Edge peeling usually makes every sign maker’s list of top vinyl problems. Failure to properly clean the substrate and failure to resqueegee the graphic after removing the application tape causes many edge lifting problems. While graphics installers often get blamed if a problem occurs, application mistakes aren’t the only reasons.
Problems can even begin before the graphics leave the shop. Laminating a print before an ink has time to fully cure can trap solvents. These trapped solvents can migrate through the printed vinyl film and attack the adhesive system.
Also be aware that some films are susceptible to solvent attack and require special processing. Be sure that before you use a new film that you study the manufacturer’s literature and understand the limitations of the product. For example, some films cannot be printed to the edge and require that the printer allow for an unprinted border.
Following application, graphics are often encounter grueling environmental conditions that work against the edges of a graphic. Every job is a little different. So make sure that you understand the potential problems with each application and plan accordingly. Graphics for petroleum or chemical tankers, for example, are regularly subjected to spillage during filling. Films on these vehicles require overlaminates and edge sealing to prevent edge lifting, especially along the top edges of the graphic.
Graphics applied to roll up rear or side doors take a pounding every time the doors are closed and require special care. Because wood doors can chip at the edges, applied films should always be edge sealed after they are trimmed.
The Customer Isn’t Always Right
While edge lifting problems can be caused in fabrication and application as well as through exposure to extreme environments, they aren’t the only reasons. Sometimes well-intentioned customers can unknowingly cause vinyl failures by the way they care for their graphics.
Some of the mistakes made in cleaning graphics include washing graphics with a high pressure sprayer, cleaning with strong solvents and bug and tar remover. Even hand waxing graphics can cause edge lifting because petroleum distillates in the wax can attack the exposed adhesive along the edge of the vinyl. Because firetrucks and emergency vehicles are frequently waxed, all edges should be edge sealed.
One of the best ways to prevent problems is to educate your customer after you install the graphics. As a suggestion, print a list of dos and don’ts explaining in detail everything that a customer should know about graphics care. Then respectfully review the list with him or her, so there are no misunderstandings.
Edge Sealer Prevents Edge Peeling
Many of the edge peeling problems can be avoided by using either a liquid edge sealer or an edge sealing tape. Now that seems like a simple solution! So why don’t more sign makers do it? Excuses abound.
The reality is that edge sealing graphics only takes an average of 10 to 15 minutes per vehicle. You don’t need to edge seal every exposed edge of the graphics. You just need to treat the potential problem spots on a vehicle, such as the gas filler door, underneath the wheel well and along the seams of roll up door panels. In many cases, if you ignore these potential problems, you could be asking for trouble. Here are some edge sealing products that you should have in your vinyl application tool box:
Many sign makers use a SEALITPEN for edge sealing. This unique and convenient product was developed by pinstriping legend “East Coast Artie” Schilling. While it looks like a felt tipped highlighting marker, the SEALITPEN is filled with an acrylic clear coat. If you don’t want to contend with the mess involved in using a brush, this little pen is a neat way to apply edge sealer.
3M Brand 3950 Edge Sealer
Before the SEALITPEN was invented, many professional decal installers used edge sealer. It still is a great way to edge seal a graphic. Using a paint brush, apply a heavy coat of seal to the edge of the vinyl graphic.
The original 3950 Edge Sealer was actually nothing more than 3M’s 3900 series solvent-based screen print clear coat. Back in my decal installing days, I would fill baby food jars with clear coat for edge sealing vinyl graphics. Instead of using the spherical fiber dabber that comes with the 3950 sealer, I prefer brushing clear coat with a #6 quill. With this brush, you can apply a thick ½” line of clear coat to seal the edges. Ideally, half of the clear coat will be on the vinyl graphic and the other half will be on the substrate.
3M Edge Sealing Tape 3M™ Edge Sealing Tape 8914.
For certain applications, edge sealing tape is a great alternative to using a liquid edge sealer. Sealing the edges of perforated window films is one of those applications. The edges of perforated window films are venerable because dirt can collect in the perforations at the edges. To secure the edges, you need to either edge seal. Using the edge sealing tape is usually faster and cleaner than painting the edge of a perforated film with drippy edge sealing liquid.
