We’ve been asked more than once, “Can I install vinyl graphics in the cold?”  The answer is—it’s not recommended. Attempting to install vinyl graphics in the cold temperatures can lead to several problems. Here’s what international adhesive vinyl manufacturer 3M Graphic Solutions had to say about what temperature (and humidity) adhesive vinyl graphics need for proper installation.

“For installation‚ the ultimate temperature-controlled environment is 70° F (21° C) with 50 percent humidity. For best results with films recommended for vehicle wrapping‚ always apply when the air and vehicle surface are both above 60° F (16° C).”

Can I Install Vinyl Graphics in the Cold?

Why Installation in the Cold doesn’t work  

  • Higher temperatures are needed to stretch vinyl around curves. In cold conditions, they may not properly stretch or conform and may even tear. Nonconformity of the adhesive vinyl can lead to a graphic design not fitting the vehicle as was intended.
  • The adhesive may not form a solid bond in the cold causing eventual separation, which can lead to rips, tears, and sections falling away.
  • Condensation, during installation, may interfere with proper application especially if the substrate remains damp. Left to freeze, thaw, and freeze again the expansion contraction of the adhesives vinyl against the substrate of the vehicle leads to separation.
  • The film loses elasticity becoming stiff, difficult to work with, or apply evenly. This often leads to creases and sections not matching up properly.

How to install Vinyl Graphics When it’s Cold

Vehicles must be brought inside to warm. This could take up to 48 hours, so plan and prepare ahead. The substrate surface, and ambient temperature should be at least 60 F. Using torches and heaters to warm the surface and material may be used…very carefully. Putting a propane torch to a cold substrate can cause damage. For example, years ago we attempted to warm a retail store’s front window with a torch. It was 40 + degrees and although the installer gently waved the flame across the glass, it shattered. What started as a small spider crack eventually spread across the entire window and burst. We would’ve been better advised to wait until spring.

Adhesive vinyl manufacturer Avery Dennison reminds us that even when a vehicle is wrapped inside a climate controlled facility it’s critical to allow the new wrap to set before exposing it to the cold. “It is important to remember for fleet and vehicle wraps to allow the installed graphics or wrap to remain indoors for 24 hours before being exposed to severe cold elements. The adhesion takes time to build and achieve acceptable adhesion values. If the graphics are exposed to cold temperatures before the adhesion has a chance to build, it may result in the vinyl lifting off the substrate.” – graphics.averydennison.com

We’re just Warming up

Warming surfaces before attempting to apply adhesive vinyl graphics in cold climates is critical. Trying to apply adhesive vinyl graphics to a cold substrate will lead to problems. If you’d like to learn more let us know. We’d be happy to share. Cold installation is a hot topic.

The bottom line is do not install vinyl graphics in the cold. Let us help you create professional fleet vehicle graphics that will promote your business and drive your brand for years to come. Drive Your Brand by contacting TKO Graphix at 888-544-8051 or Contact Us online.

For over 35 years, TKO Graphix has partnered with commercial and private freight carriers to provide quality design, production, and installation of trailer graphics and decals. We are proud that hundreds of transportation companies throughout the United States trust TKO Graphix as their fleet graphics provider.

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