I’ve tried it, and seen others clear over vinyl decals numerous times.
Vinyl decals were never intended to have a clear coat put on top, as far as I can discover within product specifications. However I’ve seen many do it with great success—for nearly 20 years! And I’ve yet to see any major issues. Here’s my take on things.
But, I’m not always around to see client’s projects after the long term. I assume based on my experience that the decals will last as long as they are supposed to, or longer, because of having a coat of clear paint or lacquer applied over them.
Do I recommend it? Well personally, unless it’s absolutely necessary, I see no reason to clear over the top of vinyl decals. Our vinyl decals have a great durability as is. Most of the vinyl we use is Oracal 651 series 6-year (or better); it’s proven itself over the years and holds up great to the elements.
The great thing about vinyl graphics is that the decals are in fact removable in case you decide on a change!
I have many clients that return in order to switch things up once in a while. Apply red and silver vehicle graphics, then next year try a different color scheme, or an entirely new design!
And I would not recommend applying vinyl decal or vehicle graphics on a large scale, such as the black and pink starred car above, then clear coating over top of the decals. For the same reason, you might want to switch things up, for you might not want the effect to be so permanent. Example: you are selling the car and the new prospective owner, that would have bought the car, decided that he or she did not want the pink stars. By only applying the vinyl graphics, your still get the same look, and could remove the graphics if needed.
List of reasons you might want to clear-coat over decals:
- It’s a safari vehicle or mud-bogger and you’ll be driving it deep into the mud daily, then clear-coating could add a second layer of durability.
- A monster show truck and you have a big budget and need things done quickly, then decals would be faster than any solution. A clear coat, or several, can add pristine uniform gloss. But always test a sample of your clear paint with a sample decal first. Many clear-coat paints will remove or tarnish and smear printed decals!
- Rim caps, or tiny applications, or your decals have fine details such as a die-cut vinyl decal, that might otherwise catch on it’s sharp corners. For die-cut decals or decals that are machine cut with a knife, the fine points, tips, or edges of the decal could catch on the rag you use to wipe and clean—if done very often this matters more, plus the fine amount of detail in the particular design. Or if a pressure washer is used frequently and directly to these very intricate decals, then you might want to explore the option of clearing over the decals. See example pictures below.
- A show car, or custom chopper, and you’ve did some testing, and you can’t easily or cost effectively do it with only paint or vinyl graphics. I’ve seen many with custom motorcycles attempt a clear coat over top of the vinyl decals, and with excellent success. The result comes relatively quickly and easily, and is by far more affordable—most times! Whenever I sell decal I always include a free logo decal, as well a random freebie or two that you can use to test. And feel free to contact me any time if you are unsure. I can advise from what I’ve seen and experienced.
- You’re on a budget and have always been a do-it-your-self kind of person. This is the most common reason to clear-coat over the top of decals. You can purchase decals really quickly via Full Intensity Grafx, then get them in the mail a few days later. With most clear-coating paint, you’ll be able to get right to work after you apply them. These type of people know who they are. DIY -or- Do-it-yourselfer’s can do anything and are knowledgeable about a wide array of, well, just about anything!
- You’re stubborn and want it your way! You just have to have that extra, super-shiny, polished layer of mega gloss and you’ll do anything to get it.
- You’re one of my past clients, and it worked great last time!
Why you might not want to clear coat paint over the top of vinyl decals?
- Vinyl decals can be removed relatively easily, and you can change it up. Once you paint, things get messy, and the result is more permanent.
- You won’t be able to change things up once in a while, or switch colors!
- A future owner of the project might not have the same preferences as you do (see the black car with pink stars above).
- Vinyl decals are easy to apply and painting requires a lot more work, for not a whole lot of difference. It might be a little more glossy, and a little more durable—if you plan on mud-bogging! But you must weight costs, labor involved, and benefits, if any.
- A lot can go wrong with painting—especially if you’re not an experienced painter. Humidity causes the paint to fish-eye, and you might even get orange peel—painter’s terms for unwanted results!
- Clear coat and acrylic type paints could, and likely will, disturb and smear most printed graphics. If you are to attempt the clear coating procedure always test, test, test! And likely it will only work well with die-cut style vinyl decals, not printed ones!
So in conclusion there’s no solid yes or no answer. I’ve personally seen countless people do it with great success and I’ve yet to see any issues. But, you’ll have to decide if it’s for you, then test with the sample decals using a test surface, and ultimately decide if it is something you want to do. If you’re ready to begin some custom projects head over to Full intensity Grafx and get started with some cool decals, vehicle graphics, or custom text decals!
The good thing, if you are thinking about it, is that you’ll be applying the decals. After you see how good they look when applied, you just might leave the clear-coat paint on the shelf!