is what exactly is the difference between a vinyl decal and a vinyl sticker? Are they different names for the same thing, or is there a substantive difference?

Well, vinyl stickers and vinyl decals are very different, both in terms of how they are made and how they are applied, yet they can often achieve much the same effect. To clarify this, let’s look at how each is made.

Vinyl stickers

The manufacture of vinyl stickers is perhaps the easiest to understand, so let’s start with that. Imagine you bought some address labels for your home printer. You would use some software to print out the addresses for your Christmas card list, and then you would peel off the stickers and apply them to the envelopes. In a very mundane sense, this resembles how basic vinyl stickers are made.

In reality it’s not so simple of course. First, for a vinyl sticker, we use a vinyl medium with a strong adhesive backing as the print medium. This needs to stand up to the test of time under warm temperatures and direct sunlight. This is why we only use high-quality vinyl from UK manufacturers at Lettering Direct.

A machine then prints the desired design directly onto the vinyl, and this is where it starts to differ from a decal.

Vinyl decals

The first thing to understand about decals is that no printing is required. It’s possible to use printing in the process, but it’s not part of the basic concept.

Decals are instead made by physically cutting shapes out of a vinyl sheet, by machine in this case. This means the colour choice is essentially limited to the colour of the vinyl, although you can add variety by layering multiple decals. Once the design is cut, the vinyl in the negative space (the bits you don’t want) is removed and a transfer medium placed over the decal. When the decal is applied later, only the vinyl that forms part of the design is applied to the surface.

So, to put it simply, stickers are printed on vinyl sheets and decals are cut from vinyl sheets.

There is some crossover, however. Some vinyl stickers are also cut, albeit not to the same level of detail. In fact, you may have noticed that some of the single-colour vinyl stickers in our shop look a lot like decals.

This is because with some intricate designs, a pure decal may be problematic to produce and apply because of all the tiny elements involved. In this case, it is more feasible to print a sticker on transparent vinyl. This can then be cut to eliminate as much negative space as possible, which helps improve the overall appearance. What you then ultimately have is something that is technically a vinyl sticker, yet it looks much like a decal.

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