How to install vintage stripes

Getting ready to install the vinyl stripes on this 1993 Limited Edition Mazda Miata

Prep the car by washing it really well. Optionally apply a fresh coat of wax.

I had the honor of installing some of my stripes on the flanks of a local owner’s ’93LE recently. We took tons of photos of the process so that I could break down the process for my customers and website visitors.

Let me note that the instructions on this page detail just one method for installing the stripes. There is not just one way to do this. Everyone who has done a vinyl installation before will give you a different opinion on the best approach to the job. And that’s perfectly fine! The takeaway from this is that you need to be flexible. This isn’t rocket science. You’re applying a giant sticker to your car. That’s all. If you keep that in mind and keep yourself flexible, the tips in this writeup will get you the results you want. That is…the stripes stuck onto your car right where you want them.

Let’s start with the tools of the trade.

Some of the tools you'll need to install your vinyl

Some of what you need: Tape measure, blue painter's tape, razor blade, soapy water and the stripes.

What you will need:

• Your stripes
• A spray bottle full of water and a few drops to an ounce (don’t need a ton) of car-washing soap
• A ruler or tape measure. This will be touching your car so if you’re concerned about scratching the paint use something less abrasive.
• Blue painters tape
• An Xacto knife, matte knife or other sharp razor blade tool
• Something to use as a squeegee. We used a driver’s license for the car in these photos
• A hair dryer or heat gun with a “low” setting

Wash the car
You want your car to be as clean as possible prior to sticking the vinyl on. Vinyl is very, very thin and conforms very exactly to whatever it’s applied to. If there is a hair or a grain of sand underneath it, you will see it. Granted, you’ll probably only see it if your nose is to the surface of the car. But, still, don’t apply vinyl to a dirty car.

You may also want to apply a fresh coat of wax to the rocker panels. In the event that you choose to remove the vinyl in the future you’ll be happy you did. This will make it a bit easier to pull off after time has gone by.

Test fit of the stripes on the side of the car

Tape the stripes up and decide where you want them on the car.

Decide where you want the stripes
Take out your blue painter’s tape and tack the stripes up on the side of your car. Stand up and take several steps back. Admire it from a distance and decide if you’d like them higher or lower. Be VERY picky! Make sure you love the position you choose before going further. If it’s hard to tell since the vinyl is still on the backing paper with the transfer tape – here are the measurements for the stripes on my car:

• Bottom edge of the door to the bottom of the stripe: 7/8″
• Leading edge of the door to the top of the “E” in “EUNOS”: 4″
• Leading edge of the door to the bottom of the “E” in “EUNOS”: 3 5/8″

When making your measurements (NA only) you may find it easier to measure from the center body line down to the stripe than from the door up. If your car still has the black stripe along the rocker panel, you may want to measure from this point, too. Measure several places along the length of the stripe to make sure it’s level.

Measuring placement of the stripes for this Miata

Measure out where you want the stripes and place markers down the side of the car with blue painter's tape.

Measure. Measure. Measure.
I gave you some measurements above. You may or may not use them. Either way – the old adage, “Measure twice, cut once.” definitely applies. Measure a lot. Have patience with yourself. It’s easy to get frustrated as you’re moving things around and it takes a while to get it perfect. Trust me, it’s worth it. Nothing will bug you more than to look at your car afterwards and know that the stripes are slightly crooked.

Make measurements down the side of your car every 6-10 inches and mark the spot with your blue painter’s tape. This is creating the line that your stripes will follow.

Once you have your carefully measured marks on the side of your car, tape the stripes up for the final time. Bear in mind that this is the final placement. From here the next step is sticking them on. Don’t freak out too much because, as we’ll see, the stripes will still be moveable. But where they end up right now is going to be your final position. So stand back, look from many angles, measure down the length again to make sure they’re straight. Make sure you love it before proceeding.

Cut the stripes to length and at the body lines.

Cut the stripes to length and at the body lines.

Then cut them.

When I make these stripes I give you some extra. This is so that if the front edge of the stripes (behind the front wheels) gets a bit torn up from rocks, stones, etc. you can replace that bit with the extra. This is the part where you cut that extra off. At the front and rear of the stripes, cut the excess off. You only need to leave 1/4″ or less to wrap around the fenders in the wheel wells. But leave your self a little more just in case.

