3 ways to apply vinyl lining to a vehicle

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3 ways to apply vinyl lining to a vehicle
3 ways to apply vinyl lining to a vehicle

Using a sheet of vinyl car wrap is a great way to give your car, truck, or other surface a fresh look while saving money on a potentially expensive paint job. Unfortunately, if you don't apply the vinyl sheet properly, it could trap bubbles, resulting in a messy result. Also, professional jobs are expensive. By taking your precautions and using the correct techniques, you can apply a sheet of vinyl neatly and efficiently from home.


Method 1 of 3: Prepare for Vinyl Sheet Installation

Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 1
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 1

Step 1. Buy a sheet of cast vinyl to make the lining more flexible

The two main types of vinyl are calendered vinyl and cast vinyl. Calendered vinyl is thicker yet stickier, while cast vinyl is more flexible and easier to manipulate around curves and edges.

  • Choose vinyl with integrated air release channels for a clean installation.
  • Use a sheet of vinyl on smooth substrates like glass, corrugated plastic, and painted aluminum. Avoid using vinyl on wooden surfaces.
  • Buy about 15 to 20 feet (5 to 6 m) more vinyl than you think you will need in case you ruin any of the panels.
  • Avoid using chrome if you are applying vinyl for car wrap for the first time. Chromium is the most expensive and difficult material to apply, especially for beginners.
  • Glossy printed vinyl liners are more durable and offer better protection than matte ones.
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 2
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 2

Step 2. Sweep and mop the area where you plan to install the sheet

Vinyl sheets attract dust, so clean the area well before inserting them. Sweep, mop, or dust the area to prevent dirt particles from sticking to it.

Make sure you have enough room to unroll the vinyl sheet to the proper length

Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 3
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 3

Step 3. Use a cleaning solution and a lint-free cloth to clean the surface to be lined

Spray a cleaning solution directly onto the surface to be covered, and use a lint-free cloth to buff the surface. Move the cloth in circles counterclockwise until the surface is completely dry. Dirt and moisture will prevent the adhesive from sticking properly.

  • Rapid Tac brand product is an excellent solution for cleaning surfaces before lining them.
  • Be careful not to place the vinyl sheet on the floor as it will attract dirt particles. These particles will leave scratches when you start to apply it.
  • If you're going to line a truck or car, take it to a car wash 24 hours in advance to dry overnight. Do not use waxes or protectors, as they could interfere with the adhesive.
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 4
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 4

Step 4. Measure the length of the surface that you are going to cover

Tape a piece of masking tape over the edge of the surface to be lined, leaving at least 3 inches (8 cm) hanging from the edge. Leave the tape rolled up and unroll it to the other side of the surface. Remove the tape from the roll, leaving at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) hanging on both sides.

  • Keep the tape flat on the surface so it reaches for the edges, contours, and grooves. If the surface is not flat (like a car or truck), the tape will allow you to measure the appropriate amount of vinyl needed to cover the contours.
  • If you are wrapping a car, truck, or any vehicle that has multiple panels, you will need to measure and cover each panel separately.
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 5
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 5

Step 5. Use masking tape to measure the width of the surface

Repeat the same process as before, although this time, measure the width. Use a roll of masking tape and place it roughly in the center of the long edge of the surface. Roll the tape straight lengthwise and glue it down, leaving at least 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) hanging on each side.

The two lines of tape will cross roughly in the middle

Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 6
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 6

Step 6. Unroll the vinyl keeping it off the ground

Remove the top piece of tape that you glued to the surface and align one end of it with the end of the unrolled vinyl. Narrow the tape along the back of the vinyl and mark the edge where it comes from. Use a precision razor to cut in that area in a straight line, down the entire length of the vinyl.

  • Keep the cut as straight as you can. Most vinyl layers have built-in lines for your reference use.
  • If possible, have a friend help you. Ask him to pull on the end of the vinyl while you hold the roll. Then, place the end of the tape on the end of the vinyl that it is holding. This will allow you to unroll the vinyl without spreading it on the floor, which could damage it.

Method 2 of 3: Spread the vinyl sheet evenly

Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 7
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 7

Step 1. Spread the cut piece of vinyl on the surface you want to cover

Remove the liner and place the piece of vinyl you just cut roughly in the center of the area to be wrapped. Make sure the surface is completely covered without leaving any visible edges.

  • You'll be removing and replacing the vinyl, so you don't need to position it perfectly. Just make sure you have enough vinyl to cover the surface you are covering.
  • The vinyl will stick to the surface, although it won't stay there permanently until you apply heat to seal it. You can position, replace and stretch the vinyl as needed until it is sealed.
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 8
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 8

Step 2. Pull both sides of the vinyl away from each other to create tension

Hold both ends of the vinyl and lift them straight up by pulling it off the surface. Stretch the sides of the vinyl away from each other to create enough tension to remove most of the wrinkles from the middle, and then spread it over the surface to be covered.

