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How to Apply Stickers Correctly

Most of us instinctively know how to apply stickers. Unless you’re really trying, it’s difficult to do it in a way that’s completely wrong. Maybe that’s why they’re so popular!

However, there is an ideal procedure for applying stickers that will ensure they will last longer while protecting the underlying surface from damage. The steps outlined below will work for any type of sticker or label, including sheet, die-cut, roll, and bumper stickers. These steps will also work with your custom stickers.

Steps to Applying Stickers the Right Way

Step 1: Find the right spot.

Find a smooth surface that fits your sticker’s size and shape. Good surfaces include metal, glass, plastic, smooth concrete, cardboard, and finished wood. Try to make sure your sticker is able to survive the conditions the selected spot will go through. An uncoated paper sticker won’t last long on your windshield, after all.

Think twice before attaching them to painted surfaces. While stickers will readily adhere with no issues to a painted surface (such as on a car or electric guitar body), long-term exposure to UV light and pollution can cause the paint under the sticker to discolor at a different rate from the surrounding area. This can lead to visible paint outlines when stickers are removed, a phenomenon known as “ghosting.” Placing stickers over a painted surface will also reduce the number of methods you can employ to safely remove the stickers. However in many cases, ghosting and sticker removal is a moot point -- if it’s the right place, it’s the right place.

Step 2: Clean the surface.

Clean the area where you will apply the sticker with a damp cloth. If you’re applying the sticker to a textile or paper surface, just make sure it’s free of dust and debris. Avoid using any harsh solvents, or any commercial cleaning agents as remaining residue may cause the adhesive to gum up or not function as intended. If you need something stronger than water, use a small amount of lighter fluid, isopropyl alcohol, or vinegar, taking care that these substances do not react with the surface.

Step 3: Make sure the surface is dry.

Wipe the area with a clean, dry cloth. Make sure the surface is completely dry. Moisture trapped under your stickers can potentially ruin their longevity and possibly ruin the material underneath. This is especially important for bare metal surfaces, as well as for leather and cardboard.

Step 4: Wash your hands.

Be sure your hands are clean before you peel the sticker. This will prevent dirt, oils, and debris from sticking to the adhesive side and transferring to the surface.

Step 5: Peel the sticker.

Peel the backing layer off the sticker. If the stickers are kiss-cut, roll, or sheet stickers you may bend the backing slightly to release the sticker.

If they’re individual die-cut stickers, you may have to be extra careful when removing the sticker from the backing, especially if you have delicate edges. To make removing die-cut stickers from the backing easier, you can position them on a flat surface backing side up then stick a piece of tape or a scrap sticker on the edge of your die-cut sticker to lift the backing.

Don't remove the whole sticker from the backing until you’re sure of the final position. When you’re absolutely certain of where you want the sticker, remove the sticker all the way and proceed to the next step.

Step 6. Position the sticker.

Carefully position the sticker where you want it and slowly lower it into place. If you make a mistake, it might be difficult to remove the sticker and reposition it, so take all the time you need. When you’re satisfied, rub it in place with your fingers.

Step 7: Remove any air bubbles.

To further secure it to the surface, squeeze out any air bubbles with a flat tool that won’t scratch your sticker’s finish. You may use a squeegee, plastic scraper or credit card. Squeeze out the air bubbles by slowly running your tool over every part of the sticker. Be methodical so you don’t miss any bubbles.