Guitar decals are a sleek way to promote your band while giving you and your instrument a pronounced look onstage. Decals reinforce an image and/or make a statement about your beliefs. Traditionally used by guitar makers such as Fender and Gibson, today they simply personalize an instrument. The body, neck or headstock can be dressed up in as little as 30 minutes.
Designing the Decal
This first step may be the most difficult---deciding what to put on your guitar and where. Once you have an image in mind, whether a band logo, signature, modified picture or original artwork, set about designing it in a graphics-editing program such as Photoshop, Paint Pro or Gimp. If you decide to place your image on transparency film rather than a vinyl decal sticker, remember that you may have to invert the image so that it appears correctly once applied to your guitar.
Print different-sized samples on regular paper to see how they look on your guitar. If you are putting the decal on the body of your instrument, determine if there is room for others so that you can create a complete and more compelling image.
Print the final design on water-slide decal paper, preferably using a laserjet printer for a sharper picture, though an inkjet printer will also work. Spray the guitar decal with three or four coats of lacquer to make it water and smudge proof. Start with a thin coat, adding subsequently thicker coats.
Cut out the decal, leaving a ¼-inch border all the way around the image. This will keep the lacquer from working its way under the decal and ruining your guitar's finish once the decal is applied.
Applying the Decal
Soak your water-slide decal in warm water. This makes it easier to apply to the guitar because you'll be able to slide it to the exact place you want. It also gives the decal a longer life through stronger adhesiveness.
Apply the decal carefully, rubbing or patting out wrinkles, bubbles and other imperfections. If you are using transparency film, use a spray adhesive to hold it in place.
Add one more coat of lacquer, cautiously avoiding your instrument. This will give your guitar decal a polished, finished look. If excess lacquer does get on your guitar, wipe it up immediately.
Keep in Mind
Guitar decals are not good for older and some custom-made guitars since the guitars usually contain a lacquer finish that can be damaged by the vinyl in modern stickers. Contemporary instruments use polyurethane or polyester finishes that withstand today's vinyl guitar decals.
If your artwork has commercial appeal or is the band's logo, make copies of your decal to advertise on band equipment, cars, lockers and the like. Replace the water slide decal paper with self-adhesive acetate paper and apply.
Over the course of a 15-year career, John Briggs has written for print and online clients. As a syndicated TV critic, his work appeared in some of the country's top dailies. He has a degree in political science from Temple University and took additional writing classes at NYU.