If you want to print car window stickers or bumper stickers, you really need a solvent base printer that prints on vinyl. The problem is, those printers are very expensive. A used solvent printer is going to set you back $5000 – $7000 dollars. I can’t afford that.
You can print stickers on your paper based printer, but the ink and the paper don’t like the outdoors – water gets into the paper and ruins the sticker and even if it doesn’t get wet – the sun ruins the color of the ink in a month or two.
But – there is a technique that will improve the outdoor life of a sticker that you print on a paper printer. You need to over-laminate the sticker with UV blocking film and an edge that seals moisture out of the paper. This technique requires tricky contour cutting, because you have to cut and weed a channel around the printed sticker, THEN you laminate the sticker and cut it again in the center of the channel. Finally, you weed the excess sticker material and you have an outdoor ready graphic. Let’s take a look at each of the steps…
Step 1 – Prepare the graphic with appropriate cut paths for your contour cutter:
The high lighted black lines are the channel around the graphic and will be cut first. The blue line will be cut second, after the sticker has been laminated. The area between the blue line and the inner black line represents the lamination “edge seal” that will keep moisture away from the sticker. You might also notice that I have an orange “bleed” area that extends beyond the inside cut, this overlap will be weeded away after the initial cut.
Step 2 – Print the graphic:
I am printing logos onto cheap sticker paper using my Epson 7900, but any paper printer will do, as long as it prints large enough to include the registration marks for cutting your graphic.
Step 3 – Contour cut a channel around the graphic:
I am using my trusty Graphtec CE3000-60 Mk2, which uses a laser to find the registration marks and cut the first channel of the graphic. Here is what the cut path looks like at this stage:
Step 4 – Weed the channel:
Peel away just the channels, but leave the rest of the sticker around the graphic. This makes it easier to laminate later, and you don’t run the risk of accidentally removing your printed registration marks.
Step 5 – Laminate the graphic:
I am using a cheap cold laminator that I bought used from the classified adds. The film is 5mil glossy with UV protection – because that is what I have laying around, but you could use a more heavy duty matte finish is you want your stickers to last a bit longer. Don’t have a fancy laminator? Do it by hand, just make sure you have some help while you squeegee.
Step 8 – Enjoy your outdoor stickers:
You can see the transparent edge of lamination around the sticker – when you put the sticker on a car window, it’s this edge that seals the sticker from moisture and rain.