Custom Dry Transfers or Vinyl Lettering? Which is Better?

Custom Dry Transfers vs. Vinyl Lettering?

Find The Right Solution For Your Project

A white museum wall text transfer decal mounted on glass made using custom dry transfers for museum labels
Often clients don’t know if they should use dry transfer graphics or vinyl graphics for their projects. Many times, it depends on the size and type of application needed. Here’s our expert opinion on the matter.

You can use custom dry transfers instead of vinyl lettering for:

Dry transfers look better than vinyl decals for wood. Lawton Audio are makers of the worlds best headphones. Image Transfers printed their logo as a custom dry transfer, arranged on sheets of rubdowns.Unlike vinyl lettering, dry transfer images and type looks as though they are printed directly on the surface – and they perform equally well on glass, wood, metal and plastic. With a dry transfer, there is no edge and they are smooth to the touch. It means that the transfers you receive of your artwork are only the thickness of the lacquer ink. Lacquer adhesive is only on the image area so once applied there is no adhesive outline or residue. Especially important to note is that dry transfers can be made permanent with a clear spray coat of lacquer or workable fixative applied on top.Closeup of dry transfer decal on glass wine bottle label for Francis Ford Coppola wines.

For example, custom lettering decals make outstanding art museum wall labels and produce notable clarity with smaller type fonts. We can go down to small sizes with no quality loss while vinyl lettering can only be as small as ½ inch. Better yet, transfers are cost-effective alternatives to vinyl lettering for larger amounts of small type.

Also, to help your budget, our custom rub-on decals become more affordable when you gang-up multiple items onto a single page. You’re free to fit as many dry transfer decals as possible on an 8.5″ x 11″ transfer sheet. Need larger oversized dry transfers? No problem. Look into ordering them on 11″ x 17″ custom transfer sheets.

Vinyl Lettering Can’t Match the Quality of Dry Transfers

Smaller than a vinyl decal, our custom dry transfers on a microchip beside a dime to show how precise our rubdown decals for small fonts can be orderedWhen viewed up close, there is little comparison between the fine quality of a custom dry transfer and basic vinyl lettering.

With vinyl, you often can have air bubbles underneath that can’t occur with rub-on decals. We provide a special burnishing tool with each order to make application convenient and fast.

If your company has exacting standards visually, our dry transfer lettering is a great option to consider for a high-end final appearance.

Vinyl lettering can peel and bubble along the edges and can sometimes look unprofessional. Our expert opinion is that dry transfers are better than vinyl decals that are smaller than 1/2 inch in height.No vinyl lettering can achieve the clarity of our lacquer ink in smaller and medium-sized signage. We are sure you’ll be delighted with the results.

Our clients include global corporations, image-driven fashion and beauty houses, and a number of industries where precision is a necessity such as technology and electronics. 

At Image Transfers our only business is rub-on decals and we are experts in the field. We specialize in giving helpful advice to clients as they create the digital files we then turn in to transfers.

A closeup picture of vinyl lettering, the edges are frayed and bubbled underneath. As with many permanent lettering decals, vinyl letters don't seem to hold up very well over time. Perhaps semi-permanent rub down transfers might be the next best solution for custom vinyl lettering.

Vinyl letters bubbled at edges

For small and medium-size signage, we provide a great replacement for Letraset lettering and achieve ever greater clarity at small font sizes. Our transfers have become favorites at leading art institutions as museum wall labels and the fine quality we produce matches the fine caliber of their artwork. Our turnaround times are fast and if you’re on deadline for an opening, project or exhibit, we can produce and ship your transfers in as little as 24 to 48 hours.

Assuring your satisfaction is our number-one priority and we think it’s why most clients return to us again and again.

When Vinyl Lettering Might be Cheaper

Vinyl lettering has been around for a long time. Because of its durability, it is common to select vinyl letters for larger or outdoor applications where custom dry transfer lettering cannot be used:

  • Outside and/or large signage
  • Large type or graphics on trucks and automobilesA generic vinyle banner is affordable and looks great in large font sizes
  • Storefront banners and awnings
  • Mailboxes located outdoors
  • Store windows requiring large or exterior signage
  • Boats and outdoor recreational vehicles
  • Utility signage

When you need signage outside on buildings, trucks, cars and RVs, vinyl can be a good alternative. For larger applications, it also can scale up at more affordable pricing. There can be some inconvenience with application and dealing with air bubbles that may form underneath. But when you weigh the pros and cons for anything outside, involving vehicles or in large font sizes, it is a proven choice that has stood the test of time. Online resources have brought down pricing in many cases, expanded choices, and sped up delivery times.

Why are Custom Dry Transfers Superior to Vinyl Lettering?

Custom Letraset decals for glass. The image transfers logo applied as a custom rub on transfer applied to the interior of a glass window. Rub-on transfers can be used for corporate branding on glass.

The Image Transfers logo Applied to Glass

Custom dry transfers are easier to apply than vinyl letters, without messy chemicals or the chance of bubbles underneath. Transfers are just ink. Our custom rub-on transfers adhere to any smooth surface, even non-flat surfaces. You can apply them with great results to plastic, glass, wood, or metal surfaces. At Image Transfers, we can match any color in your choice of a glossy or matte finish. In addition, we make custom dry transfer decals with the options of metallic ink or custom foil transfers – something vinyl can never provide. When you choose vinyl lettering there are color limitations. Your letters will be cut out of whatever color vinyl is available or in stock.

Vinyl lettering also has size and resolution limitations. Small type or images are a challenge because vinyl is cut with a blade. Also once cut, the vinyl artist needs to “weed” the vinyl (which means removing all the vinyl except your artwork). If the image is small, weeding can be difficult and even impossible because your image can easily be removed or damaged during the process. When vinyl images are small, there isn’t much to hold them in place. Vinyl backing sheets are slick on purpose so you can remove the vinyl and apply it. After it’s applied you will have a noticeable edge around the artwork.

