stickers decals surface adhesive

What Types of Material Will or Won't Decals Stick To?

Custom decals and stickers allow us to express our individuality, team spirit, and decorate an otherwise plain surface. However, there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to stick a decal to something, only to have it not stick at all, or peel right off after a day or two. We want to make sure you don’t have those same problems, so we put together a list of materials and surfaces that decals and stickers will and won’t stick to. Before we begin, we need to explain the slight differences between a sticker and a decal along with the various types of adhesives that are used.

Stickers vs. Decals

Generally speaking, the words “sticker” and “decal” are interchangeable. They’re an adhesive label that uses a high-definition printer and special inks to create bright, colorful, and vivid designs. When there is a difference between the two words, it’s usually when the decal design is prepared on a special type of paper that’s intended to be transferred onto another surface. Under this definition, a sticker cannot be considered a decal.

Adhesives Used

An adhesive is the material that bonds the sticker to the surface of an item. There is a slight difference with regards to the performance of each type of adhesive and the surfaces that they will stick to:
  • Rubber– This type of adhesive is primarily used for removable decals. It’s not recommended that you use it in areas where the temperature will rise above 160F. Rubber adhesives are known for their high tac and will adhere to such surfaces as Teflon, silicone, plastics, and even other rubber itself.
  • Acrylic– This is a permanent type of adhesive that comes in two sub-types:
    • Pressure-sensitive– Which offers low to high tac and can withstand temperatures up to 200F.
    • Pressure activated– This allows for adjustable positioning, and a squeegee helps secure the bond. It can also withstand temperatures up to 200F.
  • Elastomeric/Thermoset – For this type of decal to adhere to a surface, heat or a solvent is required.

What Determines if a Decal Will Stick?

Now that we have a basic understanding of the common types of adhesives that are used on both decals and stickers, it’s time to learn what exactly determines if your decal will stick to a material or surface. Each of the four factors below work in conjunction as they interact with one another. Time – As time goes by, all adhesives will naturally strengthen their bond with the surface of the item that they are stuck on. The length of time until ultimate adhesion occurs (the very maximum adhesion point) varies from adhesive to adhesive. This is why you should closely follow the installation instructions of the decal or sticker. Strength – The type of adhesive used on the decal or sticker will determine the overall strength. For example, low tack adhesives are designed to be removable, and they offer less strength than one that’s designed to have permanent adhesion. The word “tack” refers to how sticky the adhesive is—the greater the tack, the greater the adhesion. Surface – The surface of the item that you’re trying to apply the sticker or decal will also determine how well it will stick. For example, if you have a textured surface, such as the outside stucco wall of a home, it’s not going to hold as well as it would on a flat surface. This is due to the nature of textured surfaces—they offer less surface area for the adhesive to adhere to versus a flat surface. Temperature – When a sticker or decal is applied to a surface, a reaction takes place. The overall temperature will influence the reaction time. Hotter surface temperatures encourage the reaction to speed up. This means if you try to stick a decal to a cold surface, it will take longer to set than one that is warm—this doesn’t mean you should put your football helmet into the oven and turn up the dial to 500 degrees!

Types of Materials

Now that you understand the various adhesives used along with the factors that influence what they will and won’t stick to, it’s time to answer your original question—what types of materials will or won’t decals stick to? Plastic – Most decals will stick to a plastic surface. However, if it has a textured surface, you might want to take some very fine sandpaper and gently sand the textured area down where you want to apply the decal. Glass – Decals will stick wonderfully to glass surfaces; however, keep in mind that direct sunlight can and will eventually cause the decal ink to fade. In climates with high humidity, water condensation can form on and around the decal. If it’s not laminated, this can potentially cause damage to the paper or ink. Wood – Most decals should stick to wooden surfaces. However, some types of wood have a texturized surface. You can help the decal adhere to the piece of wood by gently sanding it with a fine piece of sandpaper. This will help improve the overall surface area. Cloth – The adhesive on most decals will not work well on fabric or cloth. If you want to put a sticker on a t-shirt, there are special iron-on ones you can get. To apply them, you will use a heat transfer process that’s most commonly done with a household iron. Metal – A decal should stick to metal, provided that the surface is flat and not textured. As long as the surface is smooth and clean, stick away! Textured Surfaces – Decals have the hardest time sticking to textured surfaces due to the lack of overall surface area for them to adhere to. The best way to get a decal or sticker to stick to a textured surface is to try to sand the area down to create as much surface area as possible.

Custom Decals, Stickers, and Logos

Now that you know how stickers work and the best surfaces they will and won’t stick to, it’s time to get some of your own! Check out our massive decals page for some great sticker and decal ideas from!
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