Defective Vinyl? Try These Tips First

Vinyl Weeding Small Letters can be a painDefective vinyl or problem vinyl is a complaint  we hear whenever a person has any kind of issue with their vinyl. We field call after call from many customers on a daily basis.  So we have a good feel for the types of problems our customers are having. One of the more common calls we receive is when a customer believes they have some defective vinyl.

Why do customers think they have defective vinyl? When the problem is diagnosed, it is usually one of the following three reasons:

  • It’s too difficult to weed, or
  • It doesn’t transfer well from the release liner or
  • Doesn’t transfer well to the substrate.

In these cases,  we often bring it back and test it, to determine the root of the problem. Sometimes the vinyl really is defective. in most cases, it’s not.  All of the vinyl we sell is made in the USA and comes from well-established manufacturers. It’s extremely rare that we actually have a roll of defective product.

So what’s is usually the problem? I know you probably don’t want to hear this but usually, it’s user error. These kinds of errors are a drain on your productivity. While you’re waiting for a verdict on your issue, work stops, jobs pile up, and business may go elsewhere. Obviously these are outcomes we’d all like to avoid.  If you think you have some defective vinyl, try these helpful tips first.

Blade Problems Can Cause Weeding Issues

Cutting Too Deep: The most common mistake customers make that results in weeding problem is cutting the vinyl too deeply. The goal is to cut through the face film and adhesive and to barely score the release liner. If you cut too deeply, when you begin weeding your graphic, the release liner adheres to the back of the vinyl and begins to delaminate. This makes your graphic hard to weed. It can also cause the vinyl to stick to the liner instead of releasing with the transfer tape.

Fig 1. Only extend enough of the tip to penetrate the face film and adhesive layers.

To fix this problem, be sure to set your blade depth properly in the blade holder. The tip of the blade should be barely visible (fig 1). Remember, the total thickness of the face film and adhesive for most calendared vinyls is only 0.06″. To make sure you have just enough blade visible, test it manually. Remove the blade and blade holder from the tool carriage, press the tip of the blade holder to the vinyl and drag it across the vinyl. Cut a little square and see if you can weed it. This should be your first test cut. If you can weed the vinyl, you have enough blade showing.

Then insert the blade holder back into the tool carriage, set the cutter’s force where you think it needs to be and perform a test cut from the plotter. Weed the pattern and examine the liner. If the liner is deeply cut, or if you can feel the cut line on the back of the release liner, you have too much force. Reduce the force setting and re-test until you have a pattern that’s easy to weed, but can’t be felt from the back of the liner.

Cutting With a Dull Blade: Performing a manual test and a cutter force test are important because they will also tell you if you have a dull blade. If your cut path isn’t clean and sharp, or if the pattern is hard to weed, you may have a dull blade. Your plotter blade is a consumable and will wear out over time. Cutting too deeply will also lead to premature blade wear because the paper liner dulls the tip more quickly than the PVC face film. For more tips on blade wear and replacement, please click here to check out our Plotter Blade FAQ.

Wrong Transfer Tape Causes Transferring Problems

Transfer Tape with Too Low Tack: If you have the blade and the cutter’s force set correctly and your test cuts are easy to weed, but the vinyl still won’t transfer from the release liner, it may not be the vinyl’s fault. It needs help from the transfer tape. Transfer tapes are not interchangeable. They have different characteristics including the tack level.

If the tack level of your transfer tape is too low, it won’t have enough adhesive force to pull the vinyl off the release liner. This is especially true of ORACAL vinyl and some metallized films. They tend to have stiffer face films and need a more aggressive transfer tape. Always try to use a transfer tape that matches your vinyl’s release properties. To make sure you’re using the best tape for your vinyl, please check out our Vinyl and Transfer Tape Application Guide.

Transfer or App Tape with Squeegee

Fig 2: You may need a squeegee and patience to apply vinyl to textured walls.

Transferring Vinyl to Difficult Substrates:  To apply vinyl graphics to any substrate using transfer or application tape, the adhesive bond between the vinyl and the substrate must be stronger than the bond between the tape and vinyl. Transferring vinyl graphics to rough, porous, or low energy surfaces is challenging because there may not be a sufficient bond between the vinyl and substrate to allow the tape to release the graphic. Some such applications can be finessed with some patience and a squeegee (Fig 2). Some simply won’t work. To give yourself the best possible chance of success In these instances, try a medium or lower-tack tape. But if you’re trying to decorate a low energy surface like polypropylene, you may need to switch to a specialty high tack vinyl.

Using Old Transfer Tape: If you have the right tape for your vinyl but it’s older than 6 months, you may run into a transfer problem due to aged adhesive. All adhesive backed products have a shelf life. The general rule is two years, if stored in a climate-controlled environment. Don’t store your vinyl and tape in a hot or cold garage. Extreme temperatures and age will affect the adhesive and complicate your transfers.

Different Color Vinyl Within the Same Family May Cut Entirely Different

This one’s a little tricky. If you’ve done all of the above correctly, you may still run into trouble if you go from a roll of yellow vinyl to black without doing a test cut. That’s because the pigment in the face film that gives black vinyl it’s opacity and outdoor durability makes the film a little denser than the other colors. So you can’t always switch rolls on the fly and get the same results. Sometimes cutting black vinyl requires more force than others. There are three keys to getting good results when it’s time to weed your vinyl graphics: test, test, test. Seriously, always cut and weed a test pattern before clicking Send on your vinyl graphics. That one step can save you a lot of time and frustration.

So the next time you begin thinking you have a defective roll of vinyl, stop and consider your materials and workflow. Make sure the defect isn’t in your process, transfer tape choice, or intended substrate. If you’re setting the correct blade depth, using a sharp blade, using the right transfer tape, applying vinyl to a compatible substrate and adjusting for differences in color, and it’s still not working…then  you may actually have a defective roll of vinyl. It’s unlikely, but it is possible. If that’s the case, give us a call and our dedicated customer service professionals will make it right.