In motorsports, the data has clearly proven numerous times that nothing makes a racecar faster around a track than the simple mod of adding more stickers. We have covered how to cut your own stickers in the Toolshed Engineer column and how to use a vinyl die-cutting plotter to etch glass or how to make a track map white board. What we haven’t done is tell you how to apply those fancy new horsepower-creating stickers straight on your car. What seems like a simple process turns out to be not that simple at all. With stickers you have one shot to place them correctly, evenly and straight. If you mess up that one shot, your sticker will be heading to the trash can.
On my race team, sticker placement has been my job since the inception of Double Nickel Nine Motorsports. I don’t know why I have been assigned this job because I have proven over and over again that I can’t do it correctly. It drives my brother absolutely crazy when he sees stickers on the car crooked. Regardless, the team still allows me to mess this up continually. I don’t intentionally do this to our cars. I take pride in how our cars look. But, what I have found is when you are squatting down on the ground about to slap a sticker on a car you are very close to the bodywork and from that perspective you completely loose the overall view of the car and the ground, and if the sticker you are about to slap on a car is angled correctly. From that experience, I have placed on the car a lot of crooked stickers.
Experience is the best teacher and failure is always a nice reminder that things can be done better. Eventually, I started paying attention to what professional graphic designers were doing and stole a few techniques from them. Start by using a well-lighted place to work, with no breeze. Wind loves to play havoc with stickers. The next pro tip is to have some painter’s tape, sharp scissors and nice squeegee.
Modern cars these days don’t have a single straight edge to use as a reference to place a sticker straight on a car. Car designs today are dynamic flowing aerodynamic blobs that don’t help one bit when looking to place a decal on a car that is level to the ground. The solution to this problem is to place the car on a level surface and then extend the plane of the ground up so that when the car is going down the track the sticker you are trying to add will appear level to the eye of a viewer. This can be done by simply cutting a piece of a cardboard box to the height you want the decal. This cardboard is extending the plane of the ground up to the height of the sticker.
Determine how high you want a sticker on a car and then cut a cardboard box that you have around the shop from your latest Amazon shipment for car parts to use as a plane. It helps to cut an even square shape out of the cardboard. Otherwise this whole project was a waste of time. Once you have the plane cut, then set the cardboard against the car. You can slightly adjust the angle of the cardboard to change the height of the sticker. As long as the cardboard is straight on the top and bottom and the car is sitting on a level surface this “plane concept” will work regardless if the cardboard is leaning against the car. Then use a piece of painter’s tape to trace the height of the cardboard so the cardboard can be moved out of the way for more work space to place the sticker level on the car.
Now that you have a level location for the sticker, allow me to provide a few more tips for placing the sticker perfectly level on that newly located plane. This method helps, especially for larger more complicated stickers, to place things level on a car. The trick is not to remove all of the backing paper from the sticker prior to placing it on a car. Instead we will only pull half of it away and use our scissors to cut half of that backing paper away.
The workflow goes like this: First ensure the bottom of your sticker with backing paper and masking tape has a perfectly straight cut at the bottom. This edge will be mated with the level painter’s tape on the car to ensure the sticker is level. Peel half of the backing paper away finding a natural stopping point (like between two numbers). Cut away half of the backing paper with scissors so the backing paper you don’t need is out of your way. Then, holding away from the car the sticky portion of your sticker, place the portion of the sticker that still has backing paper on the car, ensuring the bottom of the sticker is level with the painter’s tape on the car. Based on this work flow everything should be perfectly level. And since you have not placed the sticker portion of the sticker on the car, you can take your time to move the sticker up and down to ensure it exactly where you want it. Now squeegee down the sticky side of the sticker onto the car. Then peel the backing paper from the other side of the sticker and then squeegee that side down. This process is easy and it is a game changer.
Now we have a perfectly level sticker on our car exactly where we want it. Squeegee some more to ensure there are no air bubbles under the stickers. Then remove the masking tape to leave behind your perfectly level sticker. Awesome.
What you will be left with is a perfectly level sticker placed on your car with no air bubbles. Underneath that sticker will be the temporary painter’s tape you used as a guide. Pull that off of the car and head to the race track to put the added horsepower from more stickers to the test.
Taking the time to place stickers on your car in a way that is aesthetically pleasing to the eye will help you appear like a more professional racer. Even if you are a completely unprofessional person, your stickers don’t have to give that away. Take your time with this process. Patience ensures your stickers go on correctly. Good luck and I’ll see you at the track looking sharp!