Installing pressure-sensitive vinyl wraps requires a lot of practice and technique — and so does removing them. There are many variables that will determine how easy or difficult it is going to be to remove a graphic.
What to consider before starting the removal process:
What’s the age and condition of the graphic?
Older graphics may be more difficult to remove because the film may have started to crack and deteriorate because of the elements, like rain, snow and winter salt, UV exposure and even altitude. Also, in some regions graphics that are applied in a horizontal position, such as on the hood of a vehicle, may begin to brown and crack within one year of installation.
Type of film and protection used.
Cast films laminated with a clear coat can be more difficult to remove than a cast film protected with a film overlaminate. A cast or calendered film with an overlaminate film is thicker, which makes the film easier to pull off. This combination is also less prone to breaking into small pieces during the removal process.
The film’s adhesive.
There are various adhesives on the market, which should be chosen depending on the substrate to which the film is being applied and the expected lifespan of the graphic.
Standard permanent adhesives or high-tack adhesives are generally applied without the intention of being removed; therefore these are usually the most difficult to remove.
Permanent and high-tack adhesives are also prone to leaving adhesive residue that also needs to be removed later.
Long-term removable adhesives are designed with removal at the end of the graphic’s life in mind. These adhesives have a higher adhesion, but when heat is applied the graphic will come off with little to no adhesive left behind.
Finallly, we have standard removable adhesives, which are designed to have a lower ultimate adhesion, allowing the graphic to be removed more easily with little to no adhesive left behind. Removable adhesives are generally found on calendered films such as transit vinyl and wall films so they can be removed quickly and easily.
Technically anyone can remove a pressure sensitive graphic; however, those trained and experienced in car graphics removal are less likely to encounter issues, such as damaging the paint or clear coat. Using the right tools and techniques can greatly improve your results for removing graphics.
Graphics that are in overall good condition generally can be removed with heat and a little elbow grease.
The heat source could be a heat gun, propane torch or even the sun on a hot day. Simply heat up the film and pick at the edge and peel the film up. It is best to keep the film at as low of an angle as possible. This helps to keep the film from tearing and it also keeps the adhesive from transferring to the substrate. Using a tool like the Lil’ Chizler will help save your fingernails when trying to pick the edges of the film.
Steam may be another option for applying heat. I have used a wallpaper steamer with the 8″ x 10″ plate to apply the steam. There are professional models out there that may be more efficient, but the general idea is the same. The steam heats up the graphic, making it easier to remove.
Graphics that are really old or baked on and keep breaking off every time you try to heat and pull require a different approach.
A rubber eraser wheel like the MBX tool may be useful. The MBX can be really messy, but for graphics that are impossible to remove any other way, this may be tool to use. Be careful when using this type of tool as it can burn the paint if left in one place too long.
To wrap up (pun intended), if adhesive is left behind after removing the film, an adhesive remover may be necessary. There are several types available on the market. Rapid Remover makes a citrus-based adhesive remover, as do Goo Gone and several others. Stronger chemicals such as Xylol may be required. Before using any chemical, be sure to test first to ensure you won’t cause damage to the substrate. I also recommend trying the mild removers first before moving on to a harsh chemical.