If you are wrapping a car, you should keep a roll of edge sealing tape in your tool box. The tape does more than sealing the edge of a vinyl film. It can hold can hold the edges of applied vinyl graphics securely in place.
Here’s why 3M developed their Edge Sealing Tape. Any time that you stretch a vinyl film around a curve, the memory of the film will cause it to shrink back. Heating the film can break much of a film’s memory, but it usually will not eliminate it entirely. Even after heating, the film still wants to return to its original shape. When that happens, the edges can sometimes lift.
Edge sealing tape, which is available as either a glossy film or matte film, is similar to a linered overlaminating film with a highly aggressive adhesive. The tape is so aggressive that if you touch adhesive to adhesive, the tape is trashed. So be careful in handling it.
Other than that, the tape is easy to use. Just peel back the release liner exposing the adhesive and stick it. To prevent mishandling, only expose enough of the adhesive that you can comfortably handle.
The common sense rules that apply to using other pressure sensitive materials also apply to using edge sealing tape. For example, even though the tape has a highly aggressive adhesive, it won’t stick to dirt. The application surface must be clean. This especially applies when you are using the tape to secure an edge under a wheel well.
When you are done using the edge sealing tape, secure the edge of the roll with masking tape and store the roll in a zip-lock baggie, to prevent the edges of the tape from being contaminate with dirt.
Perforated Window Films
Whether you are applying perforated window graphics films to store windows or to the windows of a vehicle, the graphic should be laminated and the edges should be sealed.
There are other dos and don’ts when installing these films. One big don’t is never overlap panels of performed film. Normally, when you are installing window graphics, you can overlap the vinyl at least 1⁄4 in. (6mm), where the panels form a seam.
The reason is that these window films are comprised of thousands of little holes that represent 40 to 50% of the total area. Because the film has so many little holes, there’s approximately half as much adhesive on the top, overlapping sheet of vinyl film. The bottom graphics panel has roughly half as much surface area to stick to. This is a sure recipe for a vinyl failure, in which edges are guaranteed to lift. Instead, butt the panels together. Then apply edge sealing tape over the seam.
Edge-lifting problems can also occur where the vinyl touches the edge of the window. Always trim 1⁄4 in. of the film away from the edge. To minimize edge lifting, you can always edge seal the graphic, with a commercial edge sealer, such as 3M 3950, or a clear coat, such as Frog Juice. If graphics start to peel at the edges, trim the peeled material and then edge seal the graphic.
I am also a believer that you should protect perforated window graphics with an overlaminate. In fact, some vinyl companies require it. This precludes using application fluid, because fluid would be trapped inside each little hole. In my experience, you don’t need application fluid to install these films.
In the real world, very few people will use an overlaminate. Failure to use an overlaminate on perforated window graphics films, however, can result in problems. Without an overlaminate, edges can lift and dirt can collect in the holes.
When installing window graphics, don’t apply vinyl over rubber gaskets or on the window frame. Film applied to these areas usually falls off. Allow at least a 1⁄4” (6mm) space between the graphics and frame. Most window graphics shouldn’t be edge-sealed (perforated window-marking films are an exception). Some manufacturers, such as Avery, recommend protecting these graphics with an overlaminate. To complete the installation, seal the film’s edges by painting on the sealer with a fine-tip narrow brush, such as a #6 lettering quill. Using an overlaminate and edge sealer prevents water from collecting in perforations, which can cause edge lifting.
There are a number of reasons that installers should edge seal metalized films, which include specialty vinyls, such as RTape VinylEfx or SignGold, and reflective sheeting. In the first place, these films generally have a thicker profile. This thicker edge allows for an accumulation of dirt and waxes. That’s where a problem can start. These contaminates can compromise the exposed adhesive on the edge of the graphic. The problem is compounded at the edges because the metallization layer is also exposed. It’s at this point that galvanic corrosion can occur, especially if the graphic is used to decorate a boat used in salt water.
