Printable Vinyl 101 – Everything You Need to Know to Get Started!

Printable Vinyl 101 – Everything You Need to Know to Get Started!

Printable vinyl is one of those hidden gems in the crafting world. Recently it has receive a lot more attention, with a wide variety of options becoming available on market places such as Amazon. Some crafters may be away of Cricut printable vinyl for die-cuts, but to their surprise that there is much more to be explored. Not only is printable vinyl waterproof and tear resistant, it is also completely customizable and compatible with Cricut, Silhouette Cameo, and every other machine cutter on the market.

Another astonishing fact about printable vinyl is that it also comes in all sorts of thickness, materials, and finishes- notable clear printable vinyl and glossy printable vinyl. Not long ago the only option available was matte printable vinyl- but it has its limitations and not everyone finds it as visually appealing as the before mentioned vinyls.

Printable vinyl is NOT just regular sticker paper– it is much more durable and professional, able to even stand intense dishwasher cycles without even a hint of damage. Each variation of printable vinyl has its own set of pros and cons which we will explore in the rest of this article. We will compare them, display their key features, and rate them to help you decide which option best suits your craft. Let’s begin!

what is printable vinyl infographic explanation glossy clear and matte differences

What Are the Different Types of Printable Vinyl?

There are 3 main types of printable vinyl- glossy, clear, and matte. Each has its own unique properties and strengths, however they all have their achilles heals so to speak. You want to be careful when selecting your brand of printable vinyl- because some provide different materials than other and also thickness varies greatly brand to brand. Generally, if a vinyl is too thick it will cause printer issues such as jamming, low quality images, and even damage your printer heads.

  1. Glossy Printable Vinyl

Glossy printable vinyl has a beautiful shine and prints in extremely high resolution with near photo-like quality. Glossy printable vinyl sticker paper is best suited for indoor projects that typically won’t take heavy abuse. Some examples for using glossy printable vinyl are custom candle labels, tumblers, laptop stickers and activity planners.

glossy printable vinyl on glitter tumbler
Glossy Printable Vinyl

However it tends to be less water-resistant, and sometimes black ink will run and smear on contact with water due to the composition of the ink type that tends to not lock into the surface of the vinyl as well at it should. If you plan on creating a custom bumper sticker, glossy printable vinyl may cause some issues. We recently had a customer tell us that he took his glossy printable vinyl printed bumper sticker through a car wash, which resulted in a damaged decal. This could easily be offset with the use of a clear laminating sheet however, which you can simply be placed directly on top of the decal. This will shield your DIY sticker both from harmful debris and UV rays, so it will not fade, crack, or be otherwise damaged by day to day use.

We have also run extensive tests on glossy printable vinyl to test its overall water-proof factor and we found that light mist and temporary water droplets are not an issue, however soaking wet conditions are not sustainable, and the vinyl itself will take a toll. After 3-6 months the vinyl may start to corrode and deteriorate if left outside during rainy seasons. The adhesive backing is also an important factor- you want to check with your provider to make sure that it is water-based glue (as opposites to solvent-based) if you plan on putting it on an object that you would like to remain free of adhesive goo if you plan on removing it.

glossy printable vinyl sticker
Glossy printable vinyl die-cut sticker

Water-based glue is permanent and highly effective, and will not leave residue if you choose to remove it. Solvent-base glue is unnecessary in most cases, and may cause a gooey residue to remain on the surface after you remove the decal. This could easily be fixed with goo-gone or warm water and soap. You will want to use a plastic bristle brush to remove it easily. A sponge will tend to be difficult to remove adhesive reside with.

