Is a Decal and Sticker the same thing?

A decal and a sticker are the same things, for most practical purposes. The terminology is used interchangeably and there is no clear distinction between their use. In some cases though, the use of the terms are leading indicator of a specific sticker product.  

The term “Decal” is more often a long-term product

Decal terminology is more likely used to refer to an OEM equipment sticker, lawnmower decal, or long-term car decal.

The term sticker is more often a promotion use product

Stickers are used for branding, giveaways, and traffic engagement. These products are more likely used in a shorter-term use than a decal. However, the terms are used very interchangeably.

The Difference Between a Label and a Sticker

It can be a little confusing to differentiate between labels, decals, and stickers. By definition, the main difference between the three comes down to construction and application. The dictionary defines the three as the following:

  • Label – “A small piece of paper, fabric, plastic, or similar material attached to an object giving information about it.”
  • Decal – “A design prepared on a special paper for transfer onto another surface such as glass porcelain or metal.”
  • Sticker – “An adhesive label or notice, it is generally printed or illustrated.”

Using these definitions, it’s unclear what the differences are between labels, decals and stickers.

What it’s made from

Labels, decals, and stickers are made from a very similar material. Labels, usually the cheaper option of the 3, are typically made from a BOPP material. This Polypropylene material conforms well around curves and such, but isn’t the best for long-term applications. Decals are the toughest of the 3. Decals can be made from vinyl or polyester material with a thick adhesive layer. This helps adhere the decal to rough and textured surfaces. Stickers are almost always printed on vinyl. Although sometimes for a more economical product some printers offer paper stickers, with a paper backing which work well for temporary uses.

What is a Label?

We define labels as mainly going on products. They help brand what you’re selling. A label can go on a product you purchase such as a bottle or a jar. Labels are used to warn people before they perform an action. Warning labels such as “Stop, Contents HOT!” are beneficial.. Labels can tell you the difference between two products “10W-40 vs. 5W-20”. There are your standard labels and there are more complex versions built for extended content. Some labels are printed on both sides; some you can piggyback a label to another label. You can use labels as reminders to have your oil changed. The uses of labels are broad but definable.

What is a Decal?

The word “decal” is typically used to describe a special sticker applied on OEM parts and accessories. Usually made out of a vinyl or polyester material with a permanent adhesive, these materials make for a highly durable sticker. Decals can be finished in similar styles to stickers, like die cut, and kiss cut. Decals look best when applied to car windows, as wall decals, or any other smooth surface. Decals can also be transferred onto a surface. A vinyl transfer decal is one of the oldest and simplest styles of decal stickers. You’ll typically see this in the style of a word decal. These decals have three layers: paper backing, computer cut vinyl, and then a transfer paper premask that helps apply the decal to any smooth surface. However, unlike other OEM style decals, these transfer decals aren’t going to hold up in the elements as long due to their construction.

What is a Sticker?

We define stickers mainly used as promotional. Use stickers to market your brand to the world. Everyone loves stickers because they are fun to use, they can go just about anywhere and there are no rules to how you can use your stickers. They can go on cups, your laptop, your cooler, your car or just about anywhere you can think of. Stickers can also come in many different constructions from changing the material to changing the inks. Laminates are often great choices for stickers. Most laminates are either matte or gloss, and typically upwards of 4mil thick, making for an ultra-durable sticker. Due to the stickers’ printing process, you can achieve photographic quality which opens up tons of options for your artwork. So whether your brand or business wants a two color logo, or a picture of your dog printed, stickers offer a great deal of flexibility for what you can and can’t print.

The Difference Between a Decal and a Sticker

While the name sticker and decal can technically be used interchangeably, a couple key differences depend on who you’re talking to. Decals are usually used when the application is needed to be a more permanent solution. The adhesive layer on vinyl decals is thicker than that of a vinyl sticker. Decals may also be sized specifically to a specific area. This circles back to the OEM usage of decals versus something like generic bumper stickers. Along the same lines decals are generally larger in size compared to stickers. These types are usually referred to as wall decals. Stickers are best used as marketing pieces. The smaller size and lower cost per part make them great handouts at trade shows or new brand’s revenue streams. While both decals and stickers can be either screen printed or digitally printed, decals are best when screen printed for outdoor longevity. Stickers can also be screen printed, but sometimes they work best when digitally printed due to the artwork.

Where Does All the Confusion Come From?

It’s easy to get the terms “decal” and “sticker” confused. A lot of it is going to come down to who you ask. A decorative sticker could easily be referred to as a decal, while wall decals can easily be referred to as stickers. The two terms are so closely related that you really have to identify how they’re being used before commenting. Labels on the other hand, are a lot easier to identify. These are going to be your shipping labels, or anything that comes off a roll.

Who can help me decide what I need, stickers, decals or labels?

Here at Comgraphx we’ve been producing stickers, decals, and labels for well over 45 years. One of our first questions for you as a customer will be… How do you want to use this product? We will use the answer to that question as a starting point and help you build the correct product for your needs. Labels vs Stickers will be clearly defined as we work together and build your product.

You say potato, I say potato.

To sum up, it doesn’t matter what you call it, labels, decals or stickers. It is just a terminology that we can work through. The important thing is working with people who know decals, labels, and specialize in stickers that can get you the right product. That is the key. Start your project today with Comgraphx. Simply fill out the form below and a real person will reach out within 30 minutes to help consult with you on your label, decal, or sticker project!

Stickers  vs    Labels