PRINTABLE VINYL 101 – Everything You Need to Know to Get Started!

PRINTABLE VINYL 101 – Everything You Need to Know to Get Started!
Authored By Michael Soltis 0 Comment(s)

Printable vinyl is one of those hidden gems in the crafting world. 


Recently it has receive a lot more attention, with a wide variety of options becoming available on market places such as Amazon


Some crafters may be away of Cricut printable vinyl for die-cuts, but to their surprise that there is much more to be explored.


 Not only is printable vinyl waterproof and tear resistant, it is also completely customizable and compatible with Cricut, Silhouette Cameo, and every other machine cutter on the market.


Another astonishing fact about printable vinyl is that it also comes in all sorts of thickness, materials, and finishes- notable clear printable vinyl and glossy printable vinyl.


 Not long ago the only option available was matte printable vinyl- but it has its limitations and not everyone finds it as visually appealing as the before mentioned vinyls.


Printable vinyl is NOT just regular sticker paper– it is much more durable and professional, able to even stand intense dishwasher cycles without even a hint of damage. 


Each variation of printable vinyl has its own set of pros and cons which we will explore in the rest of this article.


 We will compare them, display their key features, and rate them to help you decide which option best suits your craft. Let’s begin!

printable vinyl 101 - what is printable vinyl 

What Are the Different Types of Printable Vinyl?

There are 3 main types of printable vinyl- glossy, clear, and matte


Each has its own unique properties and strengths, however they all have their achilles heals so to speak. 


You want to be careful when selecting your brand of printable vinyl- because some provide different materials than other and also thickness varies greatly brand to brand. 


Generally, if a vinyl is too thick it will cause printer issues such as jamming, low quality images, and even damage your printer heads.


1. Glossy Printable Vinyl

Glossy printable vinyl has a beautiful shine and prints in extremely high resolution with near photo-like quality. 


Glossy printable vinyl sticker paper is best suited for indoor projects that typically won’t take heavy abuse. 


Some examples for using glossy printable vinyl are custom candle labels, tumblers, laptop stickers and activity planners.

glossy printable vinyl on a tumbler
Glossy Printable Vinyl

However it tends to be less water-resistant, and sometimes black ink will run and smear on contact with water due to the composition of the ink type that tends to not lock into the surface of the vinyl as well at it should. 


If you plan on creating a custom bumper sticker, glossy printable vinyl may cause some issues. 


We recently had a customer tell us that he took his glossy printable vinyl printed bumper sticker through a car wash, which resulted in a damaged decal. 


This could easily be offset with the use of a clear laminating sheet, however, which you can simply be placed directly on top of the decal. 


This will shield your DIY sticker both from harmful debris and UV rays, so it will not fade, crack, or be otherwise damaged by day to day use.


We have also run extensive tests on glossy printable vinyl to test its overall water-proof factor and we found that light mist and temporary water droplets are not an issue, however soaking wet conditions are not sustainable, and the vinyl itself will take a toll. 


After 3-6 months the vinyl may start to corrode and deteriorate if left outside during rainy seasons. 


The adhesive backing is also an important factor- you want to check with your provider to make sure that it is water-based glue (as opposites to solvent-based) if you plan on putting it on an object that you would like to remain free of adhesive goo if you plan on removing it.

glossy printable vinyl sticker
Glossy printable vinyl die-cut sticker

Water-based glue is permanent and highly effective, and will not leave residue if you choose to remove it. 


Solvent-base glue is unnecessary in most cases, and may cause a gooey residue to remain on the surface after you remove the decal. 


This could easily be fixed with goo-gone or warm water and soap. 


You will want to use a plastic bristle brush to remove it easily. 


A sponge will tend to be difficult to remove adhesive reside with.


All in all- glossy printable vinyl has beautiful photo-like printing capabilities, however it is not suitable for long-term exposure to harsh elements such as rain unless accompanied with a laminating sheet.


2. Clear Printable Vinyl

Clear printable vinyl is another beautiful option to consider when shopping for printable sticker paper. 


Clear vinyl has a unique look due to the fact that once the decal is removed from the backing sheet- all of the areas of the image that appear white on the page will be clear


This is especially useful if you want to have a low-profile outline when printing a sticker off, so that your decal almost melts in with the background. clear printable vinyl in glitter tumbler

Clear printable vinyl

Clear printable vinyl also does very well against rain and debris- better than glossy printable vinyl. 


This is useful if you plan on exposing your coffee mug (with clear printable vinyl on it) to hand washing or rinsing and other forms of debris. 


However, it is important to note that clear printable vinyl is not dishwasher safe. 


The ink will likely wash away eventually, especially with the heating element and soap accompanied with dishwashing. 


This probably can again be remedied by the use of a clear laminating sheet.


clear printable vinyl sticker of panda on tumbler

However it may damage the visual appeal with a clear printed decal and a clear laminating sheet placed over top of it, which will show the seams more prominently of the cut out sticker. 


Another key point to clear printable vinyl is that it is not suitable for dark color objects because the clear background will fade away and be washed out behind the darker colors. 