You can also cut the vinyl at the body lines as pictured here. You don’t have to do this now – you can do it after the stripes are stuck on. It’s up to you. Having the stripes cut into segments just makes them a little bit easier to work with since you’re dealing with segments instead of the whole thing as one piece.

Peeling off the backing paper.

Choose an end and start peeling off the backing paper - sticking the vinyl to the car as you go.

Spray and stick.
Now is the time to get your spray bottle out and start soaking it down. From this point forward, keep everything wet with the water & soap solution. Doing so will make your life a little easier.

Spray the stripe segment you’re going to start sticking and spray all of the car’s body that’s near it. Depending on the weather – your application fluid may dry quicker than you notice…so just try and remember to grab the bottle and give it a squirt regularly.

Pick an end of the segment and start peeling off the backing paper. As you’re doing so – don’t un-stick the stripes from the side of the car where they are stuck up with the blue painter’s tape. Just peel the backing paper off and then stick them down onto the car using those blue painter’s tape pieces as a sort of “hinge”. As you do this, your stripes will be placed on the body just where you measured them.

The vinyl will continue to be workable as long as you keep it wet.

The vinyl will continue to be workable as long as you keep it wet.

Once all of the backing paper is off, take a look at how your stripes are sitting on the car – with the transfer tape still on them. If you cut the shut lines on the door, look to see how the stripes on the door are lining up with the end pieces on the fenders.

As long as you’re keeping everything nice and wet, they’ll be movable. You can slide them around by pushing them, or you can simply peel parts of them up and stick them back down. The adhesive on the vinyl stripes will hold up to this kind of work almost indefinitely as long as you keep everything wet.

Make a commitment

This is the easy part! Start at the middle and work your way out towards the edges.

Stick once.
So by now you’ve got everything placed exactly where you want it and you’re ready to make a commitment. It’s time to start squeegeeing. What this will do is force all of the soapy water out from under the vinyl and cause the vinyl’s adhesive to make contact with your paint. This part is not undoable without risking destroying the vinyl. So just realize that you’re committed once you start doing this.

Since the goal here is to squeeze all of the fluid out from under the vinyl, start in the middle and work your way out towards the edges. You are going to see bubbles here and there. You can work them out with the squeegee or with your fingers. If you get some bubbles that seem “stuck” and won’t move you can try pricking them with a pin or the very sharp point of a blade and squeezing the fluid out like you’re popping a pimple. Don’t worry – once the vinyl is out in the sun for several days your bubbles will likely disappear on their own.

Start peeling the transfer tape off in the middle.

Start peeling the transfer tape off in the middle. And keep an eye on the vinyl as you do so.

When you start to peel the transfer tape off of the vinyl, start in the middle and work your way to the edges. Keep an eye on the vinyl as you do so. The vinyl may want to actually stick to the transfer tape as you peel it up. This is due to a number of variables: whether or not you waxed the car, how well you squeegeed, the general temperature of the atmosphere, how long you let it sit before trying to peel it off.

Try and wait at least an hour or two before pulling the transfer tape up. If you’re impatient and the vinyl is trying to come up, just go slowly and use your fingers to keep the vinyl in place as you peel the tape up. Find an angle of peeling that seems to work best to keep the vinyl from coming up. As you can see in the photo, I like to use as severe an angle as I can get. I pretty much pull the transfer tape back onto itself as I peel it off.

You’re almost done.

Use heat GENTLY

Use heat GENTLY. Vinyl is very sensitive to heat and will distort with too much of it.

When you get to the edges and shut lines, you’ll want to curl the vinyl around the sheet metal so that it sticks nice and good. Heat comes in handy here. Warning:apply heat slowly and gently. You’re trying to get the vinyl just to that point where it starts to curl a little bit. If you hit it with too much heat too quickly it will distort, warp, melt and get ugly. A hair dryer is fine. I use my heat gun and I just hit it with short bursts of heat on “low” until I see it start to curl. Then I press it in place with my fingers. It does the trick.

You’re done! Well…at least with this side. Don’t forget to do the other side. And don’t forget to email me pretty pictures of your car! As soon as I have enough customer photos I will start a gallery featuring all of your sweet, nostalgic rides.

Sit back and proudly admire your work.