Install small dimensional letters as if they were vinyl graphics

By Rich Lee

Posted on Friday, July 1st, 2022

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I’ve done a lot of different sign work over the past 30 years, and one thing that was always kind of tedious was installing small dimensional letters. I used to pounce a pattern on the wall then install it one letter at a time. Then I had to carefully clean the pounce pattern off the wall. It was all pretty time consuming.

A few years back I was installing a set of these for a customer, and I had four more sets to install at other branches. I decided to install them as if they were vinyl graphics. I used the process shown here, and it worked great. The letters you see in these photos were 1⁄4-in.-thick water-jet cut dimensional letters, but I’ve used it with letters up to 1⁄2-in. thick with no problem. It works best for letters 6-in. tall and under.

I save the clear release film that comes on translucent vinyl film for this purpose. It has one glossy side and one matte side. The vinyl comes adhered to the glossy side, and that’s the side you use to cover the 3M VHB tape. If you’re doing a sign with a lot of small letters, or if you’re doing 1⁄2-in. thick letters, leave a little more release film and application tape below the graphics. That lets the graphics meet the wall at a lower angle because the tape hinge is further away.

I hope this saves you some time, just as it has for me.

Rich Lee’s shop, ERI Graphics, is in Eugene, Oregon.

This appeared in the March/April 2008 issue of SignCraft.

1. Tape your pen plot paper pattern to the bench, then tape a sheet of translucent liner over it. Make sure the slick, glossy side of the liner is up.

2. Apply 3M VHB tape to the back of the letters. Peel the backing off the letters and stick them to the translucent liners, using the pattern for registration.

3. Once all the letters are down, apply application tape over them. Use a roller to press it on to the letters, then squeegee the tape down on the open areas of the liner around the letters.

4. Center and level the paper pattern where the letters will be installed. That’s easier than positioning the graphics on the wall. Take measurements, remove the pattern and position the graphics.

5. Tape the graphics in position, then remove the pattern and hinge the graphics at the bottom, using a couple of wide strips of tape. The lettering is heavy so you need a strong hinge.

6. Flip the graphics down and peel off the translucent liner, exposing the tabs of VHB tape. Next, I stick a yardstick to the application tape at the top of the graphics to make it easier to handle.

7. Flip the graphics back up, keeping the transfer tape taut. Press each letter firmly onto the substrate to insure a good bond.

8. Peel off the application tape and you’re done. It’s as easy as applying vinyl lettering to a window.

9. Here’s the result. These are 1⁄4-in. water-jet cut letters, but I’ve had success with this method on letters up to 1⁄2-in. thick.