A decal is a substrate that has a design, pattern or image on it which is meant to be transferred to another surface. The word decal refers to either the substrate or the design it contains. Decals are sometimes called transfers.

Decals are usually made from plastic, paper or vinyl. Depending on the type of decal, they can be applied to a wide range of substrates such as plastics, wood, coated metals, glass, painted products, leather, fabrics and rubber.

Transferring the design that the decal contains can be done dry or using either heat or water.

  • Vinyl-cut-decals are stickers with an adhesive backing. After peeling off the base, the decal is applied to the surface. This is called the peel-and-stick process.
  • Heat transfer decals or thermal transfers are typically used to apply lettering and logos to equipment or other objects. A hot stamping machine is used to apply the decal to the substrate. The heat and pressure assure the decal is more permanent and resistant than other decorating methods.
  • Water-slide decals and water-dip decals use an adhesive that loosens when it comes in contact with water. Once wet the decal can be repositioned if needed. This should not be done that much or the  glue starts to dissolve. Once the decal is in the correct position a squeegee is used to apply it permanently. This process is ideally suited for larger graphics. It is for instance used for applying decals to vehicles.

Printing decals

Decals are typically printed using inkjet devices or using screen printing.

Applications for decals


Decals are used to decorate objects such as guitars, model airplanes and cars or snowboards. Ceramic decals are used to apply designs to tableware, tiles and decorative pieces.


Wall decals or wall stickers can be used for informational purposes, for example in museums or for exhibitions.

Government agencies use decals on vehicles for identification purposes. These are called fleet markings.


In wrap advertising a vehicle such as a car, bus or truck is completely or partially covered by an advertisement. This turns the vehicle into a mobile billboard. Below are some examples of creative wrap advertising on busses.

Wrap advertising on a bus - Perth ZooWrap advertising on a bus - TrimaxWrap advertising on a bus - Monster.comWrap advertising on a bus - Bern AirportWrap advertising on a bus - Copenhagen ZooAdditional examples can be found on this page about bus advertisements.