In most cases clear printable vinyl should only be used on white surfaces such as porcelain mugs, or white water bottles.

 clear printable vinyl on candle

Clear vs glossy printable vinyl on glass

Clear printable vinyl is NOT recommended for use against clear surfaces such as glass candles either. 


Clear printable vinyl really needs a bright white item to be placed on in order to get the maximum contrast and allow the ink to stand out against the surface.

clear printable vinyl on glitter tumbler
Clear printable vinyl against dark background - NOT RECOMMENDED

3. Matte Printable Vinyl

Finally we come to matte printable vinyl. Scoring extremely high on durability and utility it makes an excellent heavy duty choice for items such as sports equipment, water bottles, tumblers, and bumper stickers. 


However this comes at the slight cost of sacrificing a little printing resolution and visual appeal. 


Matte printable vinyl, once printed, is immediately ready for action. 


You can put it on mail boxes, car bumpers, and mugs and other dish ware. You don’t have to worry about the durability either, it is completely dishwasher safe.

 matte white printable vinyl on glitter tumbler

Due to the PVC  material with a waterproof coating built into the vinyl itself, once ink meets the vinyl it is locked in within 5 minutes. 

For Cricut and Silhouette users, matte printable vinyl is their best friend because it is machine cutting compatible


This is because the the glossy surface of clear and glossy printable vinyl makes your machine scanner not be able to recognize the print and cut lines. 


However due to matte printable vinyl’s non reflective surface, your die-cutting machine can easily recognize the cutting lines and act swiftly to cut out your decal with laser precision.

matte printable vinyl of searhorse
matte printable vinyl stickers

One notable downside of matte printable vinyl however is that it tends to attract dirt, dust, and debris onto its surface after a while. 


This causes the once bright white surface to be dulled and tinged with a brownish color, especially if you put it through the dishwasher and it comes in contact with debris that can stain it. 


The ultimate way to combat this is to apply an adhesive laminating sheet.


How to use Printable Vinyl

Printing and using printable vinyl is a fairly straightforward process. 


It is much like printing a regular sheet of paper, except that the material thickness and finish may require you to adjust your printer settings for optimal results. 


After printing, all you need to do is cut out your new stickers with scissors and stick it on the surface of your choice!


Step 1 – Select your printable vinyl carefully

Depending on what surface you will want to place your sticker on, you will want to consider what kind of printable vinyl you want to use. 
Your options will be glossy, clear, and matte printable vinyl. 

Glossy is best for photo quality printing but not as well suited for long term outdoor use. 

Clear is by far the best choice for white colored objects, as the background and edges of the sticker will blend in perfectly. 

Matte printable vinyl will not smudge and is extremely waterproof and dishwasher safe, however it is not glossy which may result in a decrease in image quality.

Step 2 – Design image on software and get ready to print

Design your image on a software such as Microsoft Word.   


You can also use the print and cut feature with Cricut’s Design Studio software, however its important to note that only matte printable vinyl will be compatible with this feature. 


For using a die cutting machine with clear and glossy printable vinyl, you would have to place a non-reflective clear tape or laminate over top so the machines can read the scan and cut lines without the reflective light interfering.

Step 3 – Print It Out

Make sure you have the correct type of vinyl for your corresponding printer. 


For example make sure you have inkjet printable vinyl and are using an inkjet printer. 


Just light printing a normal sheet of paper- you will be placing the printable vinyl in the printer in the place of plain paper. 


Adjust the printer settings depending on the type of vinyl (i.e. glossy specialty paper for glossy printable vinyl) or let your printer auto select the best settings. 


Hand feeding your printable vinyl into the printer one sheet at a time can give better results and reduce jamming.


 Allow the printed ink to dry for 5 minutes and test to make sure it is dry. A common problem with printing with printable vinyl is that black ink does not dry. 


This is because the type of ink being used must be dye-based or pigmented ink (not eco-solvent). 


To fix this, either print with another color (such as dark blue) or use another printer such as one from your local print shop for a few cents per sheet. 


Step 4 – Cut Out and Peel Off and Stick on Surface

You have the option to cut your printable vinyl out with a die-cutting machine such as those made by Cricut, Silhouette, Brother etc., or by using good old fashioned scissors.


 Using scissors, make sure you cut close to the edge carefully before removing the backing sheet of the sticker.


 Rounding corners of the sticker will make it less likely to peel up or be easily removed and tends to give it a better look. 


After cutting, peel off the back of the sticker and place your sticker on any smooth, hard, nonporous surface.


 You can place your sticker on rounded surface such as a coffee mug but it will be very tricky to place your sticker on a strange shape such as a contoured surface with many corners and edges.


Step 5 (Optional) – Waterproof Your Stickers

To go the extra mile and waterproof your sticker, you have the options to laminate, use UV-resistant ink, or spray adhesive fixative spray over top of your stickers to provide an extra layer of protection.
 The easiest of these options is to use clear laminating sheets for stickers (NOT laminating pouches- these are for documents) which you can purchase on amazon.

