Care of Vinyl Graphics

GoLife Staff GoLife Staff  |  04.26.2016

Vinyl graphics emerged in the marketplace in the late 50s in the form of wood graining on the side of automobiles. Early vinyl graphics were viewed as a low cost / short-life product and used as an option to painted striping. Fortunately, manufacturers have steadily improved the quality and service life of vinyl materials and the performance of today’s products are far superior to the early vinyl material… and the applications continue to grow.

Vinyl graphics are separated into two major classifications due to the materials used and the methods used to manufacture…i.e., calendered vinyl and cast vinyl. The primary ingredient of a vinyl film is PVC resin…i.e., plastic. The physical properties of a vinyl can be adjusted/altered with use of various plasticizers, stabilizers, and lubricants, depending on the application and the life expectancy targeted for the vinyl.

Calendered Vinyl: This vinyl is referred to as an “extruded vinyl” and commonly called “4-mil vinyl.” The increased film thickness and resulting rigidity of the film make this product easily recognizable. A calendered vinyl is produced by introducing the raw materials into a mixer and blending it with the necessary pigments to ensure color consistency. The end product is then heated and introduced into an extruding machine where it is rolled out into a large continuous film sheet. Perhaps a stretch, but the process can be compared to rolling out pie dough with a rolling pin… and similar to dough, the material will retain some “memory” – i.e., the film has a tendency to shrink back as it ages. This can result in premature adhesion-related issues such as bridging on irregular surfaces, edge lifting, and cracking. In summary, a calendered vinyl is considered an intermediate product due to the lesser costs of the raw materials and the process necessary to produce it. The long-term durability of a calendered vinyl is typically three to six years, but this is very dependent on timely preventative care and limiting exposure to the elements.

Cast Vinyl: Cast vinyl is commonly referred to as “high-performance vinyl”or “2-mil vinyl.” The raw materials used to manufacture a cast vinyl parallels a calendared vinyl, but the process of creating the vinyl film is where they differ. With a cast vinyl, the liquid vinyl is applied/poured onto a casting paper. As the paper travels through an oven, the solvents used to make the product a liquid evaporate leaving a dry and extremely stable vinyl film. Cast vinyl is manufactured at a snail pace with lesser square footage realized when compared to producing a calendered vinyl.

In summary, a cast vinyl is considered a “premium product” and the costs reflect this. The long-term durability of a cast vinyl is typically seven to nine years, but this can be extended with proper/timely care and limiting exposure to the elements.The suppliers of graphics to the RV industry offer both calendered and cast graphics, so it is a conscious decision to choose the better product. Although it’s an opportunity to take costs out of a product, Winnebago Industries. chooses to use cast vinyl because it is clearly the best choice for an exterior graphic/“decal” on an RV.

Ready-to-install vinyl graphics have four major components including:

1. Liner – This is a backing typically made from a heavy paper with a silicone-release coating. This prevents the adhesive on the vinyl from contact with any foreign matter.

2. Adhesive – High-performance acrylic adhesive is the most widely used today. The manufacturers of self-adhesive vinyl films typically coat 1 mil of adhesive onto the vinyl film during the manufacturing process.

3. Vinyl Film – The color of pigmented vinyl graphics are determined by the vinyl film. The vinyl is coated onto a casting liner at 1.5-mil thickness. Due to characteristics of each color, the elongation and memory will vary. Silver, for example, has a high metallic content, making it brittle compared to white, a nonmetallic color.

4. Premask – This provides two functions. The first, protecting the vinyl film during application. The second is providing a carrier for the vinyl film from the liner to the application surface without stretching or damage.

Care of Exterior Graphics – Vinyl film is a petroleum-based product and it must be cared for accordingly. Compared to the fiberglass exterior of a coach or a full-body paint job, the vinyl film is a fairly soft material…and it is porous as well. Simply, air and water molecules can pass through with ease.

  1. Avoid washing the vehicle in direct sunlight or in extreme ambient temperatures – it is easy to shock plastic which can cause micro cracking.
  2. Consider using a microfiber wash mitt when cleaning vinyl graphics. High pressure washing is risky, so keep the wand several feet away and perpendicular to the surface. Avoid use of brushes – they will scratch vinyl graphics.
  3. Use automotive detergents and rinse with plenty of clean water. Water-spotting is an etching process that can occur to the best paint surfaces and can certainly etch into the finish of a vinyl film, too.
  4. Avoid cleaners, polishes, and wax containing high concentrations of solvents. Solvent-based products penetrate and affect the plasticizers. This can destabilize the vinyl film causing it to shrink and become brittle. Solvents can also affect the bonding of the vinyl and the adhesive layer, too.

