BoatSign Install Vinyl

A transfer sheet of prespaced vinyl letters has three layers:

  • transfer paper - on top the the letters
  • the vinyl letters themselves - in the middle
  • the backing paper (or backing mylar) - on the bottom


The backing paper and the transfer tape act like a sandwich, containing the vinyl letters in between.

Full text description follows below the photographs.

Rub down the transfer tape

The transfer tape holds the prespaced letters in place with a light adhesive. Rub the letters down one more time for good measure. This precaution facilitates removal of the backing sheet later.

Slit the transfer tape between letters

Once your transfer sheet is laid in place, put a hinge of masking tape across the top. Then cut slits between the letters strategically. This procedure helps the job flow more smoothly and accurately, especially when the graphic won't lie flat on a curved surface.

Remove the backing sheet

Removing the backing sheet exposes the adhesive underside of the vinyl letters. Sometimes the backing sheet stick to the vinyl stubbornly. Lay the hinged transfer sheet flat with the backing sheet facing up. Then roll the backing sheet off parallel to the sign surface. At this delicate point, a gust of wind can disrupt the project.

Spray soapy water

These photos illustrate the "wet" method, which is more forgiving. Add 2 to 5 drops of dishwater detergent to a spray bottle. Spray the adhesive side of the letter as well as the surface where it will go. Then lay the letter down by capillary action, being careful to avoid trapping air pockets underneath the letter. Then squeegee the letter from the center outwards as the shapes allow.

Rub down wet transfer tape

The transfer tape becomes less adhesive when wet. Spray more water on top of the transfer tape and rub the letter down another time. The vinyl adheres better and the transfer tape starts to loosen. Leave this section alone while you work on other areas.

Peel back the transfer tape

Avoid the tendency to rush. In slow motion, peel back the transfer tape horizontally along the surface. Do not yank the transfer tape straight up, tearing off the vinyl along with it. Simply pull the transfer tape back gently against itself.

Mop up the extra moisture

Using a paper towel, clean up any messy drips or extra water running down the hull. Inspect for adhesion and bubbles. Evaporation of the water causes most small bubbles to come out.

Full Description of Vinyl Installation

First, clean the surface. Be sure that the surface is free of wax. Always clean fiberglass boats with solvent alcohol (rubbing alcohol works, too). Wax will be present either in the gel coat of a new fiberglass boat or in the polishing compounds used to maintain old boats.

Second, attach the sheet of letters with masking tape, taking care to measure carefully. Then stand back to inspect the visual appearance of the placement. Can the numbers be moved slightly forward or aft to line up with a feature of the boat, such as a railing post? If the numbers belong above a cove stripe, measure the vertical space at both ends of the line of numbers, because it often varies.

Once you have placed the letters satisfactorily, hinge them with masking tape on one side. Usually the top. For greatest convenience and accuracy, you may slit the transfer paper with a knife, in order to apply smaller sections of vinyl at a time. This conservative approach also helps combat windy conditions.

The dry method. This method might leave a few small bubbles in the vinyl, which "disappear" at normal viewing distances. Remove the backing sheet, and rub the vinyl down, a little bit at a time. Avoid flopping the transfer sheet down in a manner that traps air.

The wet method. The wet method uses water, and can cause trouble if you use too much of it. Add a drop or two of dish-washing detergent to a spray bottle. The water should feel a little slippery when you wet your fingers and rub them together. Remove the backing sheet. Spray both the surface and the sticky side of the vinyl. Promptly lay down the transfer sheet, taking care not to trap big pockets of air. Rub the transfer tape down thoroughly with the squeegee, pressing out any air. When the vinyl sticks sufficiently, remove the transfer tape gently. Remember to clean up any water streaks, as the soapy film can affect fresh paint.

The adhesion of the vinyl is complete when the remaining moisture evaporates from behind the letter. In some cases, when small bubbles of water get trapped behind the vinyl, the moisture takes longer to "wick" out. When in a jam, you can prick large water bubbles with a pin - but you're on your own if you do so. Don't abuse the material. Too much soap in the water causes the vinyl to slide around excessively. In this case, the vinyl will still adhere, but you may have to leave the transfer tape to dry in place. Then come back later to remove the transfer tape.

Finished Makai boat lettering