How to make your own custom iPad vinyl sticker for your iPad or other devices

Bosh and Bill iPad sticker project
Although I liked the Joker sticker that I had bought for my iPad, after two short weeks of having the sticker in place, the color was fading and there were scratches all over it. So I decided to replace it with something original of my own design (my characters Bosh, Conrad, and Bill from Bosh & Bill), and teach myself to make quality waterproof vinyl stickers in the process. You can see the results pictured above (and in this photoset on Flickr).

Step 1: Design

First, draw something that you want on your iPad. I actually drew all of the images in the above sticker on my iPad using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and my finger (although I imported some sketches from my Moleskine as a draft layer that I worked off of in all the drawings). More details on that process over at Bosh & Bill.

I then transfered these images to my computer, complete with layers in tact, and dropped them into a Photoshop iPad template file that I put together. You can grab it here (4.24MB zipped Photoshop file). I positioned my characters on the dummy iPad and then made the iPad layer invisible before printing. Since these are rather basic comic characters, I only used 72dpi; if you’re trying to make a more detailed sticker I recommend you ramp up my template to at least 300dpi before adding your images.

Step 2: Printing

You’ll need an Inkjet printer and you’ll need to get some Papilio Inkjet removable waterproof vinyl paper and Papilio waterproof over-laminate. A ten pack of each plus shipping runs about $30, which is a bit steep, but not when compared to the $20 sticker price (get it?) of the individual iPad Joker sticker. I ordered directly from Papilio and received both very quickly. You can buy much larger sized paper and in larger quantities to reduce your per sheet cost, but since this was my first time trying this I went with the smallest sizes and quantities they had. The good thing about using Papilio papers and the over-laminate is that the resulting stickers are supposed to be capable of standing up to being placed on outside surfaces, like your car if you like.

Since these supplies are expensive, you’ll want to optimize the printing area and cram as many stickers in there as possible. To do this, take the finely positioned artwork from the iPad Photoshop file you were working in, collapse all the layers (with the exception of the iPad pic layer) into one layer, and then drag that layer into a new Photoshop document the same size as the paper you are printing on. Save this file as “whateverartwork_iPad_print.psd” or something like that for future reference. Now, duplicate that layer, flip the duplicate upside down, turn it sideways, position it diagonally, do whatever you have to do to get multiple copies of it on that same piece of paper. OR fill in all the white space with OTHER pieces of art that you’d like as stickers. Think of it as a game of Tetris. You have to fit as much as possible in the allotted space. Why would you do this if you only want one sticker? Backups in case something goes wrong in the next steps. Make sure you leave about .25″ to .5″ around the edge to make sure none of your design gets cut off.

After you have a nicely full print page ready to go, Print, set paper type as High Gloss Photo Film or the equivalent (this is so the ink actually sinks into the vinyl paper from Papilio), and check out the preview of the print job in Photoshop to make sure that none of your artwork is getting cut off. Finalize the print and let it dry for 15 minutes after it is complete.

Step 3: Apply the waterproof over-laminate

Papilio’s instructions for their inkjet paper says to run water over your print out after it dries to wash out any excess ink. This is good to do for the first time you test your printer and your printer inks with this paper and is to ensure there is no bleeding of the colors over time. However, since you’re going to be putting the over-laminate in place to make sure the sticker is entirely waterproof and rugged, you can skip this dousing (especially since it sometimes leads to a bit of fuzzy lines).

This is one of the most error prone steps. You need to pull just a slight sliver of exposed over-laminate from its backing and affix that, lined up correctly, with the top edge of your print out. I recommend doing this on the same surface that you intend to cut out your stickers, as the over-laminate is slightly bigger than the print out and can affix the print out to your cutting surface with a slight border when applied correctly. I used my trusty Alvin cutting mat, which has a convenient grid that helps with positioning.

Once you have that slight edge exposed and attached to the top of your print out, flip the over-laminate up so that it’s curve makes a roller of sort at the top of your artwork, and carefully remove the protective backing as you roll the over-laminate carefully over the print out. It may help to use a ruler or straight-edge on top as you roll to ensure that no bubbles or air is getting between the paper and the over-laminate. Go slowly and carefully, as once the over-laminate touches your paper, there is no pulling it back up and repositioning it. You can try rubbing bubbles out after the fact on a bad application, but it doesn’t always go well.

So far, this step equals great success with a perfectly smooth positioning, or it’s a ruined print job and you have to start over, so be careful.

Step 4: Cut out your stickers

Bosh and Bill iPad sticker project
Use an X-acto knife or other very sharp, precision utility knife. Cut slowly and carefully around your design, being careful not to leave any white border (unless you want to go for a consistent white border). This is the most time consuming step and also the one that, if done well, really makes the design pop.
Bosh and Bill iPad sticker project
If you leave an undesired sliver of white along an edge, before cutting it off, place your finger nail firmly down on the sticker along the edge of the line where you don’t want to cut and apply pressure, using your finger nail as a guide for your blade. This keeps the sticker from slipping from the backing as you cut this small bit of sticker. If the finished cut, check all the little white spots to see if they are actual sticker or just backing (which will be coming off anyway).

Also, target the harder parts of the cut before the easier parts. Cutting out the small inner connections on the robot in my sticker would have been a lot easier if I had left the white border along the outside in tact before hand, adding stability to the sticker.

Step 5: Clean your surface and apply your sticker

I used rubbing alcohol to wipe off the old sticker residue from the back of my iPad. I then carefully removed the backing from the sticker, positioned the bottom right corner of the sticker where I knew I wanted it, based on my Photoshop mock of the layout, and then gently rolled the sticker out from right to left, making sure there were no bubbles.

The sticker is a bit more forgiving here, in that as long as you haven’t pushed it down firmly on the device, it can be repositioned if you good up along the way. Just be careful and move slowly.

If all goes smoothly you’ll have your own sticker on your iPad.

I’m about 98% satisfied with mine. Next time I’d add a thicker black border around all my characters, so there would be a little more wiggle room to the cutting. If you look closely at the right side of Bill’s (the blue one) head over his eye, you’ll see that in my attempt to quickly remove some white, I cut a straight line that took away all the black line there. This is only really noticeable close up, so not horrible but not great either.

If you liked this tutorial, or you like these characters, make sure you check out my comic site, Bosh & Bill, and watch my Etsy store, where I’ll most likely be selling some stickers soon (once I’ve perfected the above methodology). Cheers!

About C.K. Sample III

I am a father, a husband, a blogger, a parrot owner, a pug owner, and the VP of Technology/Engineering for Chaotic Moon. This site has no comments. If you want to talk to me, send me an @cksample on Twitter. If you like this post, feel free to send me a micropayment via Bitcoin.
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