Which Vinyl Should I Use? A Beginner’s Guide to Different Types of Craft Vinyl

So much vinyl, so little time–but so many fun DIY projects in store! If you’re prone to aisle overload and decision fatigue–you walk up and down the aisle trying to decide which product to buy only to walk away with nothing because you can’t make up your mind–we are here to help.

We will discuss which type of vinyl may work best for specific projects so you can start a project knowing you won’t have to stop midway because you purchased the wrong type. We’ll also talk about the limitations of these types of vinyl and mention any quirks you should be aware of.

And with that, here’s our beginner’s guide to different types of craft vinyl.

Types of Craft Vinyl

When we bring up “types” of vinyl, we don’t mean we’re going to run down the list of Cricut vinyl and tell you how wonderfully sparkly the glitter vinyl is (we’ll do that later). We’re going in with categories. There are two main categories of crafting vinyl, adhesive and heat transfer (HTV). Within these two categories are different subtypes, which will help you narrow down the selection of vinyl from which you can choose. 

Adhesive

The most common type of vinyl you’ll find people working with is adhesive. It is the easier of the two types of vinyl to work with and typically lasts anywhere from 2-5 years. Adhesive vinyl is simple to differentiate between HTV.

  • Paper backing
  • Sticky back when the backing is peeled away
  • Cut on the color side when working with it

If you’re a Cricut user, you’d be using a standard grip mat and standard grip transfer tape for adhesive vinyl, as well (unless you’re using that sparkly glitter vinyl we’re talking about).

Adhesive vinyl comes in two different subcategories, removable and permanent. As you may guess, removable vinyl is removable, meaning you can stick it to a window, and it’ll come off easily so you can move it. Permanent vinyl (which is removable, too, if you try hard enough) is permanent.

Removable Adhesive Vinyl

Removable adhesive vinyl is also referred to as sticker vinyl. For newbies, you may want to work with this type of vinyl until you’re used to working with the material. It’ll give you a chance to test run designs, too. The adhesive isn’t as strong as permanent adhesive, so there’s less chance for you to “mess up” a project. You’ll want to use removable adhesive vinyl for these types of projects:

  • Stickers
  • Wall clings
  • Window clings
  • Stencils
  • Acrylic nail decor
  • Any temporary decoration

Fortunately, there are several different colors and finishes for removable adhesive vinyl, so you won’t be wanting of a design. A note, removable is not waterproof. It’s water-resistant. Though you may want to deck out your shower with removable vinyl decals, don’t be surprised if the vinyl starts to peel and fall off after a while.

If you don’t know which brand to go for, try either Cricut Premium Vinyl – Removable or Oracal 631. Many other craft sites you’ll find will recommend Oracal 631, too. If you don’t use a Cricut, definitely check out this vinyl alternative.

Permanent

Permanent adhesive vinyl is usually glossy, but there are matte options out there, too. Seeing that it does have a stronger adhesive than removable, permanent vinyl tends to be more waterproof, durable, and long-lasting, usually around five years, depending on the environment it’s in. Use permanent adhesive vinyl for these types of projects:

  • Car decals
  • Outdoors signage
  • Outdoor fixture decor, e.g., mailboxes
  • Mugs
  • Dishwasher-safe ceramics

If you’re still unsure if your project really needs permanent adhesive or not, think about how long you want the design to last and what environmental factors it’ll be exposed to. Will it rain on your design? Go permanent. Do you want it gone in a year, not five? Go with removable. Are you leasing a car? Probably don’t put a permanent decal on the outside of your car. Permanent adhesive can and will rip the paint off of walls and damage other surfaces.

Cricut, obviously, has great permanent vinyl options. If you want to go with them, select their Cricut Premium Vinyl – Permanent. Oracal also makes permanent vinyl, Oracal 651 for regular projects (big recommendation for car decals, too), and Oracal 751 for a stronger hold. IModeur is another top choice. You can find it on Amazon.

