Whether you are installing trailer graphics or doing a full wrap of a car or van, surface preparation involves a three-step process of detergent washing, solvent cleaning and a final wipe down with IPA. Read more
Why Buy a 'Commercial-Grade' Application Fluid
The rule of thumb among professional installers is always apply graphics dry; never use application fluid. In my opinion, there are a few exceptions to the rule. Installing vinyl graphics to a plastic signface with using a application fluid can result in a zillion tiny bubbles. Although these bubbles will breathe out from under the film and disappear after a few days of summer heat, the correct way to apply vinyl to a flat plastic surface is with a commercial application fluid. Note that I specify a "commercial-grade" product, not some concoction that you make yourself.
Extremely hot application temperature and vinyl films with aggressive adhesive systems are a couple of other exceptions to the rule. A hot surface can cause the adhesive of graphics to preadhere to substrate. Preadhesion means that the vinyl sticks before you want it to stick, leaving you stuck with a graphics disaster.
With application fluid, you to avoid preadhesion problems. These fluids aid installations, by allowing you to float the graphic onto the surface, so you can reposition the graphic without distortion, until you register the graphics panel to the right location.
Years ago, when I worked for Arlon, I told signmakers they could make their own concoction by mixing 20 oz. of water with 1/2 tsp. of a dishwashing liquid and 1/2 tsp. of isopropyl alcohol. At that time, I believed application fluid was that simple. I was wrong. In doing a side-by-side test of my mixture vs. the real stuff, I learned that commercial fluids work better because they promote faster vinyl adhesion to the substrate.
Don't waste your time trying to duplicate these products, because you'll never achieve the same consistency. Dishwashing liquid and similar soaps contain additives such as surfactants, emulsifiers, moisturizers and perfumes, all of which are detrimental to an adhesive. Surfactants, for example, help cleaners break dirt's bond with the substrate. They have the same effect on adhesives, causing bonding failure and edge lifting.
I recommend using a commercial application fluid, such as Rapid Tac®, Clearstar’s Action Tac and Splash, or GAP’s Quick Stick. Manufacturers of these fluids produce a consistent product.
At $23 and $27 a gallon, application fluids can seem a little pricey. The high cost of these fluids prompts some sign makers to "extend" their supply of the mixture by adding water. Remember, if you dilute your application fluid, you'll dilute the adhesion-promoting characteristics.
To learn how to perform a wet application properly read my story: The Right Way to do a Wet Application.