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How stickers are made in 4 simple steps

Ever wondered how these little sticky-backed beauties are made? Or what happens after you approve your digital design proof?

We’re going to show you the ins and outs of custom sticker printing in a simple step by step guide.

Step 1 – Artwork setup

This is probably the most important but underappreciated step in the process as it impacts everything that follows.

Key things that happen at this stage:

  • Drawing cutlines

  • Adding bleeds

  • Inputting registration marks to ensure they’re cut accurately

  • Adjust colours to CMYK to ensure they print correctly

  • Nest the artwork to be the most efficient use of space on the vinyl

  • Export in the correct format

We generally use a professional design program like Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW to create our designs. They allow the designer to change the artwork as much as is needed.

Here are some great free or low-cost resources to help you create your own designs:

  • Free photo editor – Pixlr

  • Easy background removal – Clipping Magic (one of our favourites)

  • Vectorise your bitmap images – Vector Magic

  • Edit vector images – Vecteezy

  • Create design from scratch or edit pre-made templates - Graphic

Step 2 – Printing

There are many different ways of printing and many different materials that can be printed on.

Here we focus on Sticker it’s most popular method of printing – digital offset printing.

We start by taking 1000m long rolls of print media (the material you chose) and put them onto the printers.

Our HP Indigo digital printer (the world's best digital printer, no joke!) takes the ink, in a paste form, and a positive charge transfers an image onto a rubber blanket, one colour at a time until a complete image is created. This image is then fused onto the surface of the media in a single shot to get perfect registration.

The printer applies a layer of ink that's less than 15 microns thin. They print up to 1440 DPI (dots per inch), so incredibly small, ultra-high-resolution, creating amazingly vibrant images.

The ink is then cured, and this happens in different ways depending on the technology:

  • An HP Indigo uses heat to evaporate the oil away from the ink, which is re-condensed and reused.

  • A UV inkjet uses UV light to cure the ink instantly

  • Solvent inkjet – allow the solvent to ‘de-gas’ over time, usually 24 hours.

Here are some examples showing the detail that can be achieved:

Oval clear sticker with gin logo applied to a clear gin bottle
Rectangle biodegradable paper sheet labels with detox design applied to a clear glass jar filled with soaking salts
Rectangular clear label applied to a pink gin bottle
Die cut holographic sticker with future in your hands design
A pile of square security holographic stickers
Square holographic sticker applied to black soap box next to shaving tools
Kiss cut glitter sticker birthday invitation with cute peelable sticker designs on a decorated table next to a donut

Step 3 – Laminating

For some of our stickers, we apply a transparent, protective layer to maximise durability. Many options can be chosen, but they must be compatible with the media and print technology.

Laminates can be gloss, matte, or textured. Often the effect you choose can be personal preference, depending on the effect you want to create.

Rectangle mirror gold bottle label with posh cock design
Square white vinyl stickers with Adidas logo applied to a yellow water bottle in the gym

Adding a laminate protects the printed layer giving it resistance to sunlight, scratching, chemicals, oils and most other things that can ruin a sticker. It’s a really effective method of protection.

Step 4 – Cutting

The final step is to cut it in the correct shape. When you order your stickers, you can choose between traditional shape like squares or rectangles, or you can opt for a custom shape by selecting die cut stickers.

Die cut stickers get there name from an old cutting technique would cut stickers with pre-made metal ‘dies’ that looked & worked like this:

However, time & technology have moved on. To speed up the process, reduce costs and increase accuracy we now using digitally controlled knives or high-speed lasers to cut stickers.

Shapes can be as complex as you want however the more tiny details you have, the more small edges there are to lift. The most durable shape is a circle or oval, closely followed by a rectangle with rounded corners.

Print companies who use the old cutting method with metal dies tend to charge extra for bespoke shapes because the dies need to be made. The giveaway will be if they want to charge you a setup fee for your stickers.

At Sticker it we only use digital cutting. It’s more accurate, quicker and cheaper, so you get your stickers quicker & cheaper.

To know anything else about how printed stickers are made please get in touch.