Decal vs. Sticker: What’s the Difference?

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Explore the fascinating world of stickers and stickers! Reveal key differences, uses, and tips so you can choose the right option for your needs.

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Last Updated on March 27, 2024 by Packoi Team

Decals and stickers often get mixed up. They both have a paper backing and an adhesive layer, but they do have certain distinctions. In this article, let’s explore the key differences between a sticker and a decal to· select the right product for your specific needs.

What Is a Decal?


Decals are typically used for decorative purposes. They can be applied on windows, walls, trucks, cars, or even floors. Businesses use window decals to advertise their products/services and attract people passing by their business storefront. They can be used both for outdoor and indoor applications.

Decals have three layers:

  1. Transfer paper– the non-adhesive film that holds the sticker together
  2. Decal– the actual sticker layer
  3. Backing paper- the bottom layer that clings to the adhesive side of the sticker layer

What Is a Sticker?


Stickers are made of thinner materials like paper, but they can come in different shapes and sizes and can be printed on rolls and sheets. They’re easier to apply to any surface, but they are mainly used indoors as they don’t withstand external elements that well. With prolonged outdoor use, the ink and materials will break down and fade very quickly. 

Stickers are usually laminated with a clear matte or glossy finish on top. It’s just a peel-and-stick process that’s easy to apply and remove.

Stickers generally have only two layers: a decorative layer with the design on the front, an adhesive layer on the back, an adhesive label, and a paper layer that protects the adhesive.

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The Difference Between a Stickers and a Decal

All wall decals are stickers (since they all have sticky backs), but not all stickers are decals. Let’s explore their differences in terms of material, durability, application process, and usage scenarios.

Key PointDecalSticker
MaterialMake from vinyl, polyethylene, polyester, polycarbonate, or a variety of other plasticsCan be made of paper, pet, or vinyl– depending on the custom request
DurabilityMore durableSusceptible to peeling and tearing over time
Application ProcessMore permanent. Installation can either be wet or dry.Easy to apply and remove
Usage ScenariosDecor for windows, floors, vehicles, wallsAdheres to plastic, wood, metal, wood, and other materialsPerfect for illustrations, logos, or shipping labelsFor smaller items like water bottles, product packing, laptop, etc

1. Material and Durability

custom stickers

Decals are sturdier than stickers since they’re usually printed onto some special paper that is much more durable. They’re meant for outdoor settings that can be exposed to snow, rain, and other weather conditions. They’re usually made of vinyl material and are digitally printed instead of screen printed.

On the other hand, stickers are just printed directly onto the backing layer, which easily makes it prone to damage. They often fade, deteriorate, and eventually lose their adhesive properties. 

When ordering vinyl decals, it’s best to use permanent adhesive if you are aiming for long-term use. Outdoor vinyl decals can last for up to 5 years. People use decals for their storefronts, outdoor spaces, or even to decorate their vehicles. 

On the other hand, if you’re operating on a budget and need large quantities at a low cost, stickers are highly cost-effective. 

2. Application Process

Decal installation can either be wet or dry. Those without transfer tape should always be installed wet and those with transfer tape can be applied either wet or dry. You can follow the steps below:

1) Decal Wet Install

  1. Clean the surface to wipe away any dust, dirt, or grease that can ruin adhesion. 
  2. Before peeling away the backing, spray the surface with glass cleaner or light soapy water.
  3. Use a squeezer to get rid of air bubbles and excess moisture. Start in the middle of the decal and move outward to the edges. 
  4. Wipe away moisture from around the decal and ensure that the entire surface is dry.

2) Decal Dry Install

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  1. Clean the application surface with rubbing alcohol, a cleaning agent, or soapy water, then dry off before application.
  2. Tape the decal to the surface. You can use temporary adhesive to hold it in place. Make sure it’s leveled off. 
  3. Peel and cut the bottom half of the backing. 
  4. Attach the decal to the surface, starting on one side and then going into a zig-zag pattern to reach the other side. Work your way across the decal and watch out for air bubbles. 
  5. Once it’s all smooth and bubble-free, remove the temporary adhesive, then peel and remove the top half of the backing.
  6. Press and apply. You can use a squeegee or any flat-edged object using the same zig-zag motion. 

3) Applying Stickers

Stickers are easier to apply, but you still have to be thorough. Otherwise, it will turn out to be a twisted clump of paper or a wrinkled eyesore. Follow the steps below to ensure it’s sticking properly:

  1. Again, always start with a clean and dry surface.
  2. Stickers are perfect for indoor use, so it’s best to apply them to a surface away from direct sunlight.
  3. You can use masking tape to temporarily fix the sticker in the proper location. 
  4. Then, you can peel off the backing paper to expose the adhesive, hold onto the bottom edge, lower the sticker, and then position and align it correctly.
  5.  Once it’s in place, use a soft, clean fabric cloth or your fingers to smooth out air bubbles beneath the sticker. Start from the center, then move towards the outer edges. 
  6. Apply pressure and give it time to set.

