What is the Difference Between a Decal and a Sticker?

What's the Difference Between a Decal and a Sticker?

Remember those “Spot the Difference” pictures you used to find in kid’s magazines at the dentist office? As helpful as they were with passing the time, someone had always gone before you and circled many of the differences – spoiling the intrigue.

In this article, we plan to circle a few differences ourselves…but in a helpful way! Sticking with the theme of spotting differences, we are providing an answer to a question we’ve been asked by customers for years: what is the difference between a decal and a sticker?

Defining Stickers vs. Decals 

When searching for differences between two similar terms, it’s usually best to start by examining each of the terms individually. For our purposes, this means asking two fundamental questions:

1) What is a Sticker?

Definition:

Stickers are generally printed or illustrated marketing graphics with a temporary adhesive used to improve brand awareness or act as a leave-behind.

What it’s made from:

Often produced in high quantities at low-cost, stickers are generally screen printed or printed digitally on low-end vinyl or polyester materials.

Stickers are usually computer cut, die-cut, thermal die cut, or flat cut depending on their shape. A clear coat or layer of UV protection is rarely added in order to save on production costs.

Marketing applications:

Bumper stickers, trade show handouts, etc.

2) What is a Decal?

Definition:

Decals can be described as durable, long-term graphics solutions with a permanent or semi-permanent adhesive utilized for product/business branding, mobile advertising, and product labeling.

What it’s made from:

Rugged, high-end outdoor vinyl, polyester, or Lexan (polycarbonate) materials are commonly used to produce business decals.

Because of their extensive usage, decals almost always include a layer of UV protection (clear coat or laminate) to keep them looking sharp in various conditions.

High-end decals are generally screen printed or printed digitally and cut with either a thermal-die cutter, steel-rule die cutter, flat cutter, or computer cutter.

Marketing applications:

OEM product branding, hazard/warning labels, vehicle graphics, wall graphics, etc.

Decals on Equipment _ WISPI

What are the Main Differences Between Decals and Stickers?

When comparing the two types of adhesive graphics, it’s clear that although they can be somewhat similar in appearance, they are actually very different in many ways. 

It simply boils down to what your marketing needs are and how you plan to use them.

If you’re looking for a quick, cost-effective graphic with a temporary adhesive for a basic marketing hand-out/leave-behind, ordering stickers is an excellent choice for you.

If you are in the market for a much more hard-wearing, versatile graphic product with long-term adhesive strength, decals are the right way to go. Although they require a greater investment upfront, these rugged graphics will far outlast their less expensive counterparts.

Where Does All the Confusion Come From?

To answer this question, we asked our very own Sales Director, Kevin Smith, who has 25+ years of experience in the field, to chime in with his two cents:

“I think it’s basically just an issue of terminology. Most people can relate to the idea of a sticker more so than they can a decal. 

I always think back to when I was a kid and putting model cars or airplanes together. You used to get a sheet of paper with decals on them that you’d have to soak in water, remove from the paper, and apply directly to the model.

Modern marketing and branding decals have come a long way since then. Today, we’re able to produce both highly durable, long-lasting decals and captivating, cost-effective stickers for our customers like clockwork.

If we can help to clear up the confusion, I think most people can easily understand how their marketing might benefit from one or the other.”


Are you interested in having decals or stickers produced? Our skilled graphics professionals at Wisconsin Screen Process (WISPI) would love to lend a helping hand.

We have extensive experience designing, creating, and delivering effective stickers and decals for companies throughout Wisconsin and beyond. Simply contact us online today or give us a call at 262.639.0990.

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