All in all- glossy printable vinyl has beautiful photo-like printing capabilities, however it is not suitable for long-term exposure to harsh elements such as rain unless accompanied with a laminating sheet.

best inkjet glossy printable vinyl

2. Clear Printable Vinyl

Clear printable vinyl is another beautiful option to consider when shopping for printable sticker paper. Clear vinyl has a unique look due to the fact that once the decal is removed from the backing sheet- all of the areas of the image that appear white on the page will be clear. This is especially useful if you want to have a low-profile outline when printing a sticker off, so that your decal almost melts in with the background.

clear printable vinyl on glitter tumbler with epoxy
Clear printable vinyl

Clear printable vinyl also does very well against rain and debris, better than glossy printable vinyl. This is useful if you plan on exposing your coffee mug (with clear printable vinyl on it) to hand washing or rinsing and other forms of debris. However it is important to note that clear printable vinyl is not dishwasher safe. The ink will likely wash away eventually, especially with the heating element and soap accompanied with dishwashing. This probably can again be remedied by the use of a clear laminating sheet.

clear printable vinyl sticker example of panda
Clear printable vinyl sticker

However it may damage the visual appeal with a clear printed decal and a clear laminating sheet placed over top of it, which will show the seams more prominently of the cut out sticker. Another key point to clear printable vinyl is that it is not suitable for dark color objects because the clear background will fade away and be washed out behind the darker colors. In most cases clear printable vinyl should only be used on white surfaces such as porcelain mugs, or white water bottles.

clear vs glossy printable vinyl on glass candle
Clear vs glossy printable vinyl on glass

Clear printable vinyl is not recommended for use against clear surfaces such as glass candles either. Clear printable vinyl really needs a bright white item to be placed on in order to get the maximum contrast and allow the ink to stand out against the surface.

clear printable vinyl on glitter tumbler
Clear printable vinyl against dark background - NOT RECOMMENDED
best clear printable vinyl

3. Matte Printable Vinyl

Finally we come to matte printable vinyl. Scoring extremely high on durability and utility it makes an excellent heavy duty choice for items such as sports equipment, water bottles, tumblers, and bumper stickers. However this comes at the slight cost of sacrificing a little printing resolution and visual appeal. Matte printable vinyl, once printed, is immediately ready for action. You can put it on mail boxes, car bumpers, and mugs and other dish ware. You don’t have to worry about the durability either, it is completely dishwasher safe.

printable vinyl on glitter tumbler
matte printable vinyl

Due to the PVC  material with a waterproof coating built into the vinyl itself, once ink meets the vinyl it is locked in within 5 minutes. For Cricut and Silhouette users, matte printable vinyl is their best friend because it is machine cutting compatible. This is because the the glossy surface of clear and glossy printable vinyl makes your machine scanner not be able to recognize the print and cut lines. However due to matte printable vinyl’s non reflective surface, your die-cutting machine can easily recognize the cutting lines and act swiftly to cut out your decal with laser precision.

printable vinyl sticker of seahorse
matte printable vinyl stickers

One notable downside of matte printable vinyl however is that it tends to attract dirt, dust, and debris onto its surface after a while. This causes the once bright white surface to be dulled and tinged with a brownish color, especially if you put it through the dishwasher and it comes in contact with debris that can stain it. The ultimate way to combat this is to apply an adhesive laminating sheet.

best printable vinyl matte


All in all, each of the 3 main types of printable vinyl are extremely valuable assets to add to your crafting arsenal. For the highest visual appeal, we give the crown to glossy printable vinyl, with its photo-quality prints and beautiful high shine surface. 

For the lowest profile and most professional looking image we find that clear printable vinyl is the winner. However be sure to only use clear printable vinyl on white colored surfaces for the best contrast. 

In terms of all around durability and versatility- matte printable vinyl is the best option by far. Its key strengths are its waterproof and dishwasher safe features. However this comes at price of slightly degraded printing resolution in some cases, unless you adjust your printer settings carefully. The best way to null all of the negative attributes of printable vinyl you can simply place a clear laminating sheet over top of your printed decal. This will completely waterproof the surface, allowing you to place your stickers outdoors and even in the dishwasher for hundreds of washing cycles.

 If you have never experimented with printable vinyl to create custom stickers we highly recommend giving it a try. Printable vinyl is very safe and non-toxic, and prints through your printer flawlessly, allowing you dream up a design and print it out as a completely customizable sticker. For a full spectrum assortment of printable vinyl options visit our amazon storefront, we have every possible arrangement of printable vinyl that you could possibly ask for. 

Happy Crafting!

Michael from Royal Elements

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