Our custom rub-on transfers are semi-permanent;
Unless you choose to make them permanent.

to remove permanent vinyl lettering you sometimes need to use a power-tool like the mbx vinyl zapper

The MBX Vinyl Zapper

If you go with vinyl lettering, removing and replacing it later can be difficult, especially when the vinyl becomes dry, old and brittle. The simplest method for removing vinyl graphics is to pull them off with force, sometimes using a razor as a chisel helps. But you may cause some damage to the substrate surface. Whether your vinyl comes off in complete letters or little pieces, you will almost certainly have adhesive residue. Several solvents are available and even a few power tools are out there, like the MBX Vinyl Zapper (see right).

But why take the risk? Custom dry transfers have a finished, high-end appearance that you just don’t get with vinyl. Also, they are semi-permanent unless you choose to make them permanent (with an extra coat of lacquer after application). For example, a medium-size interior sign with a company logo on a glass entryway door can look much more professional when you use a rub-on transfer. Likewise, for retail display cases requiring text or lettering and museum wall labels. Rub-down decals have a great track record of success in all of these applications and many more. For image-conscious companies, they are a natural choice and produce superior results.

Weigh your options carefully before you make a decision – and consider the factors we’ve mentioned here. If you have small text or artwork, need a specific color, have a multi-color logo, want your image to appear as if it is printed on the substrate, are creating a beauty box, and want to simulate foil hot stamping – custom foil transfers are your best bet in making this happen.

Image Transfers are custom dry rub-on transfer specialists. We make only one thing: custom rub down transfers for graphic designers, artists, and model-makers. A dry transfer (or rubdown) is an image printed on a translucent sheet. The image has a coating of adhesive on its back. The image is transferred from the translucent sheet onto another surface by applying light pressure in a rubbing motion. The dry transfer can be applied to any surface that is free of dust, grease or oil. Dry transfers are referred to as DRY because they are applied dry, without the use of water or solvents. A dry transfer is not a slip-off label or a water decal, instead, the transferred image appears as if it was printed directly onto the item. Our dry transfers are opaque because we back the colors with white, so our rubdowns can be applied to a surface of any color without changing the color of the rub-on transfer. We consider dry transfers a semi-permanent application. A top coat of clear lacquer can make them more permanent. Our production artists can match all Pantone Matching System (PMS) colors including Metallic. Standard transfers are semi-gloss but we also offer matte and uncoated finishes. We deliver within as little as 24 hours. -- Specialties: Custom Rub Down Dry Transfers, Art Gallery Signage & Museum Labels, Custom Transfers for Product Prototypes, Comps & Mock-ups, Dry Transfers for Scale Models. Decals for Glass and reversed transfer decals for inside glass cases.

Posted in Museum Exhibits, Quality and Color Matching, Transfers for Glass Tagged with: , , , , , ,
9 comments on “Custom Dry Transfers or Vinyl Lettering? Which is Better?
  1. Bob Schneider says:

    “But why take the risk? Custom dry transfers are semi-permanent unless you choose to make them permanent.”
    I would like to know more about this. How do you make them permanent on glass? If they are semi-permanent, how well will they stand up to glass cleaners and other cleaners?

    • Robert, It would be difficult to make permanent on glass. Our transfers are not the right source for anything you would be using for beverages or food, but they can be put on glass display cases and windows. Care would need to be taken because they can still be scratched. For display cases they can be produced to be applied “below the glass” to protect them. We have done that in the past for clients. The glass can still be cleaned with glass cleaner. The only solvent to stay away from would be lacquer solvent. We would be happy to send you some samples via snail mail if you want to send your address to our email at

  2. Jim says:

    How well do dry transfers work on outdoor applications? I want to label some switches on a boat dashboard.

    • Luann says:

      We have had clients use our transfers for dashboards and display panels before, specifically for small airplanes so it can be done. But if using our transfers for a more permanent solution, like your boat dashboard, we recommend coating the applied transfer with a clear lacquer spray. Since our transfers are just lacquer ink with lacquer adhesive they can get scratched. To proceed we just need vector artwork and you should gang-up/repeat the artwork to fill one of our artboard size areas since that is how our costs are structured. Pricing is published right on our website. Email us at or call the studio number at (212) 928-7987.

  3. Eva says:

    Would you recommend dry transfer for a very large amount of text on a museum exhibition that lasts for a year? And how do you remove them once the exhibition is over?

    • Luann says:

      Eva, Thanks for your inquiry. We don’t see any issues with using transfers for large amounts of text. One of our museum clients usually orders 30+ tabloid sheets per exhibit. Just remember our largest size dry transfer is tabloid (11″x17″). To remove it we suggest tacking it off with painters tape, or using Bestine Solvent (purchased at home improvement store or Amazon), or of course lacquer solvent since our transfers are lacquer ink and lacquer adhesive. We also suggest testing any of these methods in an inconspicuous spot because we do not know what they will do to wall surface since all walls are different. Last resort you could paint over since the text will only be the thickness of the lacquer ink. Let us know if you have more questions. We hope we can work on your next project with you. Luann

  4. Jamie says:

    I have a letter to my daughter I would like put in her wall. I looked into vinyl and then found your website. Can I email you the image and you can let me know if this is a possibility?

    Thank you in advance

    • Luann says:

      Jamie, We are probably not the right source for you regarding this type of project because our pricing is geared more toward Industrial Designers that are creating prototypes on products they are developing but we have prices published right on our website. The only other limitation is the largest size transfer we offer is tabloid. Vinyl might be more suitable to what you are trying to accomplish. If you have further questions just get back in touch. We hope you find the right solution.

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