Many metalized films are rigid vinyls that are intended for flat applications only. Does that mean that there’s no way that you can apply these films to contours and other irregular shapes? Not at all. But you have to know what you are doing. If you do the application wrong, and stretch the film into an indentation or around a compound curve, the vinyl will likely stretch back.
If you must form the film to an irregular shape, use heat to thermoform the film. To ensure that the film stays down, apply Primer 94 adhesion promoter the to the application surface prior to installing the graphics. After installing the graphics, edge seal the film.
How to Fix Edge Peeling with Edge Sealer
I am frequently asked if you can reapply a pressure sensitive vinyl graphic, once it has started to peel. As my friends in New Jersey say, “forget about it”. Once the edges have lifted, dirt has already contaminated the adhesive. No, superglue won’t work, so don’t even think about trying it. But don’t despair, you will not need to get out the weed burner and the highly toxic chemicals and remove the failing emblem. All that’s needed is the old scalpel and a steady hand. So get ready to perform surgery.
The scalpel that most professional decal installers use is an art knife, such as an Xacto® knife with a #11 blade, or you can use a stainless steel Olfa graphics knife with a 30° blade. The first step is to cut the applied vinyl, at a place where it has not yet lifted but adjoining the edge of the lifting material.
Be especially careful when cutting on a client’s vehicle. This is especially true when you are working on someone’s personal toy. With that in mind, with a very light touch, cut away the failing material. If you have a brand new blade that’s razor sharp, all you should need to cut through a cast vinyl film is the weight of the knife. There is no reason to use any additional pressure.
If your blade is old and dull, immediately replace it with a brand new one. Here’s the problem with using an old, dull knife. To compensate for its dullness, the natural tendency is to apply some muscle. That’s when you end up cutting into the substrate. It is bad enough leaving a slight cut on the surface of the paint. It is really bad if you cut down to the metal, where rust can begin.
After you remove the defective piece of vinyl, clean the surface and the edge of the applied graphics. First wash the substrate with a mild detergent and water. This removes any water-soluble contaminants. The second step is to clean the surface along the edge of the graphic with isopropyl alcohol (IPA). This removes any oily grime.
How to Remove Edge Sealer During Deidentification
Some people use the excuse for not edge sealing that the edge leaves a residue that is objectionable to the customer. Their reasoning is specious. Edge sealing residue from a SEALITPEN dissolves by cleaning with mineral spirits. Other edge sealers can be removed with stronger solvents such as wax and grease remover. As a word of caution, always test how a chemical (including edge sealer) reacts to a paint system in an inconspicuous spot on a vehicle.
Edge sealer can help prevents edge peeling! It is that simple. Using edge sealer, however, is just one step that you should take to ensure a successful application. There are other steps that you can take to minimize problems. These are:
- Graphics Survey. Regardless of what type of job you are bidding on always conduct a site survey. Carefully inspect the condition of the substrate. If the surface is newly painted, make sure that you understand what type a paint was used and when it was painted. Outgassing paints can cause a variety of problems. Some paints contain additives which can inhibit adhesion.
- Printing Requirements. After printing always wait at least 24 hours for the ink to outgas before lamination.
- Substrate Preparation. Clean the surface prior to application. Surface preparation will vary from one substrate to another. If you don’t know how to properly clean a surface, don’t be afraid to call your distributor for advice.
- Temperature Range. Vinyl films will fail if the application surface is too cold. Each film is a little different. Make sure that you know the minimum application temperature for the product that you are using.
- Good Squeegee Pressure. Vinyl films are pressure sensitive which means that you need to use adequate pressure to initiate adhesive flow out.
- Post Heating. If you need to conform a pressure sensitive film to an irregular surface, use heat to stretch the film. Once the film is applied, heat the film to secure it to the surface.
- Resqueegee. Remove the application tape by pulling it off at a 180° angle against itself. After you remove an application tape, resqueegee the entire graphic, especially the edges.
Edge peeling problems can and do happen. But most of these problems can be avoided. While you can fix edge peeling graphics, it is simpler just to take that extra step of applying edge sealer in those problem areas.
My advice is to do the job right in the first place and minimize your problems and the time it takes to fix them. Let’s face it: no one makes money on rework.