It is a common misconception that making stickers and decals is a quick and easy task….that is simply not the case. When a customer wants a sticker, they have this vision of us dragging over an image, clicking the mouse a couple times and voila, hit print. There’s a little more to stickers than just printing them.
Stickers begin with a concept, be it a hand drawing, doodle, something you saw somewhere or even a photo; whatever the case, from conception to production involves a fair number of steps. Take the Optimus5 logo below, that was conceptualized, drawn, designed and formatted. What’s missing? How about the cut line?
A cut line is a vector path that tells my cutter where to go. The cut line can be as simple as a square surrounding the image, an oval, circle, or something more complicated like outlining the actual image itself….or even cutting inside it. A lot of steps are taken to render a vector path, in fact, a lot of steps are taken throughout the whole process.
After establishing the artwork and the vector cut path, next comes layout. Materials come in various widths and that determines the layout entirely. When printing on a 63″ or 54″ roll of material, I can’t simply print five or six 2″ x 3″stickers; the amount of time on the computer alone would make them unrealistically expensive.
Keep in mind size when considering quantity, and don’t be afraid to ask, “what is your recommendation on sizing” or “what is the minimum if I order x quantity in x size?” Sometimes, the size of the sticker and the distance between them as they’re printed doesn’t allow ten across…maybe it’s nine…not how do you layout 100 without over printing or under printing? You just don’t….I always print the extras, even if I keep them as samples.
From print, the vinyl must dry for 18 to 24 hours. Eco-solvent inks, when printed on vinyl, cause a chemical reaction which causes the ink to “constrict” pulling the vinyl tight; if not enough time has passed before cutting the sticker out, the vinyl will continue to constrict and shrink causing the edges to “roll”.
After curing completely, the vinyl sheet is loaded in the plotter (cutter). It has to be aligned properly so it tracks straight over the full length of the material, which can take a while sometimes. There are multiple registration marks that the plotter must read to appropriate the locations of the cut image within those marks (this ensures the plotter and software locations of the stickers coincide). From there, you cut. The plotter will run through registration a final time and then begin all of the cuts.
You may have seen stickers that are cut following the outline of the image and the release liner (backing paper) is as well…this is called final half cut. This half cut process is very hard on blades, equipment, the cut strip, etc, so we at DZS do not offer this as an option. Contour cutting the release liner is simply a cosmetic thing.
All that’s left is cutting the stickers into individuals or leaving as a gang sheet (peel and apply like stamps).
There you have it. I hope your have a better understanding of the time and effort that goes into processing a sticker order. It’s not “complicated”, it just takes time. When you’re considering having a design rendered and balk at the cost of labor, consider the time and effort that is actually put into making the final product….then buy your sign guy a coffee :’)
From DropZone Specialties
Rob – Owner / Designer