"Stripping vinyl is the ugly side of our work," says Jay, Owner of Brush Strokes Signs in Fife: A long established sign shop specializing in vehicle livery, tradeshow booths, promotional graphics, and banners, wide format printing and printing. When asked about vinyl removal, Jay says, "A lot of sign makers would rather not do it."
There are a variety of tools, techniques, and industry secrets that could take away some dread and add some profits to the task of vinyl stripping. Avoiding some common stripping myths could also save your business and its employees a lot of time and money.
Fact versus Fiction
Let's start with dispelling a few myths about stripping vinyl graphics. Yes, stripping is a trial-and-error process, especially for graphics that have been sun-baked onto a car for several years. But sign makers agree that some trials can lead to costly errors and lost customers. So, there is no "rule of thumb" when quoting a price for a removal job.
For one, the "faster is better" approach can be a major time waster. Vinyl is not like a plaster bandage that has been on your skin for a day or two. Most vinyl applications remain for at least a year, and the quick-strip method can snap the vinyl into smaller pieces that must be tediously removed bit by bit. In order to get the graphics off in as few pieces as possible, the better strategy is usually a slow peel.
"The vinyl has to have time to adjust," says Jay. "If you get your hands very far away from the work, typically it will snap, so you have to keep reaching in very close. Slow and patient is what we have found to be best method for stripping vinyl graphics," he continued.
Some other no-no's include using abrasive solutions. Anything abrasive, say experts, could quickly damage the paint on an automobile.
And using Snap off knives or razor blades on vinyl that's been applied to an automobile is just plain foolish, experts agree, because it's too easy to nick the paint and bring liability to the sign shop. Instead, try plastic razor blades and specialty removal tools, like the Little Chiseller now readily available to sign shops.
Glass is a different story, of course. A four-inch razor blade with a handle allows sign makers to scrape an entire window very quickly, regardless of how hard the adhesion is to the glass. But even on windows, sign makers need to exercise caution with razor blades, says Jay.
The most common mistake--and one that directly affects your bottom line--is failing to price the job correctly. Stripping vinyl is much more costly than applying vinyl in terms of man hours. That's why Jay says, "Removal is mostly charged by the hour, end of story."
"Stripping vinyl graphics can be one of the most challenging things in a day-to-day sign shop's operation, specifically when you are trying to estimate the time that it takes to do a stripping job," says Jay. "You can't have a set fee. The labour time can be twice as much to strip as it is to letter."
"Before we give a vinyl stripping quote," says Jay, "a spot test is performed to determine how difficult it will be to remove the vinyl. If the estimate is too high for the customer’s budget, Brush Strokes Signs will even show the customer how to strip the vinyl."
"Most of the time, demonstrating how difficult it is to strip the vinyl is the only way you can justify the price because it usually costs more to strip a van than it does to re-letter it," says Jay. "Once the customer tries to do it themselves, most of the time they don't care what it costs," he added.
Beyond pricing, the hands-on challenges of stripping vinyl are many. Factors, such as the type of vinyl and the length of time it has been on a vehicle, can have a major impact on how easy or difficult the graphics are to remove.
"If the vinyl been on a vehicle for six years and it was an intermediate vinyl, you are talking about some serious issues," says Jay. "It's not just a cut-and-dried thing."
Indeed, if the graphics are old, or if someone makes the mistake of using a cheap vinyl, the graphics will flake and fall off into very small pieces, multiplying the man hours needed to produce a clean surface.
Okay, so now that you know what not to do and how to price a job. Let's find out what are the best practices for stripping vinyl graphics. Experts say the process really comes down to pull, heat, pull, heat, pull.
"For a vehicle, the only secrets are heat and patience," says Jay. "That's really what it takes. Once you can get a corner of it, you can use a heat gun infrared heat or hair dryer. Some people might even use propane gas torch and just heat the vinyl," he elaborated.
"Of course, the hotter the heat, the higher the possibility of causing damage to a vehicle. You have to balance melting and burning things with getting the vinyl off,"
Remove adhesive after the vinyl has been removed; there may be some adhesive residue on the surface. Using either adhesive remover, Tar remover or rubbing alcohol pour a small amount over the area. Within 40 seconds the adhesive should break up. With a rag rub the adhesive until it has been removed, says Jay.
Besides heat and a lot of patience, stripping vinyl graphics also requires a product called the Little Chiseller. Sign makers say no vinyl stripper should be without one. It’s the hands down best tool for removing vinyl graphics.
Of course, even if you are aware of and have prepared for the challenges involved in stripping vinyl, there are still some pitfalls that can snare you. The biggest time waster is removing the adhesive residue that is often left behind when the graphics are very old. Removing the residue then requires a special solution and an extra step in the process.
"There's no wonder product out there," says Jay. "I've tried a lot of different things and they all pretty much work the same."
Brush Strokes Signs uses many types of adhesive removers: 3M Removers, Rapid Remover, Goo Gone, Goof Off, Vinyl-Off.
"I would start with alcohol and then move to Goo Gone, which is a citrus-based product, then Goof Off, which is used for removing paint from floors," says Jay. "Some sign makers have even gone as far as trying WD-40 with little success, but we have never used WD-40 at Brush Strokes Signs."
Now that the dirty part of the job is completed, you can focus on the fun part: applying new vinyl graphics. "But before you do," says Jay, "make sure the surface is completely clean. Use soap and water to remove any remaining residue or a cleaner that doesn't leave behind any residue.