How to Remove Decals from Gel Coat

Boats usually have some sort of decal on them; whether it’s the name of the boat, the brand of the boat, or even just a custom detail added to the boat, it’s very common to have to work with or around decals, unless of course, they’re being taken off. Taking off decals is an important skill as a detailer, and it’s not nearly as intimidating as you may think. We’ll break it all down for you!

What do I Need to Remove a Decal?

Your supply list for removing boat decals is fairly short. All you’ll need is a plastic razor blade, a regular drill, a 3M eraser wheel, wet sanding supplies, and any supplies you may want for compounding or polishing after the removal. It’s important that the plastic tool used to scrape off the decal won’t damage the gel coat, so keep that in mind.

Why Should I Remove a Boat Decal?

Apart from a customer wanting the decal removed because it doesn’t look good anymore or isn’t what they want anymore, you may have to remove a decal to detail a boat. It’s very difficult to get rotaries in between the small gaps and spacings on the decal’s letters, so if you’re doing a detailing job, it’s sometimes best to remove the decal, detail, then add a new decal on.

How Do I Remove Decals?

Removing decals is fairly simple, and with a little elbow grease, you shouldn’t have any problem being successful. There are four simple steps including wet sanding:

  • Use a plastic tool to remove the decal. This part of the process will scrape off the thick decals so you can get to work removing all the leftover residue. Most tools can’t remove the decals themselves because they are usually too thick, so scraping them off is the first step.
  • Use a drill eraser wheel to remove the remaining residue. The 3M eraser and drill come into play in this step. Be sure the drill is on the “drill” setting, and keep the speed at a 1 or 2, carefully working through each letter to remove all that sticky, thick residue left by the decals.
  • Wipe the boat with a microfiber towel and denatured alcohol. Denatured alcohol is a great help in getting some of the more stubborn but small bits of residue left over, and it’ll help ensure the entire surface is ready for wet sanding. 
  • Finish with wet sanding. We have blogs about the details of wet sanding, but you’ll need a flex rotary polisher, a Mirka 6” Abralon disc, and some water to get the final bits of residue off.

Watch the step-by-step process below!


Decals Usually Leave Lasting Marks

After you have removed the decals, wet sanded the area, and even compounded or polished it, you may notice discoloration left from the decal itself. The glue on the decal can react with the gel coat to leave long-lasting discoloration. Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done about this discoloration, so we recommend covering the area with a new decal. This is a helpful tip when discussing the realities with your customers so you can set expectations clearly. 

Articles you may like

Articles you may like