Inkjet vs Laser Printable Vinyl

When selecting your printable vinyl, you must read the packaging carefully to make sure you have the correct type of printable vinyl for your printer. 


Inkjet printable vinyl by nature soaks up the inkjet ink due to the specialized coating on the vinyl, which gives a water-resistant nature. 


Accepted ink type and printers for inkjet printer vinyl vary widely.


 The most commonly accepted printer brands for inkjet printable vinyl are HP, Epsom, Canon and Brother. 

As long as the ink is pigmented or dye based (Not eco-solvent) then your printer will accept the printable vinyl flawlessly. 



Laser printers apply heat and roll on toner to the surface of the printed material.


 In many cases, inkjet printable vinyl is not suitable for this application, unless it is specifically stated on the packaging. 


There are some options that allow you to use either inkjet or laser printers on the material on the market, the most common of which being matte white printable vinyl.


What is Printable Vinyl Made Out Of?

Printable vinyl is different than sticker paper. The main difference is the material being used and its overall durability. 


 Each of these materials are slightly different, and often a waterproof coating is placed overtop of the material in order for the printable vinyl to allow the ink to be accepted into the material. 


Polyurethane (PET) is often used for clear printable vinyl – however it may have a slightly cloudly or hazy look if it is greater than 2.0 mil thick.


 Overall, printable vinyl is generally between 2.0 mil and 4.0 mil in thickness – and often times the paper backing sheet will add another couple mil in thickness to the overall thickness.


Printable vinyl stickers vs Adhesive vinyl and Heat Transfer Vinyl

Printable vinyl sticker sheets are generally 8.5″ x 11″ and are printed out of an inkjet or laser printer, then cut out and stuck on a hard, smooth surface such as a tumbler or laptop. They are very similar to stickers that you would buy in a store.


Adhesive vinyl however is not printable and comes in solid colors in 12″ x 12″ size specifically for machine cutters such as Cricut or Silhouette/Brother.

The material is waterproof and permanent (or removable if the packaging states that it is, being less sticky). Adhesive vinyl is used to cut out specific shapes and can also be placed on any smooth, hard surface. 


Unlike printable vinyl, it comes in a vast array of colors and finishes, including glitter, holographic, glossy, matte, chrome, and much more. 


The only way to use adhesive vinyl is to cut it out with a machine cutter- scissors are too rudimentary to cut detailed designs.



Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV) for heat presses and irons are completely different than the two above mentioned vinyl materials.


 HTV is split into to categories – printable HTV (for T-shirts and heat resistant clothing measuring in 8.5″ x 11″ size) an non printed HTV which comes in a variety of colors and finishes like adhesive vinyl. 


The most common sizing for HTV is 10″ x 12″ and is used with machine cutters such as Cricut and Silhouette. The terms HTV, iron on vinyl, and heat press vinyl are all interchangeable – they mean the same thing. 


What Can Printable Vinyl Be Used for?

Printable vinyl can be used for anything a sticker could.  The same applies for adhesive vinyl sheets. Examples include:

  • Laptops
  • tumblers and mugs
  • walls
  • bumper stickers
  • phone cases
  • equipment labels
  • Skateboards
  • And any other smooth hard surface!

What can HTV be used for?

Heat transfer vinyl is used for clothing and heat resistant fabrics (cotton and polyester) including:

  • T-shirts
  • Hoodies and jackets
  • backpacks 
  • Blankets
  • Pillow Cases
  • Koozies
  • Tote bags
  • Dish towels
In the end- its helpful to know the distinctions between the variety of vinyl materials on the market. 
Each has their own unique properties and applications. 
Just don’t make the mistake of trying to print on adhesive vinyl sheets for Cricut machines or try to put printable vinyl stickers on soft items- know their strengths and weaknesses and you will be able to master the art of crafting with these materials in no time!


All in all, each of the 3 main types of printable vinyl are extremely valuable assets to add to your crafting arsenal.  

For the highest visual appeal, we give the crown to glossy printable vinyl, with its photo-quality prints and beautiful high shine surface. 


For the lowest profile and most professional looking image we find that clear printable vinyl is the winner. However be sure to only use clear printable vinyl on white colored surfaces for the best contrast. 


In terms of all around durability and versatility- matte printable vinyl is the best option by far. 


Its key strengths are its waterproof and dishwasher safe features. 


However this comes at price of slightly degraded printing resolution in some cases, unless you adjust your printer settings carefully.


 The best way to null all of the negative attributes of printable vinyl you can simply place a clear laminating sheet over top of your printed decal. 


This will completely waterproof the surface, allowing you to place your stickers outdoors and even in the dishwasher for hundreds of washing cycles.


 If you have never experimented with printable vinyl to create custom stickers we highly recommend giving it a try.


 Printable vinyl is very safe and non-toxic, and prints through your printer flawlessly, allowing you dream up a design and print it out as a completely customizable sticker. 


For a full spectrum assortment of printable vinyl options visit our amazon storefront, we have every possible arrangement of printable vinyl that you could possibly ask for. 


Happy Crafting!

Michael from Royal Elements


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