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I have some custom vinyl decals (Oracal 651) which have already been applied. The decals don't have any printing, they are just cutouts forming shapes.

During the process of cutting out the decals we used some regular clear tape to hold a paper template in place; but now we've noticed that the tape left a residue on the vinyl. (In hindsight using this tape was obviously a mistake.)

I'd like to figure out how to remove the residue without harming the vinyl or causing it to lose its adhesion.

The residue is slightly sticky to the touch, so it may pick up dirt over time. Its visible mainly because it has a flatter sheen than the vinyl which is glossy.

The decals have been applied to a plastic surface (not sure what type of plastic).

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  • Can we assume the printing on the decals is on the top surface and there is no protective covering? Do you know what type of printing process was used? Do you know if the vinyl stock had any treatment for printing (e.g., frosted texture, coating)? – fixer1234 Jan 3 at 18:17
  • @fixer1234 good question -- actually the decals don't have any printing, they are just cutouts forming shapes. – StayOnTarget Jan 3 at 18:40
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Thanks for clarifying that the decals are only shapes with no printing. Printed decals would be a bear to fix.

The vinyl surface will hold up pretty well to cleaning. The main issue will be keeping the cleaner away from the edges of the decal. Many cleaners will affect the adhesive at the edge, or even wick under the decal and affect more than just the edge.

There are a number of things that should remove the residue. There are adhesive removers like Goo Gone and similar products sold under other brand names. WD-40 often works. Rubbing alcohol sometimes works. You can try limonene (sold as a solvent or citrus cleaner). In a pinch, mineral oil or baby oil is likely to break down the residue so it can be wiped away.

Oily cleaners, like mineral or baby oil, Goo Gone, and WD-40, will leave an oily residue. That can be removed with alcohol or soap.

The problem isn't removing the residue, it's avoiding the edge. What is holding the decal down is probably adhesive that's similar to the residue you're trying to remove. You'll need to use very little cleaner so there's no free liquid to run where you don't want it. That includes if you need to clean off any oily residue after removing the sticky residue.

If the decal is flat, position it so it's level and gravity isn't pulling cleaner toward an edge. Don't apply any liquid directly. Put a little on a cotton swab (don't saturate the swab), and spread it very thinly on the residue, avoiding the edge. Give it a few minutes to attack the residue, then wipe it carefully so as not to get any on the edge. Repeat as necessary.

If this leaves residue along the edge of the decal, clean that in a similar fashion, but being very meticulous not to allow anything to go off the edge. Move parallel to the edge, going just next to it.

If any material, including softened residue, gets onto the seam of the decal, wipe it immediately. If the cleaner is oily, immediately clean the seam area with a little soapy water on a swab and let it dry.

Unfortunately, ensuring you don't affect the decal's attachment will turn a simple, quick task into a slow, meticulous one.

When you're done cleaning, if there's any chance cleaner got on a seam, let everything dry for a day, then inspect the decal edges to see if anything looks questionable. If you're at all worried that an edge may not be secure, you can seal the decal to the surface by coating it with a clear finish. Something like Krylon Crystal Clear Acrylic won't yellow. Apply a light mist from different directions to get it against the seam. Several light mists will seal the edge and smooth the transition so the decal is less likely to be snagged.

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Sometimes you can use the same tape that left the residue behind to remove said residue. This requires that the decal sticks well to the surface and has no tiny parts that might come off if you pull on them.

Simply cut a strip of fresh tape long enough to wind around your finger. Hold it in a way that the sticky side faces away from your skin and the short edges cannot touch the decal. Dab your finger with the tape onto the residue and quickly pull it back away repeatedly. With some luck the residue sticks slightly more to the tape than to the decal. When the tape pulled some of the residue away, its sticking power is reduced and you need to replace it with a fresh piece.

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