3 Ways to Deal with Faded RV Decals
Cracked or faded decals and graphics are a common sight in the RV world.
It’s a lot of work to do the maintenance necessary to keep decals from fading and cracking in the first place, and many campers don’t have the time and energy to apply UV protectant to an entire camper.
Related Product: Keep your RV decals from cracking and fading by using 303 Aerospace Protectant (click to view on Amazon) on all your RV decals and graphics.
If you haven’t been doing what it takes to keep the RV decals and graphics from peeling, fading, or cracking or you recently bought an RV with worn decals, that’s ok.
Many people don’t even know you have to maintain RV decals. Fading and cracking can happen even if you are keeping up on the protective coatings.
There are three ways you can deal with bad RV decals.
- Remove them entirely and don’t have any kind of graphics on the RV (this is a great option for faded picture graphics).
- Get new decals to replace the old ones (will still need to remove the old RV decals).
- Paint over the decals or paint on new decals after removing the old ones.
In this article, I’ll go over the steps required to paint over decals.
You can also remove the old decals and paint where they used to be, there should be a light outline left to use as a tape guide.
I recommend painting over the RV decals if they aren’t too far gone. The reason for this is you can still remove the decal later if you don’t like how the paint looks.
What You’ll Need to Paint Over RV Decals
Painting over faded or cracked RV decals isn’t as big of a project as it sounds.
There aren’t a ton of products necessary to do it this way and it’s a pretty budget friendly option as well.
This entire process can take up to 4 days, that’s with waiting for the different paints to dry. So make sure you do this on a week when you know it won’t rain or get windy.
The hardest part about any paint job no matter where you do it is the prep work.
Getting the right kinds of tapes, coverings, and sandpapers will make the paint job look a lot more professional when you’re done.
Click on the links below to see them on Amazon.
- Automotive Detail Tape/Fine Line Tape – 1/4 inch width is recommended.
- Blue Painters Tape
- Paper Roll
- 320 Grit Sandpaper
- 400 Grit Sandpaper
Gloss finishes are best for RV decals because you want them to shine.
- White Gloss Rust-Oleum Universal Enamel Paint/Primer Spray
- Gloss Enamel Spray Paint
- Can use a color that’s already available, which is a good option if you plan on painting all of the decals.
- Or you can match the color by taking a sample to an automotive paint store and having them make an automotive spray paint in that color.
- Gloss Rust-Oleum Universal Clear Topcoat Spray
Paint Over RV Decals Step-by-Step
1. Sand RV Decal
First sand the RV decal with 3oo grit sandpaper.
This step is to not just create a textured surface for the paint to stick to. It’s also a way to smooth out any cracks.
Lightly sand over the entire RV decal making sure to not sand over the edges.
Some people like to tape around the decals before sanding so they don’t accidentally go over the edge.
You can also do this but I recommend replacing the tape after sanding because the edges of the tape could be compromised in some areas by the sandpaper.
The goal is to get sharp paint lines and sanding the tape will make some spots look fuzzy when you’re done panting.
That’s why I recommend sanding before taping or replacing the tape after sanding and washing.
If there are cracks in the decal make sure you pay extra attention to that area.
The primer coat will help fill in some of the cracks but you want to make those areas as smooth as possible.
2. Clean the Decal & Area Around it
Sanding the RV decal will create fine dust that paint won’t stick to.
After sanding you need to wash the RV decal and a large area around it where you will be taping and putting up paper.
This is another reason I recommend sanding before taping. You can clean everything before putting on the fine line tape.
First, use dish soap and water to remove all dust and oils.
Then use clean water to rinse. Make sure all soap residue is removed because the paint won’t stick to the soap.
You can also use rubbing alcohol on the decal to make sure it’s 100% clean, but so long as you washed and rinsed it really well the tape and paint should stick fine.
3. Tape Decal Edges
Now for the most difficult part of this whole process, getting the edges taped perfectly.
Use the 1/4 inch detail tape to outline the RV decal.
This is the tape that will make the crisp lines so make sure you are using automotive detail tape.
When going around curves you can use multiple pieces of tape.
4. Tape Area Around the RV Decal
Once the fine edge of the RV decal has been taped with the detail tape you can now use the blue painter’s tape.
Overlap half of the automotive detail tape with the blue painter’s tape (1/8 of an inch).
Make sure there are no gaps between the automotive detail tape and the painter’s tape.
Also, make sure you don’t fully cover the inner edges of the detail tape with the painter’s tape because that will ruin the straight lines.
Overlap the blue painter’s tape with more painter’s tape until you have about 4 inches of tape outlining the RV decal.
5. Put Up Paper
Spray paint will always create overspray no matter where you use it. If you are painting outside the overspray will be even worse.
You should try and paint on a day that’s as still as possible but there may always be a slight breeze.
