I think you’ll agree with me when I say that it’s super disappointing when you go to all 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 expensive paper, or you needed to have a fancy machine. 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, and longer-lasting (as they often become scratch-resistant, fade-resistant, and the ink won’t run). Cool, right?
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.
It’s best to start with a waterproof material as your base. Not just one that is water resistant.
Use Printable Vinyl and Add a Laminate for Super Resilient (and Weatherproof Stickers)
Sticker paper is made of paper usually, which is a highly absorbent surface. And because the ink will often run when wet, you’ll often get a soggy, water-logged, and unreadable sticker when wet.
If you start with 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 it doesn’t need any kind of sealer as long as you use uv inks.
However, when I tested printable vinyl with multiple washes, I found that even with printable vinyl, the ink can run.
So for truly waterproof stickers start with printable vinyl- it’s your best option for super durable and long-lasting stickers.
This gives you a great quality product to sell.
Adding an additional protective layer (like a laminate) to the top of your custom stickers will protect the ink and make the surface more scratch-resistant (depending on the method you choose). This durable material will also make your print stay more vibrant, provide UV protection, and make it dishwasher safe!
Doing outdoor applications like custom labels for outdoor equipment like camp gear? Then using one of these methods is absolutely necessary.
Waterproof vinyl stickers are a great way to make bumper stickers, laptop stickers, school supplies boxes, food containers that are long-lasting. With this combo even a water bottle sticker or hydro flask stickers can be completely protected and waterproof.
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The Three Best Methods to Protect and Waterproof Your Stickers
These are my 3 favorite methods to waterproof stickers. 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 you have the important information you need to choose the method that’s best for you and your small business.
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 and have recommendations so you can find the one that’s right for your custom waterproof labels or clear stickers.
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.
To make this method completely waterproof (for things like water bottles) be sure to use printable vinyl, not sticker paper.
I have a tutorial on how to use a laminating machine to protect your stickers in my post, How to Heat Laminate Your Stickers and Labels. In this post, I also have my product recommendations.
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 add an almost invisible protectant layer over your sticker designs. It can come in glossy or matte, and there are several tried-and-true brands like Krylon, Mod Podge, and Minwax.
Be sure to 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, 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 out 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 Clear Stickers / Labels
If you are making custom product labels to go on a candle or glass jar then using a barely-there option like the Avery Self-Adhesive Labels is your best choice. You also want to use clear sticker paper or printable vinyl as your base. Be aware that most types of clear printable vinyl have a frosted finish, not completely clear.
My Personal Favorite to Protect and Waterproof Stickers:
To make custom 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 gave me a glossy sticker so clear that it makes my stickers look beautifully saturated and luminous. The cheapest, Avery is also a good choice. The Violetta feels like a transparency sheet and the edges seemed a little sharp. I didn’t love that.
My second favorite method of waterproofing 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!
I hope you enjoyed this post on how to create high quality stickers and water-resistant labels. Now you can create your own custom stickers the exact size that you want to go on your car windows, your notebooks, or even your laptop!
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. ❤️
Thanks for Reading!