We know how important personalisation is for our customers. They get something uniquely theirs that showcases who they are. It also provides you and your personalisation business plenty of opportunities to add to your product range, either as a staple or as additional items that add value.
The car industry is well known for its customisation possibilities, from company branding on wrapped fleet vehicles or advertising in motorsport to personal stickers that show a little of the owner's character.
Vehicle graphics don’t need to be complex to be effective though and you can get some great results using a vinyl cutter and coloured vinyl. In this guide, we'll show you how to create a car window sticker using a vinyl cutter, as well as how to install it.
What is a Vinyl Cutter?
A vinyl cutter, or plotter, is a device that accurately cuts letters or graphics out of adhesive-backed vinyl and other materials. Lots of personalisation businesses start out with a simple craft cutter before upgrading to faster professional devices as demand and the need to cut more materials grows.
Vinyl cutters are commonly used for creating stickers, decals, signage, and heat-transfer designs for clothing. The blade you use will depend on the material you want to cut as it will likely vary in thickness, texture, and toughness. Cutting with a dull or damaged blade won’t produce the high quality you or your customer is looking for so make sure you have a few spares available.
Ultimately, the questions you need to ask of your cutter are:
- Is it wide enough for what you want to cut?
- Is it fast enough to do what you need it to?
- Does it have enough cutting force?
You can get a device that just cuts, or you can get a printer/cutter with dual functionality. Again, what you ultimately plan to produce will determine the device that is most suitable. There are benefits to both, so read our guide on whether you need a printer/cutter or separate devices here.
Equipment We Used:
- GS2-24 desktop vinyl cutter
- White self-adhesive vinyl (suitable for outdoor use)
- Transfer tape
- Weeding tools
- Adobe Illustrator and the Roland DG CutStudio plugin
- Going online to find inspiration is always a useful first step to see what customers are buying. There’s no shortage of options available for a car window sticker. They run the gamut from stick versions of your family to amusing quotes to social media handles. We found that the outdoors featured quite heavily too, so chose to design a simple mountain scene made up of several elements that we could practice our weeding skills on.
- We measured the area of the window that we had to work with so that we could set up our design file in Adobe Illustrator. If you are more comfortable using a different program though, we’d recommend using the one you are most familiar with. If you are less confident with design software, Roland DG’s dedicated cutter software, CutStudio, keeps the process simple and provides all the tools you need for the project. Adobe Illustrator contains a plugin for CutStudio that also helps to streamline the process. Tip: If you use CutStudio to import your artwork, you will need to export the design file as an eps file and save it as an “Illustrator 8 EPS” so that CutStudio can read it.
- We set the artboard at 100% so that it would cut the design at its actual size, and we wouldn’t have to worry about amending it later. Our artwork was made up of fairly simple vector shapes, but it’s a good idea to use functions like “Simplify” in Illustrator to reduce the number of paths as much as possible so that the cutter can produce a nice clean cut.
- Our sticker was to be applied to the outside of the window, so we needed to use a durable vinyl that would last when put up against the elements. It would be subjected to a big temperature swing, as well as rain, grit, UV rays and a windscreen wiper. It also had to adhere well to glass. Your media supplier should be able to give you good advice on the type of material best suited to your project.
NB: We are using the term “sticker”, but often “decal” would be used, especially on outdoor products. The terms are interchangeable, but if there is a difference, it’s that a decal has an extra layer to help apply it to the surface it is intended for. So decals are stickers, but not all stickers are decals.
Preparing the Cut
- We loaded the GS2-24 with our roll of white vinyl, ensuring that there was enough to produce the sticker and that it was loaded straight. Once loaded, the machine automatically calculated the media width. It does this by reading the distance between the two pinch wheels that hold the media in place.
- We made a test cut to make sure that the blade was set up correctly and that the cutting force was enough to cut our vinyl without cutting through the backing sheet. When we were happy with our settings, we set it to cut.
Applying the Sticker
- Once the cut was completed, we used our weeding tools to carefully remove excess vinyl from the backing sheet and reveal the design. While the cut wasn’t very complex, we still had to take care when weeding so that we didn’t tear the vinyl.
- Once we had finished weeding, we applied an adhesive transfer tape to help us transfer the vinyl from its backing sheet to the glass car window. We placed the tape over the design and used a squeegee with plenty of downward pressure to ensure good adhesion and to remove any air bubbles between the tape and the vinyl.
Tip: The transfer tape should have a stronger bond with the vinyl than the vinyl has with its backing so that the vinyl transfers to the tape. If not, the vinyl will stay on the backing. However, if the bond is too strong, you could risk tearing the vinyl, so it’s worth doing your research first. A clear transfer tape will allow you to see where you are putting the sticker, useful if there is more than one sticker in your design.
- We made sure that the window was clean and free of any fingerprints or dirt that would affect the bond between the vinyl and the glass using isopropanol and a lint-free cloth.
- While the design was made up of separate elements, the application tape kept everything in place, so there was no need to build the sticker. We placed the sticker on the outside left of the rear window, again using a squeegee to take out any air bubbles from between the glass and the vinyl. Then we gently removed the transfer tape, making sure that no vinyl was left behind and that it had all stuck in place properly.
- And that was job done! Our car was now looking the part for summer camping trips, school runs or traffic jams.
Points to Consider
- Practice makes perfect. Experiment with smaller designs and various vinyl types before creating a larger wall sticker.
- Store unused vinyl rolls or sheets in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight to maintain their quality.
Car window stickers are a quick, simple and cost-effective way of adding some character to a vehicle. There are so many options for designs that can easily be created using single-colour vinyl and a vinyl cutter, making them ideal for so many personalisation businesses to capitalise from. You can send them to the customer on the transfer tape or you could even provide installation as an option.
If you’d like more information on anything mentioned in this article, please contact your Roland DG representative, or talk to an expert here.