Removing Vinyl Graphics



The process of removing vinyl films generally requires the use of both heat and chemicals. Some removers contain hazardous chemicals, such as toluene, that can cause health problems. Before using any chemical remover, read the manufacturer’s MSDS sheet and instruction bulletin. Always wear the recommended safety equipment.

When working with propane torches or heat guns, use caution. Heat sources can raise the temperature of the substrate hot enough to blister or burn your fingers. Careless use of heat sources can also cause fires and explosions.

Removing graphics is unpredictable. Film from the same roll of vinyl, applied to different substrates will remove with various degrees of difficulty. A variety of factors determine how easily graphics can be removed. These factors include the age of the graphic and the substrate’s condition at the time of application.

Adhesion increases with time making removals increasingly difficult the longer that a graphic is on the substrate. Graphics applied to newer and smoother factory-paint finishes remove more easily, than those applied to old, pitted surfaces. A rough finish provides the adhesive with a greater total surface area for a stronger adhesive bond.

The first step in the removal process is to heat to the graphics. Heat softens the facestock and its adhesive allowing the vinyl to be more easily peeled from the surface. By getting a large area hot you can peel larger pieces of film off at one time.

If you are removing small letters, a small handheld propane torch or industrial heat gun provides sufficient heat. If the graphics cover a large area, however, you will need much larger torch, such as a weed burner. With an extra-long hose, the propane tank can be left on the ground, safely leaving the scaffolding free of clutter.

Heat a large section of the truck surface for approximately one minute. Keep the flame moving, so you do not to burn the vinyl or substrate. Use caution when heating graphics on plastic substrates. Heat can warp the substrate.

After heating, use a fingernail, a Teflon®-coated plastic scraper, such as the Lil Chizler, or a plastic blade to lift the graphic’s edge. When lifting the vinyl from the surface, pull the film at a low angle (preferably less than 45°) close to the work surface.

Whether you use a heat gun, propane torch or steamer, the secret is to apply the correct degree of heat, something that can only be learned by trial and error. If the vinyl is too hot or too cold, not only will you leave the adhesive, but the film itself will break into little pieces. At the optimal temperature, the film will remove more easily, in large pieces and you will reduce the time it takes to perform the removal.

To remove the adhesive residue, after film removal, requires the use of a chemical adhesive remover. Keep a variety of chemicals with you, including PrepSol™, kerosene, lacquer thinner, xylene and a citrus-based remover, when going on a removal job. What works wonders one day, may not work the next.

Start with a less aggressive and safer remover, such as Rapid Remover, before trying the stronger and usually more toxic chemicals. Using this approach reduces the risk of paint damage and minimizes any health hazards.

Before using removers, always test the chemical on an inconspicuous spot of the substrate to make sure the remover doesn’t react with the paint. Repainted vehicle surfaces are especially susceptible to damage from chemical removers.

Spray the remover on the adhesive residue. Wait for the chemical to react with the adhesive residue. When the adhesive softens to a jelly-like substance, use a squeegee to scrape the gel from the surface. Old rivet brushes can scrub adhesive off the rivet heads.

Scraping off jellified adhesive is messy. To keep from spreading the mess all over the substrate, mask off the area around the graphic with masking tape and kraft paper or use RTape application tape. If you are removing large areas of adhesive, some of it will likely end up on the shop floor, so cover the area underneath your scaffold with brown kraft paper or application tape to aid clean up.

In some cases, adhesive residue remains on the surface. When this happens, spray the residue with remover, wait for the adhesive to soften, and wipe the surface clean with rags or paper towels. Finish cleaning the surface by wiping with isopropyl alcohol.

The surface must be perfectly clean before installing new graphics. Applying new vinyl over old adhesive practically guarantees film failure, because the adhesive will absorb the chemicals like a sponge. If the new graphics are applied over the residue, the remaining remover will attack the new adhesive. This can cause new vinyl to bubble, peel or fall off.

Cold Removals

For some removal jobs, using heat is impractical. For example, heating a window with a torch can result in glass breakage. When you cannot use heat, try using razor scrapers and plastic abrader wheels to aid film removal.

This article was written by Jim Hingst, Business Development Manager-Technology for RTape Corp. and posted on Hingst Sign Post.  


Blog Categories


Recent Posts

With the right film, the right application tools and the right techniques, vinyl graphics can be applied to textured wall surfaces such brick and concrete block. Many of old time decal applicators would heat a cast vinyl with an industrial heat gun, and burnish the hot, pliable film into the textured surface using a rivet brush for this job. Read more


The plethora of terms used for the application tapes sold in the sign and screen print markets could confuse anyone. In the sign market, many people just use the terms “application tape” or “application paper”. Frequently this tape is also incorrectly referred to as “transfer tape”.
If you are a purist and want to pick a few nits, the terms application tape and transfer tape refer to completely different products. Transfer tape refers to a transfer adhesive, which is an adhesive coated onto a release liner.

Read more


Many shops, which have printed wall murals in which the ink bleeds to the edge of the panel, have experienced edge curl issues with a variety of vinyl films. For permanent wall graphics applications, I would consider using Arlon’s DPF 8000 film. DPF 8000 is a 3.5 mil (90 micron) satin white calendered vinyl, designed for long term indoor and outdoor applications. It features an aggressive, permanent pressure-sensitive adhesive that sticks to those “hard-to-stick-to” surfaces.
Read more


View All