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Street Race Truck More... The Toolbox

How to Install Pedal Car Vinyl Graphics

3/6/2018

I started installing vinyl graphics when I was a college freshman. I was taught by a Speedway co-worker and perfection was the name of his game. Applying vinyl graphics is easy and you’re sure to get a professional look if you follow these instructions and helpful tips.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Windex and soft cloth
  • Ruler, scissors, tape, squeegee
  • Your vinyl graphic
  • Your pedal car

I used Speedway's Murray Comet Style Pedal Car for this installation.

Step 1: Prepare Yourself

The installation process is much easier if your vinyl graphics are ready and your supplies are within arm’s reach.

  • Prepare your vinyl - If I’m installing white vinyl, I will mark the top and bottom of the graphic with a horizontal line so I can easily identify the graphic underneath the transfer paper. For this installation example, the vinyl is purple, so I can easily see the design’s edges through the transfer paper.
  • Prepare your workspace – You’ll want your ruler, scissors, tape and squeegee within arm’s reach.

Step 2: Prepare the Surface

Clean the area where the graphic will be applied. I’m a fan of Windex and a soft cloth. Paper towels will do in a pinch, if you’re persistent about not leaving behind paper particles.

Step 3: Position, Measure, Reposition

Position the graphic roughly where you’d like it installed. Place a piece of tape at the top center of the graphic so it’s lightly attached to the car.

The goal is to perfect the location of the decal using a ruler and move it in tiny increments in the correct direction. With tricky surfaces, I choose a point from which to measure, in this case, the top of the fender line is painted silver so I used it as my visual cue. I measured from the silver line up to the bottom of my decal. When the front of the decal and the back of the decal were both ½” from the silver fender line, I secured the decal with more tape.

Step 4: Install Half of the Vinyl

At the center point of the decal, place a piece of tape down the entire graphic. Slowly peel the backing paper away from top transfer paper, up to the centerline tape. Make sure the vinyl graphic is stuck to the top transfer paper. Use scissors to cut off the peeled backing paper. Be sure your scissors don’t accidentally scratch your painted surface.

Pull the graphic away from the tape centerline and begin to slowly lay it onto the pedal car, using your fingers and a squeegee to fully press it into place. You can remove the positioning masking tape at this point.

Step 5: Install the Other Half

Now that one half of the graphic has been installed, it will help guide the rest of the graphic into place. Remove the remaining backing paper and guide the vinyl onto the pedal car. Use a squeegee to press the vinyl down into place.

Step 6: Peel Off the Transfer Paper

Slowly peel the transfer paper away from the graphic and vehicle. I’ve learned that if you peel from a low angle, you’re less likely to pull up or tear the vinyl. Go slow and push down any edges that didn’t fully adhere to the car.

If you see bubbles under the vinyl, don’t panic. Vinyl is a breathable material and will allow the bubbles to eventually seep away. If you want to speed up this process, set your pedal car in the warm sun. It’s not a good idea to use a harsh heat source like a heat gun. Overheated vinyl may pucker, shrink or turn glossy as it starts to melt.

Most pedal car vinyl sets include a right and left side. Most often, they are just reflected designs. Use the same process to install the other graphic.

Other Helpful Hints:

  • Never apply vinyl graphics in a cold area or on a cold pedal car. The vinyl will not be as flexible and may not adhere properly.
  • Remember how picky I was in Step 3? That’s the method which allows me to be as neurotic as I want. Another option is to draw placement lines on your pedal car using a grease pencil to help you position the graphic correctly. The grease pencil line can be gently rubbed away after the graphic has been applied.
  • If you’re not concerned about perfection or if your graphic doesn’t need to be in an exact location, a quick and dirty way of installing graphics utilizes Windex. Spray your surface completely with Windex, peel the backing paper from your vinyl and slap that sucker onto the surface. The Windex will allow you to slide the graphic around a little to get it in place. Then squeegee the vinyl to remove excess Windex and remove the transfer paper. If it’s hot outside, you’ll need to work rather quickly. As soon as the Windex dries, the adhesive will start to grab hold.

The graphic I just installed was developed to work specifically with this Comet pedal car body and meant to emulate one of Doug Wolfgang’s Speedway sponsored sprint cars from the ‘70s. The following photos show the rest of the installation process.

I removed the windshield to allow the full installation of the hood graphic.

Then I installed the hood vinyl the same way I mounted the side panels.

I used a knife to pierce the vinyl to allow the windshield tab to be reinstalled.

And easy-peasy. If you work slowly and carefully, you’ll finish with a professional looking project. Good luck with your pedal car vinyl installation!

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