I think you’ll agree with me when I say that it’s disappointing when you go to the trouble to make handmade stickers, and your ink runs when it gets a little wet. Or the paper starts to peel, or the images fade with exposure. Knowing the best ways to protect your stickers means you don’t have to worry about how your stickers will hold up to different situations or applications. You can use waterproof stickers/decals in more places (like water bottles), and as a bonus, the ink won’t fade as quickly either. I loved the idea of making sealed stickers, but I thought you needed special (more expensive) paper, or you needed to have a fancy machine, or that it took skill to protect and waterproof my stickers. It seemed hard. But when I looked into it, I found there were actually 3 methods to waterproof stickers that I really liked because they either saved me time, saved me money, or were simple to apply. In this post, I’ll let you know what the 3 methods to protect your stickers are and give you the Pros and Cons for each so you can decide which method is best for you.
Table of Contents
Why Seal and Protect Your Stickers
Protecting your stickers by sealing makes them waterproof, longer-lasting, as they often become scratch-resistant, fade-resistant and the ink won’t run. You can confidently use them as custom car window decals, phone stickers, or water bottle stickers. You can even put waterproof stickers that are sealed in the dishwasher.
The Difference Between Waterproof and Water-Resistant Sticker Paper
If you look for legit sticker papers, you’ll see that the best you can get is water-resistant. That means that if exposed to small amounts of water, the paper itself can repel it. Waterproof is a stronger claim and means that you can do more than briefly expose the sticker to water. It’s kind of like the difference between a quick sprinkling and a dip in a swimming pool.
What to Print on for Super Resilient (and Weatherproof Stickers)
Sticker paper is made of paper usually, which is a highly absorbent surface. And because ink will often run when wet, you’ll often get a soggy, water-logged and unreadable sticker when wet.
If you start with a printable vinyl your sticker surface won’t absorb water but repel it. This means the sticker itself will not break down (like a paper product would) when exposed to water. Many companies say that their printable vinyl is completely waterproof and don’t need any kind of sealer.
However, when I tested it with multiple washes, even with printable vinyl the ink can run.
So for truly waterproof stickers starting with printable vinyl is your best option for super durable and long-lasting stickers.
Adding a seal to the top of the sticker will protect the ink and may make the surface more scratch-resistant as well (depending on the method you choose). It will also make your print stay more vibrant, provide UV protection, and make it dishwasher safe!
The Three Best Methods to Protect and Waterproof Your Stickers
These are my 3 favorite methods and they’re pretty popular ways of sealing and protecting your stickers. There are pros and cons to each, which I’ll explain below so that you can choose the method that’s best for you.
The Self-Adhesive Laminating Method
This is a clear plastic film that is adhesive on one side and will stick to your sticker’s surface thereby sealing it. You can sub clear sticker paper, but laminating sheets often are larger so they encase the whole paper giving you a margin for mistakes in your application.
I have a step-by-step tutorial for applying self-adhesive laminate in my post, How to Waterproof Your Stickers [Laminate 101]. I also test three different brands of the laminate so you can use the one that’s right for your project!
Tips- Make sure your work surface is clean so there is no lint on your stickers before you laminate. Align everything before you start. Go slowly and smooth the surface from center out to edges.
Thermal Laminating Machine
I put off getting a laminating machine for a really long time and now that I have one, I’m super glad I got it. To use it, you MUST wait until the Ready light is on but then you just put two sheets of printed stickers back-to-back and insert them into a thermal laminating pouch. Once it’s gone through the machine, you trim off the sides, and voila! Two sheets of laminated stickers in less than a minute, making this a great choice if you have to do a lot of stickers at once.
I have a tutorial on how to use a laminating machine to protect your stickers in my post, How to Heat Laminate Your Stickers abs Labels
Tips- Again, make sure your surface is clean before you laminate as it is a permanent application. Wait until the machine is ready to use before laminating, or you’ll get inconsistent areas that appear wavy. And I feel like it’s worth it to get a machine with auto shut-off and two rollers. If you don’t need the auto shut-off feature the Amazon brand laminator is a sweet deal. Check the dollar store for supplies as some have found even name-brand pouches there!
