So, you're ready to get your logo put on a vehicle, door, or window? There are almost endless ways to accomplish that, with probably the most popular being die cut vinyl, often simply referred to as cut vinyl. If you have ever walked into a store you have seen cut vinyl. Typically it is how store hours, phone number, and name are displayed on a store front. You may have also seen printed vinyl and cut vinyl displayed together, or printed vinyl alone.

It can get a bit confusing when it comes to the differences between cut vinyl and printed vinyl. Cut vinyl simply refers to vinyl that comes on a roll and is one solid color all the way through the vinyl. Printed vinyl comes in white and is printed with the color, with a layer of adhesive that is oftentimes gray to make it opaque.

Cut vinyl comes in two forms, Calendared and Cast. Calendared vinyl is designed to be applied to flat surfaces or simple curved surfaces. Meaning either a flat surface or a surface that curves in only one direction - think of the label on a can of soup. Cast vinyl is designed for compound curves, meaning a surface that curves in two directions at once, like a ball. Cast vinyl is also longer lasting than Calendared vinyl, which is why it also refereed to as Hi-Performance vinyl sometimes. Calendared or Intermediate vinyl is a great choice for a store front, vehicle or any other surface that is flat or a simple curve and not horizontal. Cast, or Hi-Performance, is the only choice for a compound curve.

Cast vinyl will also last longer outdoors in direct sunlight without fading or cracking. Calendared vinyl can be used outdoors as long as it is not in south facing sun for more than half the day. This is a general rule and should be determined by your sign professional.

Some examples of surfaces for which Calendared vinyl or Intermediate vinyl would be perfect:

  • Store windows
  • Vehicle windows that are flat or simple curves
  • Vehicle doors of other surfaces that are flat, or simple curves
  • Painted walls
  • Or any surface that is flat or a simple curve and can accept an adhesive.

Some examples of surfaces for which Cast vinyl or Hi Performance vinyl would be the only choice:

  • Back windows of a vehicle that are compound curves (that curve in two directions at once)
  • Any surface with rivets
  • Any area on a vehicle that is a compound curve (that curves in two directions at once)
  • Any surface that will be in direct south facing sun for more than half the day


The logo on the left is suitable for cut vinyl, or for printed vinyl as it is solid colors. The logo on the right is only suitable for printed vinyl as it is made up of gradients and cut vinyl must be a solid color. When designing a logo with a professional graphic designer make sure to take into account what colors of vinyl you can get and if that color comes in cast or calendared vinyl.

To Cut or to Print?

Your choice of color, shape, and detail can play a major role in the future look of your brand.  How will you know whether to use cut or printed vinyl for your project?  A general rule of thumb for successful logo design and branding is to pick your colors first if you want to have die cut logos made, and then work on the design. That way you know you can get the exact shade of vinyl for every project, no matter the time or place you have it done. It will always match. If you decide to go for a logo that needs to be printed, you will need to know the Pantone Matching System (PMS) colors of your logo so that a printer in another city or in the future can match your brand colors. Remember, no two printers will print the exact same shade of a color when told to print a certain color. That is why color matching is a big part of printing digital art.

Printed vinyl can come in a few different forms. We can do several different types of cuts around a decal that is printed. The three main types of cuts are die cuts, contour cuts, and square/circle cuts. As you can see from the graphic below, die cut refers to the process of cutting out the decal right at the edge of the decal.  Contour cut refers to cutting the decal out with an offset around the logo to add a border, and square/circle cut refers to cutting the decal out in a shape around the graphic. Depending on your application, you might want a square or circle cut rather than a contour cut. Die cut printed vinyl is not recommended for vehicle graphics, or heavy equipment as it has the least durability out of the three types of cuts. A square or circle cut has the highest durability due to the largest amount of adhesive in contact with the substrate.


  1. Cut design into the vinyl with the plotter.
  2. Weed the design.
  3. Cover design with application tape.
  4. Apply decal and remove application tape.

Working with Cut Vinyl

When working with Cast or Calendared cut vinyl, we start with a solid sheet of material, typically 24 inches wide on a roll. The roll consists of the vinyl with an adhesive on the back, on a roll of waxed paper. The vinyl is "stuck" to the paper lightly and can be removed from the paper without picking up any wax. The plotter (the machine that cuts the vinyl) is precise enough to cut through only the vinyl and not the backing paper so that we can do what is called "weeding" the vinyl. Weeding vinyl is almost exactly like weeding your garden. We use a sharp fine pointed knife to remove the vinyl that is not part of your decal. We design our artwork keeping in mind the entire time that we will need to weed the design after it is cut. For this reason, there are designs that are too detailed or small for us to use the die cut method. For those decals, we would use a printed decal.

The process for a printed decal is the same as a die cut decal. The only exception is when it is a contour cut or square/circle cut, we do not need the application tape, as the decal is laminated. Laminating adds a clear layer of vinyl over the decal to increase the ease of install as well as adding protection to the decal in the form of the laminate and the added UV coating. All outdoor decals that are printed should be laminated. Below are some examples of printed decals and die cut decals. Notice how much more complex the printed decals can be when compared to the die cut ones.



Final verdict?

The decision to use a printed decal or a cut decal is decided more by your logo or design than by you or the sign professional. That is why logo design is such an important part of branding your company. We will be talking about branding and what to take into a account during your branding design next week. I hope that you have enjoyed and learned a little something that may help you in your future vinyl endeavors.



As always, keep it foxy,


Matt Cone

Downtown Sign Shop