I'm working on a very important beer pong project.

The top of the table will consist of two pieces of plywood that have been sealed and decorated with a massive 4X5 custom vinyl sticker.

So, the plan is to to seal the wood, apply the sticker, which covers the entire piece, and then coat the whole thing in polyurethane (mostly to eliminate any dampened bounce from the sticker, but also to give it a nice glossy sheen).

Here's the key question:

How do I apply a 4X5 vinyl sticker to a flat piece of wood without getting bubbles?

It's possible this is easy or obvious, but based on my experience with iPhone-sized stickers, I'm guessing it's tricky, and only have one shot.

  • I have to admit, I chuckled a bit at "very important beer pong project", :-) Anyway, there are some differences you should consider. First, a cellphone screen will have much more visible bubbles because you are applying a see-through film to (essentially) a clear piece of glass. You also wouldn't want to use soapy water on your cellphone, as @AdamDavis suggests. I would recommend you also follow his suggestion to smooth and coat the surface, either with sanded primer and spray paint or other smooth sealant. Plain wood will be very hard to get clean and may have other issues.
    – Jacob S
    Jul 8, 2013 at 21:18

1 Answer 1


There are a number of methods to apply large decals and stickers to surfaces while avoiding bubbles and wrinkles.

Most professionals prefer a wet method. Clean the surface first. Then coat the surface, or the adhesive side of the sticker, or both, with slightly soapy water. Then lay it down slowly and use a squeegee while laying it down. The soapy water enables you to lift it back up a little if you introduce a bubble or wrinkle. The squeegee squeezes the soapy water out from under it.

A number of videos show the process, search for "decal wet method" or "vinyl wet application" for some. I think http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSVk0C_NLpc is probably most applicable to your specific usage.

Also, ask the shop you're buying the decal from for their suggestions.

Note that unless you've purchased high quality plywood, and spent some time sanding, sealing, and filling, it's probably not going to be a very smooth surface anyway, and a high quality vinyl decal will look pretty lumpy on it. Consider getting a better surface, or seeing if you can have a matte vinyl decal made, which reduces the glossy reflections which will show surface defects very clearly.

  • 1
    The wet application method only works on hard smooth surfaces like glass or enamelled metal. It basically uses dried soap and the surface tension between the two smooth surfaces for adhesion. This is unlikely to work on plywood (even polyurethaned plywood). This is also not for use with vinyl that has an adhesive back.
    – bib
    Jul 8, 2013 at 18:55
  • 2
    @bib -- A 5-10% Soapy water is specifically used to make adhesive-backed decals easier to work with and to slow the adhesion process. It allows repositioning and eases the removal of air bubbles. The idea that these things would be solely affixed with surface tension and dried soap would amount to "a lick and a promise". Read the back of one of the do-it-yourself window tinting boxes at the store sometime (which is, essentially, a tinted vinyl adhesive-backed decal). You are correct that for best adhesion and appearance, the surfaces should be very smooth (and clean).
    – Jacob S
    Jul 8, 2013 at 21:10
  • 4
    @JacobS I stand corrected about the adhesive. I stand by the plywood issue.
    – bib
    Jul 8, 2013 at 22:08

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