Consider use of a quality “synthetic polymer” wax. These “new waxes” may contain some polishes / abrasives to help clean a surface, but the synthetic polymers / properties provide long-term protection from the elements and most importantly, will not attack gel-coated fiberglass, paint jobs…or the vinyl graphics. A good wax will have a high SPF rating which will add to the UV protection properties that are engineered into all the exterior finishes including the vinyl film. Purchase the best product you can find.

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Comments on this site are moderated for appropriateness and relevance. While differences in opinion, questions and other constructive comments are welcome, we will not be posting offensive, argumentative or unrelated comments. If you have a service, parts or product related question, please contact us to reach out to Winnebago Industries staff directly.


  1. Rick Voges Posted on 07.25.2016

    To Duane Niebel, we bought a 2000 Itasca Horizon 2 months ago and it also needed new graphics. I contacted and they had a complete set of graphics for a 2001 Horizon. The colors were a little different, but the price was very reasonable. You might want to check with them. They are located less than 20 m iles from the Winnebago factory and specialize in Winnebago/Itasca hard to find parts.

  2. Rick Antin Posted on 05.17.2016

    The owners guide in my 2013 Cambria recommends a product called Dura Glaze and it has a Winnebago part number. Is my ‘full body paint’ unit really paint or is it vynl?

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 05.17.2016


      Full body paint is. . .paint. Not vinyl graphics.

  3. Bill Smith Posted on 05.15.2016

    In regards the cleaning and waxing, 3M Imperial hand glaze works great in “cleaning the paint” before waxing. Follow simple instructions.
    Collinite Wax, made in Utica, NY, is the best I have found. Great protection from road grime, brake dust, etc. and it lasts.

  4. Dolores Speer Posted on 05.14.2016

    Thank you for a very informative article that will help owners maintain
    their vehicle for many years.

  5. Duane Niebel Posted on 05.14.2016

    Very informative! I own a 2003 Winnebago Journey DL which I purchased last year and want to maintain the condition of the coach both inside and out. A problem that I see on the exterior is the white paint is beginning to crack (small hair-line cracks) and would like to know if replacement graphics are available. I would like to remove the current graphics and get the coach painted then reinstall the graphics.

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 05.14.2016

      Talk to Owner Relations at: 800-537-1885 to see about the availability of replacement graphics. A couple of years ago we were on a Winnebago Caravan trip to Puerto Penasco. Just like finding cheap dentists across the border, there were several in the group who had made appointments to have their faded graphics removed and replaced with paint. It seemed like a popular thing to do, owners who did this were happy and the quality that I observed was quite good.

  6. GW Posted on 05.14.2016

    It still baffles me why Winnebago won’t actually name a product for use! I have asked, multiple times, for A Product but get the same run around as this article. No INFO…..come on you know what manufacturer/products work, give us an actual list!

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 05.14.2016

      In absence of an official list, I think this is a classic case of deferring to the wisdom of the crowd. I did a little research as posted a suggestion to Gary Munson’s similar comment.

  7. Gary Munson Posted on 05.14.2016

    Does Winnebago sell/recommend a specific wax for their coaches? I realize most ‘cleaner/waxes’ also include a very fine abrasive polishing compound that would certainly not be good for any type of vinyl graphic. How do I know what is safe? Most products don’t seem to disclose the presence of said abrasives. Help!

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 05.14.2016

      I want to tree carefully here as there is no single “blessed” product that I am aware of. As you correctly state, many polishing compounds have abrasives in them. In doing a little quick web research it appears that many products that are formulated with Carnauba wax do not have abrasives. Of the many threads I read, this one seemed to be the most helpful. I strongly suggest that “when it doubt – try it out – on a small, less visible section.”

      Here’s one person’s experience:

      Meguiars #26 hi tech wax
      I have used over 30 waxes on our cars, and this is by far the best. It is a blend of Brazillion carnauba; polymers; and synthetics. It lasts longer than pure carnauba, yet it has even a deeper and glossier shine. Use this, it will be the best 10-15 bucks ever spent. Any pure polymer seal will give you longer protection, but less shine. Any pure carnauba will give a better shine but less protection. This is the best of both. I would also apply a polish first such as Machine Glaze (if you know a rotary) or New Car Glaze (excellent for newer vehicles) if you can use an orbital or work by hand for best results.

      My favorite polymer seal is Medallion; there is a cleaner and protectant. The 2 step process is excellent at removing mild oxidation, scratches, and blemishes.