The Aerosol Spray Sealant Method
Spray sealers coat stickers with a shellac-like polyacrylic surface. If used correctly, they can be an almost invisible protectant. It can come in glossy or matte, and there are several tried-and-true brands like Krylon, Mod Podge, and Minwax. Wait 24 hours after you print for the ink to dry before you apply a spray sealant, and make sure you follow the manufacturer’s directions for use and safety precautions.
Tips- I can’t stress it enough but use safety precautions. Because they are aerosols, spray sealants can be hazardous to your health if not used correctly. I place a big cardboard box in my yard and spray several at once, then set a timer to repeat as many times as needed.
Best Options to Protect and Waterproof Stickers by Project
Best Option if You Want Barely There Results
Spray sealer wins this one because you can hardly tell it’s there, although Avery’s Self-Adhesive Laminating Sheets are super thin and don’t add much bulk or weight to the sticker.
Best Option for Quick Application: Self-Adhesive Laminating Sheets
There is no prep time for the self-adhesive sheets, you just line everything up, peel back the top like a hinge, and then pull off the backing. You do have to smooth out the sheet with a card, but this goes quickly once you have the hang of it.
Best Option for Easy Application of Multiple Sheets: Thermal Laminator
It’s so easy to feed sheet after sheet through the machine and your laminating two sticker sheets back-to-back so it goes twice as fast. Again, it’s SUPER IMPERATIVE you let the machine warm-up or your bond won’t be secure.
Best Option for the Budget-Minded: Spray Sealer
A can of spray sealer goes a long way and is cheap to begin with, but use a craft store coupon and it’s a total steal.
Best Option for Outdoor Use: Printable Vinyl with a UV Laminating Film to Waterproof Stickers
If you’d like to make a decal for something that will be outdoors in the elements then you want to think extreme wear and weatherproof, not just waterproof. So use UV-resistant inks, a waterproof printable vinyl base (permanent adhesive), and Oracal UV Laminating Film.
Best Option for Indoor Use: Self-Adhesive Sheets or Thermal Laminator
It’s more about what you want to avoid- fumes in the house that a spray sealant would cause. So either of the other two methods works better for indoor use.
Best Option for Waterproof Car Decals
Start with printable vinyl and if you can, use UV-protectant inks so that you minimize fading. Use a self-adhesive laminating sheet (with UV protection) or a thermal laminator so that you know with certainty that you have absolute coverage over your entire sticker.
Best Option for Water Bottles that are Dishwasher Safe
Printable Vinyl with a Self-Adhesive Laminate. Make sure you use a brand of laminate that isn’t too thick so that you can bend it around the bottle and get a good seal. Avery Self-Adhesive Laminating Sheets are good for this because they are thinner and more pliable.
Just a note but Royal Elements claims that their printable vinyl is dishwasher safe without any sealer. Something to test I think!
Best Option for Custom Waterproof Stickers / Labels
If you are making clear labels to go on a candle or glass jar then using a barely-there option like the Avery Self-Adhesive Labels is good. You may want to use clear sticker paper as your base. Most types of clear printable vinyl have a frosted finish.
My Personal Favorite to Protect and Waterproof Stickers:
It really was close between my top two favorites, but I think I like the self-adhesive sheets a little more. I appreciate how they come in different thicknesses and materials. Testing three different brands, Avery, Royal, and Violetta, I found that I preferred the Royal because it was a medium-weight, and it looks so clear that it makes my stickers look gorgeous. The Violetta is similar to a transparency sheet.
My second favorite method is thermal laminating. It’s seriously SO fun to use. But, it sometimes had wavy lines where it didn’t heat properly, and if I didn’t let it warm up the full 7-9 minutes, then the laminate didn’t fully bond to the sticker paper surface. It’s also an extra cost that not everyone will be okay with spending. I know it took me a long time before I purchased one. I do wish I’d got one ages ago though!
And if you’ve found other ways to protect or waterproof your stickers I’d love to know! It’s always awesome to discover new ways to do things. ❤️
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