  • This process works best with another person. Both people should hold 2 corners at each end of the vinyl and pull the 4 corners away from each other at the same time.
  • At least 2 people are required to line large surfaces.
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 9
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 9

Step 3. Run a squeegee over the applied film to remove wrinkles and bubbles

Hold the brush at an angle of about 45 degrees. Start in the middle and move outward toward the edges to remove air bubbles or fingers on the vinyl. If the surface you will be coating is curved, move the brush down over the arched curves for a smoother application.

  • Make sure the brush has a hard side and a felt side. The hard side can damage the vinyl and should only be used to pass it into crevices or hard-to-reach areas.
  • Use the hard side of the squeegee to spread the vinyl into the indentations. Use a heat gun to apply heat before doing so to get it into harder-to-reach areas.
  • Stretch the vinyl to fit over curves or reposition as needed. Lift it up and apply heat with the heat gun to make the vinyl more pliable. That will make it easier to shape around the curves and edges.
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 10
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 10

Step 4. Lift the vinyl and apply heat to remove blemishes

If you notice blemishes in the vinyl, such as wrinkles, start at the outer edge and lift it up to peel off the area. Apply heat with a heat gun until blemishes disappear by holding the vinyl up and away from the surface. Keep it stretched out by pulling it on both ends, and then neatly lay it back on the surface.

  • Be careful not to lift the areas where the vinyl is already smoothed.
  • Simply lift the vinyl without pulling it. If you pull the vinyl while heating it, it will stretch.
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 11
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 11

Step 5. Push the air bubbles out from the outer edge with a squeegee

Use it to draw the air from the edges of the bubble to the center. Then squash the center of the bubble with your fingers.

  • You will draw the air through the air expulsion channels and the sheet will be smoothed without having to lift it and reposition it completely.
  • If you come across a bubble that is too large, first use the squeegee to divide it into several smaller bubbles. This will allow the air to escape more easily.

Method 3 of 3: Complete the job of lining the car

Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 12
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 12

Step 1. Heat the vinyl with a heat gun before lining the edges

Soften the film with a heat gun while you pull it up and remove any wrinkles. Pull the vinyl tight against the edge with enough force to keep it as smooth as possible. Then, stretch it under the hem while keeping it snug. Use a squeegee to glue it about 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the inside edge, then use a utility knife to trim away the excess vinyl.

  • Using a squeegee to stick the edge firmly activates the adhesive. Make sure you position the vinyl properly before solidifying it with it.
  • Clean the inside surface with rubbing alcohol, and make sure it is completely dry before gluing the vinyl. Once the adhesive is activated, you will only have one chance to stick it. Also, keep in mind that water and dirt will prevent it from sticking.
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 13
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 13

Step 2. Trim the edges with a sharp knife to remove excess vinyl liner

After covering and securing the vinyl, use a precision razor to trim the excess vinyl. Go slow and cut as evenly as you can. This process takes time, patience, and a steady hand. Also, it will probably take you the amount of time it takes to wrap the surface.

  • Use a new blade to make sure it's sharp enough to cut through the vinyl without tearing it.
  • Vinyl sheet will shrink at the end when heated, so don't cut it too far. Leave about 1 to 2 cm (10 to 20 mm). Heat the vinyl before trimming so it doesn't shrink too much.
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 14
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 14

Step 3. Cut the vinyl around the handles and knobs

For handles, knobs, or other parts that protrude from the surface, heat the area with a heat gun to expand the vinyl. Use a precision razor to cut along the outside of the protrusion, leaving about 1 to 2 mm (0.10 to 0.20 cm) of vinyl hanging from the edge. Use the plastic edge of the squeegee to flatten the edges around the area.

Take your time and use a new razor to make straight, even cuts. Rough and crooked edges look messy

Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 15
Apply Vinyl Wrap Step 15

Step 4. Heat the vinyl afterwards with a heat gun to secure it

Once everything is set the way you want it, use a heat gun to make the vinyl very hot. Move it in sweeping motions in sections of 15-20 cm (8 inches) making sure to fix the vinyl firmly in any indentations or channels. Let the vinyl liner set for 24 hours after heating.

  • Only do it once it is set exactly the way you want it because you won't be able to go back and move it around when that happens.
  • That procedure fully activates the adhesive to the vinyl so that it locks firmly in place.
  • A good rule of thumb is to heat vinyl to a temperature of approximately 200 to 250ºF (90 to 120ºC), although each type of vinyl is different. Check the vinyl manufacturer's recommendations to be sure.


  • Play with the vinyl before you start applying it to get an idea how much you can stretch it and how much heat it can take. Knowing the vinyl in advance will help you handle it better, allowing you to install it more easily.
  • Never spread the vinyl while the surface is still wet.
  • Remove mirrors and trim from cars and trucks before applying the vinyl. It will probably take 30 minutes to install vinyl liner around a mirror, while it only takes 5 minutes to remove it.
  • Try not to overstretch it. Poor holding is one of the most common causes of improperly installing vinyl siding.
  • Pre-stretch the vinyl with a heat gun to shrink it into concave panels, such as vehicle bumpers.


  • Always read the recommendations of the manufacturer of the vinyl you are going to use.
  • Be careful when holding the heat gun to avoid hurting yourself or others.

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