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Tools of the Trade

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

The graphic industry uses many different tools. Applying vinyl is a very tedious process that requires a great deal of knowledge and the use of specialized tools to get that perfect final product. While the list of instruments and gadgets we use during application is innumerable, there are a handful that are commonplace. Let's take a look at just some of those everyday tools and how they are used.

1. Application Gloves

Application gloves protect the sticky side of the vinyl from oils that our skin has on it. There is a lot of handling that goes on during application and the need to protect the material is of constant concern. These gloves help drastically with that prevention. They also create less friction than your bare hand does when sliding across the front of the vinyl. Ultimately, these gloves prevent over stretching and help protect against damaging the vinyl during the application process.

2. Decal Splicer

This convenient little tool speeds up the process of laying vinyl by creating a starting point to begin sticking the decal. The name may be a bit misleading, though, because the backing paper is actually cut and not the decal itself. While this tool may not necessary be required, it does come in quite handy!

3. Felt Squeegee

Squeegees are an absolute must when it comes to having the required tools. Felt squeegees are utilized most frequently when curves are present. They are soft and flexible and typically are about 1/2" thick. This combination creates the ideal situation to apply sufficient pressure while still having the ability to conform to curves that are present in the substrate's surface. These are super helpful and essential to have when wrapping vehicles because of all the contours that the body panels tend to possess.

4. Plastic Flat Edge Blades

While plastic blades aren't necessarily used during the application process, they are part of the removal kit. They can be necessary and quite helpful during the prep work in order to get an area ready and cleaned for vinyl. Great care must be given if using these blades, despite the fact that they are plastic, to insure that gouges are not made into the substrate.

5. Gasket and Edge Tools

No secrets here. The purpose of these interesting looking tools is proclaimed loud and proud in their name. Wrapping vehicles presents lots of obstacles to work around and behind. Gaskets and other body panels can get in the way of laying vinyl. These cool little "pokers" help for just those occasions. Because the areas behind gaskets, along windows, and the space between panels are typically very tight, these specialized tools aid with getting the sticky vinyl material to lay down appropriately and adhere to the those hard to reach areas that we otherwise would not be able to hit.

6. Hand Rollers

These hard rubber rollers come into action when trying to flatten material on a flat surface. Banners, for instance, are hemmed along the edges. This is done to create that crisp crease and make sure that the double sided adhesive tape is making full contact with the banner. One of these rollers will be run the length of the hem to create the ultimate bond between the banner material and the hemming tape.

7. Heat Gun

Who doesn't love a good power tool?! These heat sources can be either battery operated or electrical. Both work exceptionally well for creating heat and the difference is strictly a personal preference here. Sometimes, the need for warming up the surface area or even the vinyl itself to make it more pliable will occur. Even though this may not always be used when applying vinyl, when it is needed, it becomes an absolute staple to every installer's tool box.

8. Hobby Knife

Hobby knives have many different blade options available. While there may be obvious visual differences between them, you will find that having a very sharp point is their common trait. This is because these specialized knives allow for precise cutting. This comes in handy when trimming vinyl out. Not a day goes by in the life of a vinyl worker that this tool isn't put to good use.

9. Magnets

Sometimes, we just don't have enough hands and when this happens we turn to the mighty magnet! Positioning vinyl and managing to keep it there until it is actually attached can unfortunately be easier said than done. Thankfully magnets can be used most of the time. However, there will be instances when these little apparatuses will not work, such as on aluminum substrates. That being said, when they do work, they work wonders!

10. Measuring Tape

Finding the center of panels, signs, and graphics requires the use of a tape measure. While there's nothing too special about this tool, it is a necessity when trying to ensure that decals and graphics are applied straight. They are also used when cutting substrates to create signs. These devices come in a wide array of shapes and sizes. The rigidity of the measuring tape itself can fluctuate with each individual tool, though. At times, a flexible plastic type tape is ideal and other times the stiff metal version would be best. Regardless, they both provide measurements but the typical metal version is most commonly used.

11. Organizational Tool Belt

Again, this is a user preference in the style of tool belt. Essentially, the purpose of this pouch is to keep the installer's many tools close at hand and in a very easily accessible spot. As you can see, there are many small instruments that are needed when applying vinyl. Keeping up with all of those tiny tools isn't always easy so having a bag or pouch attached to your person can really save a lot of time and aggravation.

12. Picks and Tweezers

If you spend any amount of time working with vinyl, you will find that there are countless times when you have to be extremely precise when manipulating it. Picks and tweezers help when maneuvering the material must be done in very small spaces. These gadgets are very prevalent during the weeding process and offer that much needed delicate touch.

13. Plastic Squeegee

Ah, the most notorious tool of vinyl application! The squeegee is the star of the show when it comes to actually applying graphics. Plastic squeegees come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and each one offers different characteristics to fine tune your application. Finding what works best for each person is a tried-and-true stratagem against the vinyl and all of the elements involved during the process. Once the installer finds what works best for him or her, they usually stick with it. You know the saying, "If it isn't broke, don't fix it!"

14. Retractable Blade Knife

This portable knife utilizes a safety function built right into the make up of its functionality. Often times, this style of knife will be easily interchanged with the hobby knife we discussed earlier. While the hobby knife was exceptional at working in tight spaces, this retractable knife also works just as well. It really comes down to the users preference as to which knife they will use and which feels best in their hand. Both offer the same capabilities and work great in all of the many aspects of vinyl.

15. Rubber Eraser Wheel

Oh yes, the magic eraser wheel! This giant eraser can work wonders on old, stubborn vinyl that refuses to come off. While this tool is used during the removal process, it's existence can really save tons of time when vinyl needs to be removed that has been left on a surface for an over extended amount of time or excessively weathered due to outdoor elements. Care has to be given while using this power tool though as it creates heat from the friction between the rubber of the wheel and the old dilapidated vinyl. The heat can melt paint along with other plastic panels creating major issues and damage that will have to be addressed. Carelessness and this tool are not a good combination so only someone who is completely mindful of the situation and all possibilities that could arise should make use of this wheel.

16. Ruler

Rulers come in a variety of lengths and are made in a variety of materials including wood, plastic, and metal. While they are obviously capable of measuring, they are commonly utilized for cutting straight edges. Many times, the need to cut vinyl "free handed" presents itself and having a guide to do that will make for a very clean, presentable cut. This is where a long ruler (or sometimes a short one) will come into use.

17. Scissors

Yep, nothing fancy here people... just your basic pair of household scissors. The controlled and comfortable grip along with the clean cut edge done with a pair of scissors just cannot be replaced. Be sure to throw a pair into your tool belt for that next graphic job.

18. Metal Scrapper

Last, but certainly not least, is the metal scrapper. This tool is great for removing or even just simply cleaning glass surfaces prior to an installation. While this scrapper works much like the plastic flat edge blades, they are much more aggressive and should only be used on a few select substrates like glass. Even the most careful user can wreak havoc on the surface of any material with this gadget. Much care should be given when deciding to use this tool to prevent any disasters from happening.

While we've definitely covered a long list of tools that are used in the graphic world, this really is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many others that are put to use each and every day. Having the right tool for the right job can really make a difference and knowing how to correctly use that tool is a must. If you're interested in having graphics installed (or removed) on your vehicle, interior wall, simply creating new signage or any other graphic area, contact us today. We have the tools and the know-how to get all of your signage jobs done! Give Impact Signs a call today to make that professional impact you've always wanted!

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