Tape up paper with the blue painter’s tape to create a large protected area around the decal. 4 feet or more is recommended.
It might seem like overkill but you don’t want the paint to get on the other parts of your RV. If a window is nearby make sure you cover that as well.
6. White Primer Paint Combo
After the time consuming prep work, next is the easy part, painting.
Use a white colored primer paint combo to cover the old decal color so the new color won’t be compromised.
The most important thing to remember is light coats.
Do not spray on any thick coats of paint because it will drip down and dry unevenly.
Don’t forget to shake the can before painting and check that the nozzle is clear so the paint doesn’t spatter.
Start by spraying a few lines on the paper near the decal first. Hold the can about 10 inches from the RV to create a light wide spray.
Lightly spray over the entire decal. Use even strokes and keep the can the same distance from the RV at all times.
Don’t start close to the decal and end far away from it.
The color from the old RV decal will probably still be showing after the first few coats of primer. That’s a good sign that you are spraying lightly enough to not cause any drips.
Read the instructions on the primer that you are using to find out how much time is needed between primer coats. Usually, it’s not more than 3o minutes.
Because you are applying very light coats of paint it might be ready even faster.
It’s should take 4 to 5 coats of primer.
After you have fully applied the primer you should wait 24 hours before doing the next step.
7. Sand the Primer
This might seem like a weird step but you should lightly sand down the primer with 400 grit sandpaper after it’s had time to fully dry.
The reason for this is the first layer of paint usually dries slightly rough and bumpy.
That’s why it’s a good idea to use a primer so you can sand out the rough spots to prep for the main paint.
Use the 400 grit sandpaper and lightly go over the surface of the RV decal. Pay close attention around the edges and make sure you don’t hit the tape.
After sanding use a damp rag to wipe away the paint dust. Give the surface a few minutes to dry before moving on to the next step.
8. Colored Enamel Paint
Now it’s finally time to use the colored enamel paint.
You want to spray on this paint the same way you sprayed on the primer.
Practice a little on the paper first then use lots of light coats.
It can take a lot of coats to get the color to fully cover the white primer. You will need to spray on at least 5 coats but it may take up to 10.
Lots of light coats are the best way to prevent drips in the paint.
If drips happen you will have to decide if it still looks good to you, or if it’s worth sanding out the drip and applying the paint again.
Once you’ve fully painted the RV decal with the colored enamel paint you should wait another 24 hours before the next step.
9. Clear TopCoat
Now it’s time for the final paint, the top coat.
The clear top coat is an important step. It not only protects the enamel paint and keeps it from fading, but it also adds a high gloss finish that makes the decal look professionally done.
The clear top coat is painted on exactly like the other two paints. Lots of light coats.
Note: you do not need to sand down the enamel coat of paint. That step is for the primer coat only.
It takes 5 or more coats to fully cover with the top coat as well.
Avoiding drops is the top priority, so it’s ok if it takes a lot of paint coats to fully cover the RV decal.
Once the top coat has been fully applied you need to wait another 24 hours before the next step.
The final wait is the hardest because it’s so fun to take off the tape to see how it turned out but waiting for the top coat to fully dry is an important part of getting those fine lines.
10. Take Off the Tape
Now for the final and most satisfying step, removing the tape.
Start with the outer layers and work your way in. If you remove the tape too quickly it could cause tears in the paint on the RV decal.
First, remove the paper and the first layers of blue painter’s tape.
When peeling off the tape make sure you keep it tight and short.
Stay close to the part of the tape that’s being pulled off and only allow about 5 inches of tape between your hand and the RV.
When you start getting to the layers of tape that have paint on them make sure the tape isn’t peeling off any of the paint on the decal.
If you see some of the decal paint start to lift you can cut it with a razor blade.
When you get to the final layer, the automotive detail tape should leave sharp lines behind.
If everything was done right your newly painted decal should look almost like a vinyl decal with clear and smooth lines.
You might still see some faint outlines of cracks if the original decal was in bad shape to begin with. That’s normal and something you have to be ok with if you go the paint over route.
It’s usually not that noticeable, especially from a distance.
11. Touch Up the Paint if Necessary
If any paint on the RV decal did tear leaving a crack or white spot where there should be color paint you can touch up the area using a q-tip and the colored enamel paint.
If any of the color paint ended up where it wasn’t supposed to you can sometimes remove it using a q-tip and a little paint thinner.
Just make sure you don’t damage the RV paint underneath.
12. Apply a UV Protectant
Your newly painted RV decal should be looking shiny and new but it can still fade over time.
Now is a good time to start using your choice of petroleum distillate free RV wax or vehicle surface protectant like 303 Aerospace (click to view on Amazon) to keep your RV decals looking fresh and sharp for years to come.
Have any questions about painting over faded or cracked RV decals? Leave a comment below.