Will Vehicle Graphics Removal Damage Paint?

That’s a great question and we’re glad you asked!

Businesses considering vehicle graphics for their fleet should know the answer to this question to prevent surprises down the road when graphics want to be taken off. When a professional graphics provider completes the vehicle graphics installation properly, the paint will not be damaged when removed. However, when best practices are not followed, short cuts are taken, and cost outranks doing it the right way, it can become a problem. If you take nothing else away from this post, let it be this…


Use an established adhesive vinyl graphics provider for all of your fleet graphics, like TKO Graphix, or risk paying the price of repairing your cars and trucks.

Here are four critical questions to keep in mind before you have adhesive vinyl graphics installed on your vehicles.

  1. How long will it be on the vehicle?
  2. How will the graphics be removed?
  3. What’s the condition of the vehicle’s surface?
  4. How old is the paint on the vehicle?

1. How Long will it be on the Vehicle?

The longer the graphics remain on the vehicle, the more chance of paint or substrate damage. If it’s left on longer than recommended by the manufacturer, it may be difficult to remove, leading to surface damage. So, what is the warranty on adhesive vinyl? The short answer — it depends on the material, but usually 3 to 7 years. One of the more common materials is 3M™ Controltac™ Graphic Film w/Comply™ Adhesive v3 IJ180Cv3-10, but even the warranty on this material varies depending on usage, color, inks, and how it’s installed.

Your best bet is to discuss this with your graphics provider. Let them know how long you plan to use the graphics, and then ask their advice for the best material for the longevity you are wanting. Just choosing the cheapest vinyl or quote, and not understanding the differences in material and their intended uses, may end up in damage to your paint when it comes time to remove it.

2. How will the Graphics be Removed?

There’s a right way and a wrong way to remove adhesive vinyl. Here’s a video showing the right way, to remove vehicle graphics which includes:

  • Heating the vinyl with a propane torch
  • Using a poker to loosen the vinyl
  • Reheating the vinyl
  • The best way to pull off the graphic
  • What to use to remove residual adhesive

Adhesive vinyl manufacturer 3M offers this advice, “Test for removability by grasping a corner of the film and pulling from the surface at an angle of less than 90° with gentle / moderate force. The film should stretch like rubber while being removed; if it is brittle, stop, apply a pH-neutral film/adhesive remover system…” — Graphic Removal with 3MTM Graphic Remover System

For more in depth information, also see our blog, How to Remove Adhesive Vinyl Graphics without Damaging Your Vehicle.

3. What’s the Condition of the Vehicle’s Surface?

Before installing adhesive vinyl graphics, you should examine the condition of the paint surface. A vehicle should have a proper paint finish, such as automotive grade paint, not primer. They should also be clean, without rust or corrosion, before graphics are applied.

If there are doubts about the condition of the surface, performing a snap test is recommended. According to the 3M Bulletin, Select and Prepare Substrates for Graphic Application, “This test can be used to help determine if a substrate appears to have sufficient integrity to remain intact during eventual graphic removal.” Although the snap test doesn’t guarantee the adhesive vinyl won’t cause damage five years from now upon removal, it does warn you if the surface is unsuitable for vinyl application.

graphics snap test illustration

To perform a snap test, follow these basic steps. See the referenced 3M Bulletin above (page 11) for complete instructions.

  1. Using 3M™ Plastic Applicator PA-1, firmly apply a 1-inch strip of aggressive, pressure-sensitive tape (Scotch Tape 610) over the area. (Note: A professional graphics provider should be able to perform a snap test using these materials).
  2. Remove the tape by pulling it back upon itself at a 135° angle using a rapid, firm pull.

No separation should occur between the top coating and the layers underneath. No paint or chalking should be present on the tape. If separation occurs, removal without damage is not warranted for removable or changeable products.

4. How Old is the Paint on the Vehicle?

Paint applied at the factory is seldom a problem unless it’s older, faded, or worn, but aftermarket paint may be a different story. Similar to a snap test, the paint can be tested by applying a small piece of adhesive vinyl to an unexposed area and removing it after a few days.

A common problem occurs when a repainted vehicle has adhesive vinyl graphics applied too soon. The paint needs to cure before applying vinyl. How long this takes depends on the type of paint and manufacturer, but the paint usually needs between 30 to 90 days to cure. Always check with the paint manufacturer before applying graphics to a recently painted vehicle.

Will Vehicle Graphics Removal Damage Paint?

Back to the question…will vehicle graphics removal damage paint? No, but be sure to ask the right questions and work with your graphics provider so they can help you in choosing the correct material for the intended use of the graphics.

If the paint and surface are in good condition, the correct adhesive vinyl material is used, and proper removal techniques are followed, then the surface will be undamaged at removal. If you’d like to know if your vehicle is graphics-ready, we’d be happy to talk about your project.

Contact TKO Graphix at 888-544-8051 or Contact Us online.

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TKO Graphix is a national fleet and vehicle graphics company helping customers since 1985. We provide full-service graphics solutions such as design, digital printing, screen printing, installation and removal of fleet graphics, vehicle graphics, and commercial graphics.