Are you overwhelmed by the many different types and varieties of vinyl? Are you not sure which vinyl to use on a mug, on wood, on shirts, for glass etching, etc.? Then, this is the post for you! Learn all about the different types of vinyl, and find out what you need. This post contains affiliate links, which help to support this site at no extra cost to you.
I absolutely love crafting with vinyl, but I completely understand that it can be really overwhelming when you just starting out in the wonderful world of vinyl crafts.
Years ago, when I was just starting to figure this whole vinyl crafting thing out, I got a grab bag full of random vinyl pieces from Expressions Vinyl (one of my favorite online vinyl shops). While it was a great way to try out lots of different types of vinyl on the cheap, because I was unfamiliar with vinyl, I had no idea which vinyls should be used for which projects or how to use any of it! What type of vinyl should I used for shirts? Which vinyl works on wood? What kind of vinyl is that? I had no idea.
Now, after lots and lots of vinyl crafting, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on vinyl (I even made an entire online course all about crafting with vinyl and your Silhouette), and I want to share that with you all. Hopefully I can help you figure out which vinyl vinyl to use for whatever project you have in mind. Let’s start off by talking a bit about what the different types of vinyl are.
TYPES OF CRAFT VINYL
There are two basic types of vinyl – Adhesive Vinyl and Heat Transfer Vinyl. Within each of those two larger categories, there are different types and styles, which I will talk more about in a bit.
Adhesive vinyl (sticker vinyl) is a thin flexible material with a pressure-sensitive adhesive that can be cut in any design and applied to all kinds of smooth, hard surfaces. Heat Transfer Vinyl (iron on vinyl, t-shirt vinyl, or HTV) is a similar material with a heat-activated adhesive that is designed to work with fabric surfaces (or any surface that can stand the heat). Both types of vinyl are available in either rolls or sheets, usually 12″ wide.
ADHESIVE VINYL VS. HEAT TRANSFER VINYL
If you ever happen to be in the same position I was with my vinyl grab bag, holding a piece of vinyl not sure what kind of vinyl it is, then I hope this little explanation will help you figure it out!
Adhesive Vinyl can come in all kinds of colors and finishes, but it will always have a paper backing and be sticky to the touch when that backing is peeled off. Heat Transfer Vinyl, on the other hand, does not have a paper backing. Instead, HTV, has a clear plastic carrier sheet that covers the top of the vinyl. The other side is where the adhesive is (it is not sticky or tacky to the touch), and this is the side of the vinyl that you will cut on.
Now you know what the two basic categories of craft vinyl are, but there are lots of types within each category. Let’s talk a little more about types of adhesive vinyl, and then we will move on to heat transfer.
Which type of Adhesive Vinyl should I use?
Some adhesive vinyl is meant for permanent, outdoor application and some is designed to be removable for indoor application. Usually (although not always), permanent outdoor vinyl has a glossy finish while removable indoor vinyl has a matte finish.
Permanent outdoor vinyl is perfect for outdoor signs, car decals, mugs or other items that will go through the dishwasher. Most permanent vinyl has a glossy finish, but not all (Oracal 641 is a matte vinyl with a permanent adhesive). Permanent vinyl can be removed, but it may do damage to walls, paint, etc. One of the most common and popular brands of permanent outdoor vinyl is Oracal 651, which you can purchase from Amazon, Expressions Vinyl, Swing Design, Consumer Crafts, and I’ve even seen it in my local Michaels. Oracal 751 is an extra long lasting permanent adhesive vinyl. This may be your best bet for products that will be washed or that you want to really last a long time.
Removable indoor vinyl is great for wall decals, indoor signs, stencils, and any time you want a temporary application. Removable vinyl often has a matte finish. Oracal 631 is a popular type of removable vinyl that you can find at Amazon, Expressions Vinyl, and Swing Design.
BEGINNER VINYL TIP:
Try using removable vinyl for your first project! It is easier to work with because the adhesive isn’t as strong as permanent vinyl.
Glossy and matte are not the only kinds of adhesive vinyl! You can find fun, specialty vinyls in all kinds of colors, patterns, and styles! (Be sure to check the description of the product when you purchase to determine if it has a removable or permanent adhesive.) Here are just a few types you might want to try out.
- Stencil Vinyl
- Etched Glass Vinyl (learn how to use etched glass vinyl HERE)
- Glitter Vinyl (I used glitter vinyl to make these phone cases and this pumpkin)
- Metallic Vinyl (I used a metallic vinyl on this mug)
- Patterned Vinyl
- Chalkboard Vinyl
- Glow in the Dark Vinyl
- Transparent Vinyl
- Printable Adhesive Vinyl (learn all about working with printable adhesive vinyl HERE)
As you can see, there are so many options! The most important thing to consider when choosing an adhesive vinyl for your project is the type of adhesive – do you need a removable adhesive or do you need something that will stand up to sun, water, and lots of handling? Once you have determined if you need a permanent or removable adhesive, choose whatever color or style you like that has that type of adhesive.
Next up, let’s talk heat transfer vinyl!
Which type of Heat Transfer Vinyl Should I use?
Just like adhesive vinyl, heat transfer or iron on vinyl comes in lots of different colors and styles. For basic smooth HTV, I recommend Siser Easyweed because it is easy to work with, comes in tons of colors, and washes and wears well. You can find Siser Easyweed at Amazon, Expressions Vinyl, and Swing Design. Silhouette and Cricut both have smooth Iron-On material that works well too.
Let’s check out a few different types of HTV.
- Flocked HTV is thicker than smooth HTV, has a velvety texture, is super easy to weed, and is the HTV I recommend for beginners. (See a project using flocked HTV here.)
- Glitter HTV can be a little trickier to weed, but is super sparkly and looks great. (This pillow uses glitter HTV.)
- Metallic HTV
- Holographic HTV (I used holographic vinyl for the lenses of the glasses on this shirt.)
- Reflective HTV
- Stretch HTV is extra thin and stretchy. (I used stretch vinyl on a pair of leggings for my daughter.)
- Patterned HTV
In general, all iron on vinyls should work on all fabrics and materials that can stand up to the heat of your iron or heat press, so when choosing an HTV you want to mainly consider the look you want. However, certain types of vinyl will work better for different types of fabrics or designs. For example, holographic and metallic vinyl is often stiffer and because of that it works best with designs made up of smaller pieces rather than large stretches of vinyl. Similarly, stretch vinyl works better with stretchy knit, ribbed, or athletic fabrics. All HTV is washable, but following some simple guidelines will help your finished piece to stay looking good for longer.
So, Which Vinyl Should I Use?
Phew – that was a lot, right? Hopefully after reading about the different types of vinyl you have a good idea of what kind of vinyl you need for whatever project you are dreaming up.
Here is the basic rule: In general, if your surface is hard and smooth (things like walls, mugs, bottles, picture frames, mirrors, boxes, etc.), then go with adhesive vinyl. If your surface is soft and can withstand heat (clothing, shoes, books, tote bags, etc.), then heat transfer vinyl will work best.
However, there are some exceptions to this general rule. For example, I prefer to use heat transfer vinyl on wood because I find it is easier to apply to wood surfaces and looks closer to painted wood. (You can read all about that here.)
Now that you know which vinyl to use for your project, check out my post on the best places to find cheap vinyl to make sure you are getting it at a good price! If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below.
Until next time, Happy Making!
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