Stickers or Decals?

Stickers or Decals?

Posted by The Decal Guy on 5th Mar 2014

    Quite often I hear customers refer to our decals as "stickers".   When this happens, I usually just bite my tongue and say nothing because I know that the terms "stickers" and "decals" are synonymous to most people.    And while it may be a pet peeve of mine, voicing it every time someone makes the error would just make me seem petty and one of those people who enjoys correcting others.    We all know someone like that. I think everyone has a "know-it-all" in their family tree, or a friend who likes to show off just how much he or she knows.

    So, just what is the difference between a decal and a sticker?


Sticker examples

A sticker, at least to me, is an image printed on paper or some other material. Usually it is intended for indoor use and would not withstand outdoor conditions such as rain, snow, or sun.     When I think of stickers, I picture something like a "Hello Kitty" sticker on a little girl’s mirror, or "Batman" sticker on a boy’s notebook.    Stickers are usually very inexpensive, printed in full color, and can be found almost anywhere.    If you have kids, then you probably have stickers somewhere in your home.


Rolled Sticker example

Stickers usually come in two forms, printed on a sheet or in rolls.    Here are a couple of examples I found on the internet. Stickers like these would not last more than a few weeks or months outdoors.

  Decals, while they appear similar, are really quite different.


Design Software program

A decal starts by being designed by an artist, or by a graphic designer on a computer using design software such as FlexiSign, Corel Draw, Adobe Illustrator, or one of many others.    Stickers sometimes begin the same way even using the same programs, but the difference is in how the image is intended to be made and its final use.     Stickers are created as "raster" files, while vinyl cut decals are created as "vector" files.     I will not bore you with the technical difference in the two, but to give you a quick idea, raster files have pixels, much like photographs, and the best way to think of vector files is like a dot-to-dot drawing.   

Vinyl cutter plotter

 Raster images are meant to be output as printed images, and vector images are made to be cut on vinyl cutters, routers or plotters.    Here is an example of a vinyl plotter.    These are mainly used to cut vinyl for signs.    They come in a wide variety of sizes and brands.    They can cut rolls of vinyl anywhere from a few inches wide up to several feet.

     Before I began making decals, I worked at sign shops for around 25 years, where I learned to use vinyl cutters and the software.    This same equipment is used to create decals.


Rolls of vinyl material

Vinyl cutters use rolls of vinyl.     Vinyl comes in wide range of colors and sizes. Vinyl also comes in different "grades", meant to last for a certain amount of time before the color fades or the vinyl begins to crack or loose its adhesion. uses 6 to 8 year vinyl, and will last for years outdoors.


Vinyl being weeded

 Once the image is cut on the plotter, it has to be "weeded".     Weeding is where the excess vinyl is removed from the backing paper, leaving only the desired vinyl which makes up the decal itself.

     The decal is then covered with an application or transfer tape, trimmed to size, and it is then ready for application.    Every decal made by is cut after the order is received, so the customer gets a fresh, new decal, not one that has been sitting on a shelf for months.

     If you have looked through the website, you have probably seen that we have sometimes referred to our decals as “stickers”.     Given my minor rant here about the difference between the two, this may seem pretty hypocritical.    So what’s going on?    Even though it annoys me having our decals called stickers, I have deliberately done so myself on our website to please the all-powerful search engines.  Since decals and stickers are one in the same to most people, when searching the internet for a decal, many will type in sticker.     Using the word sticker on our website helps us show up in their search results.

     So now you know the difference between a decal and a sticker.    Hopefully you will not use this knowledge to become that annoying friend or family member who will just have to show off their new-found knowledge when someone incorrectly says "I love this sticker I just got from!