I get lots of questions about the differences in the numbers and brands of adhesive vinyl. The type and quality of your vinyl can make or break your project, so it’s good to understand the differences. Today, I’m going to give you an overview of what the types are so that you know how to pick the right one for the job.
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First off, we aren’t talking about heat transfer vinyl (HTV) — the stuff you use on t-shirts. That has an adhesive on it, but needs a high temperature applied to it to activate the adhesive. We’re talking about pressure sensitive vinyl –the kind that you can tell very easily has a sticky side covered in a protective barrier. You don’t need heat to activate the adhesive; you only need to remove the backing and place it on your project.
Now that we understand that, let’s look at the different ways pressure sensitive vinyl is made.
Calendared vs. Cast vinyl
There are 2 different ways to make pressure sensitive vinyl — calendared and cast. These terms refer to the manufacturing process itself.
To make calendared vinyl, the manufacturer mixes the ingredients and then passes the mixture through a series of high pressure rollers. Calendared vinyl–
- is stiffer, so can be easier to handle
- is best on flat surfaces
- at high temperatures may shrink slightly (attempt to return to its original, unpressed state)
- is best for short- to medium-term applications (1-5 years)
- is thicker — approximately 2.5-3 mil
- has more variety of colors
- comes in both matte and glossy finishes
- is less expensive because it’s faster to produce
- is also known as “economy” or “exhibition” or “intermediate”
Oracal 631, 641 and 651 are calendared vinyl, as are Silhouette brand products. I can’t find the info on this for sure, but I believe all the Siser Easy PSV is calendared.
To make cast vinyl, the manufacturer mixes the liquid ingredients and then pours it out into a mold. The liquid spreads out and then passes through different ovens. The ovens heat it so that the solvents evaporate and a solid film is left. Cast vinyl–
- is less rigid
- conforms more easily around curves and textures, including things like rivets
- has less shrinkage
- lasts longer/is more durable
- maintains color best due to raw materials used
- is thinner — generally 2 mil, although specialty types may be thicker
- is often more expensive because the manufacturing process is slower
- usually comes in gloss finish only, except for matte in black and white
- has more metallics
- is also known as “high performance” or “premium”
Oracal 751, 851 and 951 are cast vinyl.
However, there’s something besides the manufacturing process that plays into how a pressure sensitive vinyl performs — the adhesive.
Adhesive types for vinyl
There are 2 basic types of adhesive that are used in creating pressure sensitive vinyl — water-based and solvent-based — and 2 designations — removable and permanent. Most water-based adhesives are labeled as removable, although some are considered more permanent. The solvent-based adhesives are generally the permanent ones. Here’s a breakdown of the adhesives used in Oracal products–
- 631 — water-based, removable
- 641 — water-based, permanent (641 is basically 651 but with a matte finish instead of a glossy one)
- 651 — solvent-based, permanent
- 751 –solvent-based, permanent
- 851 — solvent-based, permanent (851 is the line of glitter vinyl that’s the same as the solid colors of 951)
- 951 — solvent-based, permanent
What to use when
Now that you know the different types of vinyl, it’s easier to decide what to use where. In general, the higher the Oracal number, the better the product and therefore the longer it will last.
- Flat surfaces for indoor use, particularly painted walls — 631
- Curved or textured surfaces — 751 and up
- Outdoors — 651 and up
- Cups or other things that need to be washed — 651 and up, preferably 751 and up
- Things sitting in water, such as a boat — 751 and up
If you’re using a brand other than those listed here, check the manufacturer’s website for more information. Now that you know the terms, you’ll be better able to assess the quality and longevity of the material.
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