Heat Transfer Vinyl

Heat transfer vinyl (HTV), also known as iron-on vinyl, is more straightforward in terms of what you would use it for, but there are definitely more components and techniques involved when you use it. You can tell you’re looking at HTV because:

  • No paper backing or sticky parts
  • Carrier sheet (transparent plastic sheet) covers the material
  • You need a heat press to apply it.
  • Cut with color side on the mat
  • Mirror the design in Cricut Design Space or whatever design program you use

HTV is differentiated from itself by the kind of peel. Peel refers to removing the carrier sheet once you’ve applied your HTV design. A cold peel requires you to wait until the design is entirely cool to the touch. A warm peel requires peeling the carrier sheet when the applied design is warm (not hot). If you don’t follow the peel instructions, you could end up ruining the design.

Regardless of peel, you’ll want to opt for a heat transfer vinyl when you’re making:

  • Iron-on patches
  • Clothing items (from fuzzy slippers to t-shirts)
  • Canvas bags
  • Cork tiles
  • Ceramics
  • Sports jerseys
  • And more!

Basically, if you’re working with any kind of soft goods or apparel, go for HTV. You’ll want to take into consideration your material, however. As a rule, cotton shouldn’t give you any problems. If you’re working with polyester, nylon, or fabric that could potentially melt under the heat of the press, you should pick a low heat HTV.

Now, for the several HTV options out there.

Stretchable

Stretchable HTV is the vinyl you’ll want to use for an athletic, stretchy material that may contain spandex or nylon. The HTV will stretch and rebound with the material you’re using, which means it won’t be as prone to cracking or ripping off the shirt, leggings, etc.

Flock

Flock HTV is warm and fuzzy, like a flock of sheep. It has the appearance of suede and is soft to the touch, a perfect option for softer project bases.

Glitter

Self-explanatory, glitter HTV adds sparkle to any ordinary base material.

Holographic and Metallic

Holographic and metallic HTV looks similar, but holographic vinyl has more layers of color than metallic. Metallic offers a single color, metallic shine.

Universal

Universal, all-purpose, Cricut Everday Iron-on, etc., this iron-on vinyl is suitable for most projects and doesn’t require too high of a heat to adhere to the project material. Definitely stick to cotton and polyester or polyester blends, though, just to be safe. 

Brand Suggestions for HTV

If you’re looking for an HTV that will work with nylon, “they” do make nylon-specific HTV. Try the Happy Crafters HTV for Nylon. The time it takes to transfer the material isn’t as long as would be the requirement for universal HTV, and it’s easy to wash. Cricut Everyday Iron-on is a good option for Cricut users, as always, and Siser makes an easy weeding HTV that could be useful for more intricate designs.

How to Choose Your Vinyl

Project planning goes a long way, and though you may think it’s an unnecessary step, it’ll help you create your shopping and materials list. When you’re selecting the vinyl you need for the project, take into consideration your project plans, including:

  • Base material type (spandex, cotton, ceramic, wood, etc.)
  • Base material color and the contrast you want with your design (if you want the design to stand out against the base material, you may want to select a holographic or metallic finish.)
  • Design finish (matte, metallic, glitter, suede, etc.)
  • Design cutter (if you’re using a Cricut, it may behoove you to use Cricut brand vinyl as it is made specifically for the machines.)

The most important thing is getting the vinyl that will stick best to your design. At the top of your consideration list should be:

  • Permanency of design
    • Temporary: removable adhesive
    • Semi-permanent: permanent adhesive
    • Permanent: HTV

Have Fun!

Vinyl material isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so crafters, don’t be afraid to experiment. Everything we write is a suggestion based on our personal experience and what we know about the vinyl material in general. Each crafter has their run-in with material quirks, especially as the vinyl gets thicker and more complex (metallic, glitter, holographic, and stretchy/flock HTV). 

Though it may be frustrating buying a vinyl you think will work but doesn’t, it’s an opportunity to develop your technique and solutions to problems every crafter encounters. Don’t forget, though, that crafting is supposed to be fun! When you’re in the aisle looking for the vinyl you need, it’s okay to pick up something entirely different than what you walked in for.

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