Most of the attention we give vinyl graphics involves how to put them on. But there’s a sign industry twist to the old adage that what goes up, must come down. In vinyl sign making car wraps, and other digital graphics, what goes on must eventually come off.
Sooner or later, you’re going to be asked to remove old vinyl before you can install your nifty new graphic. So this article will cover tools and techniques for removing old vinyl graphics.
The common approaches to removing vinyl range from basic to high tech with costs ranging from pennies to hundreds of dollars. Determining which approach is right for you depends on a few variables. Let’s consider the options.
Chisel and Clean
The simplest method for removing vinyl graphics is to pull them off. Of course that’s easier said than done so there are tools designed to help you get under the corner of the graphic. The most common and affordable of these are plastic razor blades and “Li’l Chizlers”. Both are thin, plastic hand tools designed to slide under the edge of the vinyl and scrape it away from the surface without damaging the substrate. If you can pry the edges up with a Lil Chizler or plastic razor blade, you may be able to simply peel the rest by hand. This will depend on the age and type of vinyl.
The younger or more pliable it is, the better your chances of getting it off in large sections; or at least, entire letters. The older it is, the more likely it will be brittle and come off in little pieces. Long term UV exposure eventually bakes all the plasticizers out of the face film. Here’s a quick tip. If the vinyl is old and brittle, you may be able to get it to come off more smoothly by using a heat gun to warm the face film. This will also help soften the adhesive underneath and reduce the amount of work required to clean the substrate. If you live in a warm enough climate, and you’re removing vinyl from a vehicle, you can opt for the original ‘heat gun’ and just park it in the sun for a while before you attack it with the Chizlers.
Whether your vinyl comes off in complete letters or little pieces, you will almost certainly have adhesive residue. If you’re removing a vehicle wrap installed with premium cast vinyl that’s been in service for two years or less, residue may not be a problem. Avery EZ RS is designed for clean removability up to two years after installation. ORAJET 3951RA is engineered for removal with little or no adhesive residue for up to four years. So one could say the first step toward easy removal is choosing the right vinyl during installation.
If you’re not that lucky, how do you get rid of the residue after the face film has been removed? There are several products that excel at this. Two of the most widely used are Orange Peel, and Rapid Remover. Both work by attacking the chemical bonds of the adhesive and allowing you to wipe it off the substrate.
- Orange Peel citrus based cleaner:Orange peel is so named because it’s a citrus based remover that has a strong orange odor. It is non-toxic, biodegradable and environmentally safe. However, it should be handled with minimal contact to skin in a well ventilated area. Dab some on the adhesive and rub it in with a paper towel. Use a little “elbow grease” working on one area until it’s clear, before moving to the next area. It may come off in stages, but persistence and the powerful citrus agent will eventually produce a clean substrate ready for a new application of custom graphics.
- Rapid Remover: Rapid remover is a companion product to RapidTac application fluid and is a popular choice for professional sign makers. Its main selling point is the “rapid” part. According to the Rapid folks it ‘breaks down and removes adhesives in as little as sixty seconds”. After having chiseled or pulled away the vinyl, spray with Rapid Remover. Allow a few minutes for it to penetrate the adhesive, then scrape it away with a squeegee or the aforementioned Li’l Chizler. Get the rest of the residue with a few more spritzes of Rapid Remover and a paper towel. Since Rapid Remover is water soluble, it’s easy to rinse the surface clean to get ready for the next graphic.
Vinyl Off: One Step removal
You may have noticed that we didn’t mention Vinyl Off above as an adhesive remover. That’s because Vinyl Off is engineered to remove the vinyl and adhesive in one step. With Vinyl Off, you apply the fluid directly to the face film. It penetrates the vinyl and softens the adhesive, allowing you to pull the entire graphic off in one piece– with no residue. Since it’s permeating the vinyl and adhesive, it takes a bit longer than Rapid Remover. Allow five to fifteen minutes for the formula to penetrate the face film and adhesive. Then you’re ready to remove that crusty old graphic. If there’s sticky residue left behind, you’re using too much Vinyl OFF. A little goes a long way.
What about reflective signage? Since some reflective films are made from acrylic resins instead of PVC, the same formula that penetrates ORACAL 651 will not necessarily work on ENDURALITE 8100. Reflective Vinyl Off works the same way as the original formula, but much more quickly. That reflective sheeting will be ready to remove in only 60 seconds. Whether you’re using Vinyl Off on standard or reflective vinyl, remember what Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben said. “With great power comes great responsibility.” Do not pour Vinyl OFF directly on the substrate. It may damage the paint. Saturate a paper towel, apply it directly – but sparingly– to the vinyl, and let it work its magic.