3. Usage Scenarios


Since stickers are cheaper than decals, they are usually preferred for budget-friendly campaigns. If it’s only for short-term use, like for beautifying your packaging or giveaways, stickers can be a cost-effective and flexible option. You can customize stickers according to different designs, colors, and sizes. 

However, if you’re looking to use it for decorating your business’ truck or vehicle or as marketing materials for your retail store windows, decals can go a long way since they’re better suited for exposure to harsh elements and can stand the test of time. 

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Making the Right Choice for Your Project: Stickers or Decals

When making the right choice for your project, consider the following:

1. Intended use

For short-term use, stickers are a low-tech option that can do the job. However, if you want some heavy-duty sticks that can last for years, decals are the way to go.

Stickers are generally printed and usually used for illustrations and logos, and decals are typically custom-made for windows, floors, vehicles, walls, and other solid surfaces.

2. Size/Quantity

printed decals

Stickers are typically fun, and smaller and are applied to smaller items like water bottles, product labels, packing, cars, or laptops. Many businesses order fun, small-piece stickers in bulk and in large quantities. Meanwhile, decals are usually large and ordered in smaller quantities.

3. Application surface/Location

Decals are more versatile in a way that they can be applied to different types of surfaces, smooth or not. However, it’s still important to choose the right decal printing company since a decal that goes to the floor should be made differently than a decal that is meant for the wall or window.

Work with the right service to ensure product longevity and screen printing quality. The right company will also give its customers an idea of the best course of action and options for their campaigns.

4. Lifespan

Vinyl and polyester are the most durable and common materials used for wall decals. They’re both resistant to moisture, UV radiation, and fluctuations in temperature. The colors also stay vibrant for longer. The materials are so durable that decals printed on floors can retain paint and shape and withstand heavy traffic without easily cracking, tearing, or peeling.

5. Your Budget

If you need large quantities and just need the prints for short-term use, stickers are more cost-effective. However, if you just need one or two really durable pieces, perhaps it makes more sense to go straight to decals to have a promotional or decorative sticker that’s actually meant to last. 

Application Tips for Both Decals and Stickers

Take note that stickers only work on a smooth surface, so if you’re looking to adhere the material to plastic, wood, metal, or wood, decals are the better option. However, decals can be trickier to apply, so if you want easy application and short-term use, you can’t go wrong with cut stickers.

custom stickers

For simpler applications requiring artwork and logo branding, sticker printing is simple, quick, fun, and affordable. They’re durable and also very easy to apply, so if you are holding an event and need to paste stickers quickly and easily into your promotional materials, it makes sense to choose stickers over decals.

But if you need to glue it on windows, floors, automobiles, and other areas for long-term decoration purposes, just use decals for better durability. Decals are more versatile and have many different applications since they can work on a wide range of surfaces, be they smooth or curved. 

Whether you use these die-cut off-cut decals or stickers, it’s, without a doubt, a great way to promote events, increase awareness of your brand, or simply add a nice visual element to your office space. You can even use them as gifts or freebies for potential customers for additional marketing efforts. Just consider your goals and specifications when ordering custom decals or stickers for your business.

Maintenance and Care


Decals are meant for rough and tough usage, so they’re easier to maintain. As for stickers, they can still last for years as long as you keep them indoors. However, gone are the days when stickers are limited to paper backing. You can have stickers made of similar materials as decals, like polyester or vinyl stickers. Vinyl stickers last longer and withstand external conditions better. However, you still need to ensure that you’re attaching them to a flat area or other smooth surfaces.

For decals, regular cleaning can help maintain their appearance and extend their lifespan. If there’s mildew or mold on your decal, you can use sodium percarbonate cleaner to get rid of it but don’t use a scrub pad and rub too hard.

You can also consider applying a silicone or Teflon-based polish to surfaces to add a layer of protection. For stickers, just a clean, damp cloth will do so gently and with no heavy brushing.

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Both stickers and decals can be used as decorations and advertisements. They’ll never lose their charm and noticeability. It’s just a matter of whether it’s an indoor or outdoor setting and whether or not longevity matters.

Other factors should also be considered, such as the quantity, size, budget, and other special requests or specifications you may have. If you have certain requirements in terms of thickness, opacity, adhesion, etc., having custom-made decals is the way to go.

Discover the Perfect Solution for Your Business with Packoi

Whether you need stickers or decals, work with an experienced custom printing company like Packoi. We can deliver high-quality bumper stickers, vinyl-cut stickers, adhesive labels, sign stickers, car stickers, and more.

We’ll guide you on the best types of material and adhesive for your needs and budget. Whether you need an all-around sticker and decal printing service or just expert design services for your logo or marketing materials, we’re here to help. Get in touch today to discuss your requirements. 

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Hey there, I’m Shelly!

I really enjoy the packaging and printing industry because my work makes my clients’ products more beautiful and enjoyable. If you have any questions about packaging and printing, feel free to contact me!

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