An example of a printed vinyl graphic created from a JPEG computer file and scaled to the desired size. The other side of the fuselage has the same, but mirrored, version of the image.
Who doesn’t want their homebuilt aircraft to look like a million bucks? Wouldn’t it be nice to express your individuality with unique artwork to set your aircraft apart from the others?
While an artist and an expensive paint job can achieve these goals, there is another method that allows an unlimited degree of creative expression without great expense. The medium you might consider for this purpose is known in the trade as vinyl signs or vinyl graphics. Vinyl has been around for many years as a means of providing signage and decoration for autos, trucks, trailers, and yes—aircraft.
Whether you decide to paint your homebuilt or not, vinyl decals and graphics can still be used, providing an endless potential of creative artwork for your aircraft. The good news is that it is easy and affordable to make use of vinyl even if you have no prior experience working with it. The first step is to consider what your personal design might look like on the side of the fuselage or wing surfaces. You can make use of lettering, stripes, and shapes, or color images. Study what others have done with their aircraft to get more ideas.
A vinyl graphic as delivered from the sign shop, ready for installation. The vinyl art is sandwiched between the liner and the transfer tape (folded back).
Finding a vendor to make your vinyl art is actually very easy. Use Google with the following phrase: “Sign Shop near .” Nearly all modern sign shops work with vinyl for creating business signs and banners. They have the color printers, cutters, and materials needed for the job. I work with a sign vendor over the internet as I can email my designs to them and receive the final product packaged in a mailing tube. I recommend first-time users of vinyl graphics work with a local sign shop so you can talk in person about your design ideas and see some samples of their work. They can provide creative suggestions and will communicate the limitations and prices of the final job.
For creating color photo images on vinyl, you need to supply your sign vendor a computer image file of your desired picture (for example, a JPEG file). They will import and manipulate this file in their computer. The file needs to have the proper digital characteristics for the size and image quality needed. This is similar to getting the right parameters for printing a high-quality photograph from a digital camera. Your sign shop technician can tell you if your supplied image “scales” properly for the final image size graphic you desire. Of course, it is best to get permission before displaying copyrighted material on your aircraft.
Applying the vinyl is easy—especially on a relatively flat surface. The larger or longer the vinyl piece, the more challenging it will be. It can be applied dry or wet using an application fluid. There are hundreds of YouTube videos that you can watch to learn the simple techniques and build the confidence for doing this yourself. If you have protruding rivet heads that need to be covered, the vinyl can lay very nicely over these with just a little effort.
If and when you decide to change or remove vinyl from your aircraft someday, a heat gun can aid in the process. Years and years in the sun will make it more difficult. Again, YouTube videos will set your expectations on the amount of effort that will be required.
Whether you paint your aircraft or not, the addition of vinyl graphics is simple, affordable and, best of all, provides a unique touch that makes your aircraft project truly unique!