Vinyl Techniques: Considering Environmental Conditions

While an indoor facility with controlled temperatures is an ideal atmosphere for vinyl application, that is not always an option. Many smaller shops do not have garages large enough to hold vehicles and storefront windows are subject to external temperatures.

All cut, weed, mask and release operations are subject to the conditions of the environment. If the temperature is too hot or too cold, if the humidity is too high or too low, then the results of your application could vary greatly.

“The temperature of the adhesion, the vinyl and the substrate make a huge difference,” says Jeff Stadelman, technical marketing manager for MACtac, a manufacturer of pressure sensitive adhesive products. “Since these things are affected by external temperatures, you need to be wise about how you store vinyl and when you apply it.”

Starting with Storage 
Even before you begin to apply vinyl there are environmental conditions that could hinder your success. Just as vinyl films are temperature sensitive during the application process, they are also temperature sensitive while in storage. If you have not stored your materials in the appropriate environment, then you may have damaged the film.

Vinyl is delivered in rolls and these rolls should always be stored in a cool, dry place that is protected from sunlight. The storage temperature should not exceed 86 degrees Fahrenheit and the rolls should be either suspended or stood on-end on the roll blocks provided. The length of storage time is also a consideration. Most manufacturers don’t recommend storing the film for more than two years.

“Before processing, the self-adhesive films should be accommodated to the humidity and temperature prevailing in the processing area,” says Julio Burgos, product specialist for Oracal, a vinyl manufacturer in Jacksonville, Fla. “Extreme variations between storage and processing conditions could cause the protective paper to shrink or expand, leading to insufficient flatness of the self-adhesive material and dimensional changes in the cuts.”

Application Ranges
Most adhesives have an application range capability that falls somewhere between 50 degrees Fahrenheit minimum and 90 degrees Fahrenheit maximum.

If the temperature is too cold, then the adhesive will not stick. By contrast, if it is too hot, then the adhesive becomes overly aggressive. The same holds true for the vinyl itself. If it is too cold, then the vinyl becomes stiff and less flexible. If it is too hot, then the vinyl softens up and becomes difficult to handle.

Finally, the temperature of the substrate is a factor. If the surface is hot to the touch, then it is probably over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Putting vinyl on substrates that are too hot or too cold will result in the adhesive getting either gummy or brittle. Any which way you cut it, applying outside the recommended temperature ranges reduces the vinyl’s ability to perform.

“If you are in Canada in the wintertime, then you are not going to be able to go outside and apply some graphics because it’s just too cold,” says Stadelman. “By the same token, if you are in California or southern Florida in the summertime, then you are not going to be able to go outside and apply graphics very easily.”

Temperature Tips
Since not all installation work can stop during the winter time, some installers will use RapidTac II Application Fluid to apply vinyl to glass in cold weather, but even then wet applications should only be attempted when temperatures are at least 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you have an indoor garage area that you can use for installation in extreme cold, then you may use portable heaters to warm the temperature. When installing vinyl on vehicles, it is important to remove any accumulated snow on the top of the trailer roof before pulling it into the shop. This will eliminate water dripping off the roof edge onto the vehicle.

Heat can soften the vinyl and ultimately lead to vinyl failure, according to Molly Waters, spokesperson for Avery’s technical marketing department. “When you get into the warmer climates, as you are applying that material may begin to stretch,” she says. “The pre-mask will help limit the vinyl from stretching.”

Humidity, Dew, Condensation and Rain
Of course, it’s not to difficult to discern the problems associated with applying in the rain, even a slight drizzle. Be sure to thoroughly clean the surface before applying. Simply drying the rain off the substrate is not sufficient since there are properties in rain water that could act as contaminates. (For more information on how to ensure contaminant-free substrates, read our article entitled “Preparing Surfaces for Vinyl Installation.”)

There are also challenges associated with applying to vehicles in humid environments or where dew or condensation has set in. Ideal environmental conditions are a relative humidity level between 50 percent and 60 percent.

“Humidity is a big factor in applications. Even indoors, if you are not in a controlled environment and it’s hot and humid in the summertime then you are going to have some problems,” says Stadelman. “Humidity affects the liner that the vinyl is on. It also leaves a little moisture on surfaces and makes them a little more difficult to work with. Just because you don’t see the humidity doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

Experienced installers will also tell you to avoid the morning dew. As the temperature warms up in the morning, the heat of the air in the ground creates condensation. If you have condensation on your adhesive, then it’s not going to stick very well. In fleet applications, the condensation will stay under the rivets much longer than in flat areas. So if you lay vinyl down in the morning dew you will trap moisture under the graphics.

“Most guys will not install early in the morning because of the dew and condensation,” says Chuck Bules, tech service manager for Arlon, a vinyl film manufacturer in Santa Ana, Calif. “Certainly in some places along the coast where they get a lot of marine layer, you won’t see installers working until 10 a.m.”

Post Application and Removal
The environmental considerations do not end after the vinyl is applied. There are also precautions in the immediate period post-application and when you remove vinyl.

“Avoid any significant drop in temperature during the first 24 hours after application,” says Burgos. “Should this occur anyway, we recommend treating the film with hot air from a heat gun or other heat source.”

If you are removing a film, the temp should be at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit. You should start at the left from the corner at a 180 degree angle. Using a heat gun is standard practice.

While these are general rules, be sure to check out the technical bulletins that accompany each film. Different manufacturers and even different films from the same manufacturer could have slightly different specifications.

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