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Stickers vs. Decals – What is the Difference?

Stickers and decals are both popular options for customizing surfaces with designs, information, or colors.

While they may seem similar, there are important differences between the two.

Understanding these differences is crucial to ensure you choose the right option for your needs.

In this article, we will explore the disparities between stickers and decals, and how they can impact your projects.

Decal Stickers: A Common Misconception

The term “decal sticker” is often used interchangeably, leading to confusion among consumers.

While not all labels or decals are stickers, and not all stickers are decals, vendors sometimes use both terms to attract customers.

This further adds to the confusion surrounding the difference between decals and vinyl stickers.

Stickers vs. Decals: The Basics

Stickers are composed of two layers: a backing paper that protects the adhesive, and the design itself, which has adhesive on the back.

On the other hand, decals consist of three layers: a transport paper that covers the adhesive, the design with adhesive on the back, and a flexible transfer layer on top of the design.

The addition of the transfer layer is what sets decals apart from stickers.

Similarities Between Stickers and Decals

Before delving into the differences, it’s important to note the similarities between stickers and decals. Both options:

  • Come with the adhesive needed to stick to most solid surfaces.
  • Can be highly customized using free online design tools.
  • Can be made of paper or plastic, but the best quality ones are printed on vinyl.
  • Can incorporate any combination of colors, images, and text.
  • Can be cut into custom shapes.
  • Can be used to make additions and edits to existing vinyl banners.
  • Provide a quick and easy way to customize surfaces.

Choosing Between Stickers and Decals

The key factor in choosing between stickers and decals is the size and complexity of the design.

Decals are typically larger and more intricate, requiring the use of a clear transfer layer to properly affix the smooth surface of the sticker to a desired surface.

Smooth surfaces such as cars, metal, and glass are ideal for decorative decal stickers, as they enhance the appearance of these objects.

However, vinyl stickers can be used on any smooth surface, including laptops, water bottles, car doors, vehicle bumpers, and storefront glass windows.

decal with transfer film being peeled back

The Need for a Transfer Layer in Decals

The difference between decals and stickers becomes more apparent when considering the need for a transfer layer.

Decals are often larger and more complex in shape, making it difficult to manage them without the risk of wrinkles, tearing, or improper adhesion.

For example, when adding script text to a wall, a decorative sticker would be printed on a solid vinyl sheet and attached to the wall as a whole.

In contrast, a decal with script text would be die-cut, following the outline of each letter.

The solid, transparent transfer layer holds each letter in place until the decal is attached to the wall.

Once the transfer layer is removed, only the script letters remain, without any blank vinyl connecting them.


In summary, while stickers and decals share similarities, such as their adhesive properties and customizability, there are distinct differences between the two.

Stickers consist of two layers, while decals have an additional transfer layer.

Decals are typically larger and more complex, requiring the use of a transfer layer to ensure proper placement.

Understanding these differences will help you make an informed decision when choosing between stickers and decals for your projects.

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