Connect with us

Vehicles + Vinyl

Tools of the Trade

Jim offers tips on equipment that can help you love your job.



With the right pressure-sensitive film and tools, you can decorate just about anything — riveted and corrugated trucks, concrete or textured walls. While professional tools won’t automatically make you a professional, you can’t do a professional job without them.

Many tools are relatively inexpensive and readily available from a distributor. Some distributors even offer vinyl-installation tools in a pre-packaged kit. The best such kit is Jay Lansburg’s Installation Kit for Sign Artists.

My personal vinyl kit includes rivet brushes, plastic squeegees, felt squeegees, an air-release tool, low-friction sleeves and an assortment of cutting tools. This compact kit has everything I need, and fits in my suitcase.

Some subtle differences between tool brands exist, so try various products and use what works for you.

Squeegees 101

Used to burnish pressure-sensitive vinyl, a squeegee is little more than a thin, flat, 3 x 4-in. piece of plastic. Nevertheless, it’s an installer’s most important tool. Although squeegees look alike, their hardnesses can differ.


Soft squeegees nick and wear out easily, and often generate tiny bubbles in the vinyl. Thus, professional installers generally prefer hard, nylon squeegees. They cost more ($2.50 to $3.50 each), but they last longer than their flimsy counterparts, and their stiffness forces air from the film.

When applying vinyl graphics to corrugated or contoured surfaces, however, a softer squeegee usually works much better. With the right pressure, the more flexible squeegee conforms better to the curves.

Before starting, inspect your squeegee’s edges, which should be smooth and straight. Using squeegees with nicked, bowed or uneven edges often causes bubbles. Most squeegees with nicks or burrs can be sharpened by vigorously rubbing the edge of one against the head of another. Sharpening should become a habit.

European installers often prefer felt squeegees, which are sold in different densities, shapes and thicknesses. At a price range of $8 to $10, the denser and harder felt squeegees are usually preferred for vinyl applications. My advice is to try numerous squeegees, and use what works for you.

Low-friction sleeves

After applying vinyl and removing the application tape, squeegee the edges again to prevent them from lifting. Without the protection of application tape, hard squeegees can easily scratch bare vinyl.


To protect vinyl, use a low-friction sleeve. Comprising reinforced paper, these sleeves slip over a squeegee and cost only 20



Introducing the Sign Industry Podcast

The Sign Industry Podcast is a platform for every sign person out there — from the old-timers who bent neon and hand-lettered boats to those venturing into new technologies — we want to get their stories out for everyone to hear. Come join us and listen to stories, learn tricks or techniques, and get insights of what’s to come. We are the world’s second oldest profession. The folks who started the world’s oldest profession needed a sign.

Promoted Headlines

Most Popular