Decals vs. Stickers: A Useful Guide of Distinctions

Men fencing with swords

By: Naomi J. Golbeck, Staff Writer

Many people use the terms “stickers” and “decals”  interchangeably. But is this an error in semantics or just a verbal shorthand?

In this little guide, I will cover the major differences between dueling stickers and decals.

Let’s lunge right in!

Chapter One: It’s Elementary, Dear Reader

Wooden shaped blocks

Your elementary school Math teacher likely once told you that every square is also a rectangle. You may or may not have believed them, but technically they were right.

Well, guess what?  

Every decal is technically a sticker! I’ll say it again, in all caps: EVERY DECAL IS A STICKER. 

Decals are a form of a sticker. Like pinot noir is a form of wine. In this analogy, stickers are the wine in general and decals are just a specific type of vino.

Just like squares, rectangles and wine, the biggest difference between stickers and decals is their distinctive reputations. 

Chapter Two: Custom Stickers Carry Crafty Stigma

Arts and crafts materials

Stickers carry the nostalgia of youthful decorating fun! Just the word “sticker” reminds us of gold stars in class! It also brings us back to arts and crafts with friends and decorating school lockers and notebooks. 

Sticker designs have also had some practical applications in your childhood. We all remember the Mr. Yuk stickers your parents placed on household items that they didn't want you to ingest. But just in case you did, you little troublemaker, the stickers listed the local poison control. 

Practical and brilliant. 

Stickers are often associated with childhood memories, whether from school projects or birthday cards. Even though people still use them for practical purposes today, they will always hold a special place in our hearts.

Chapter Three: Custom Decals Have a Professional Reputation

Decals on a Ferrari

In contrast, decals give the feeling of maturity. Let’s say that you need custom lettering for your boat registration. Do you choose sticker lettering or decal lettering? In this case, “decal” naturally has more authority.

Psychologically speaking, decals have a professional appeal. They serve as endorsement wraps on fancy race cars, and as giant window perf advertisements on storefront windows. 

If decals ae good enough to slap on a Ferrari, then they’ll serve your own vehicle very well, too!

Chapter Four: The Technical Differences

Technical gadgets

Respective reputations and emotional triggers aside, decals and stickers do have some technical differences.


The Intended lifespan is a major difference between stickers and decals. Decals are meant to be permanent. A great example of this is floor decals. They get trampled on all day!

Another example of good longevity is wall decals that are used to decorate home and business interiors all year long. Decals are designed to last longer than stickers, making them more suitable for industrial settings.

Stickers have a decent lifespan, too. However, most people intend for them to be temporary and removable, like in the case of cell phone or laptop stickers. 

When properly installed and maintained, these are the expected lifespans of our most common decal and sticker materials:

Removable sticker material:1 to 3 years. 

Permanent sticker material: 3 to 5 years.

Standard vinyl decal material: 3-5 years.

High-Performance vinyl material: up to 8 years.


Stickers tend to be smaller in size than decals, they fit on cell phones, after all. They can also be produced on sheets in bulk. 

Decals are usually printed in larger formats or pieced together to create giant wall artwork and window perfs. The max print size for a custom vinyl decal is 52” x 120”. In contrast, the max print size for a custom vinyl sticker is 12” x 12”.

Both adhesive products have versatile sizes to fit just about any type of project.

Chapter Five: The Differences in Everyday Usage

Carton off brown eggs one white egg

You can use eggs to cook a Denver omelet or Eggs Benedict. You can also poach them, scramble them, and add them to a smoothie. Many things have different applications, and decals and stickers do too. 

I mentioned earlier that stickers and decals hold different reputations. Well, that directly ties into how people actually use them everyday.

How People Use Decals

Decals have a strong adhesive, making them great for outdoor projects or anything that will be exposed to moisture for a while. 

Due to their longevity and adhesive, decals are ideal for rough and tough uses. They are used for ATV, boat and USDOT vinyl lettering and numbering. That is some serious decal usage and they bear the road well traveled nicely.

How People Use Stickers

Stickers are used for quirky, cute and inexpensive decorating. It is why we give them to children inside birthday or holiday cards. It’s also why college students put NFL logo stickers on their laptops. 

That way,  everyone in the cafeteria will know they’re loyal and used to disappointment as a Minnesota Vikings fan. 

If this information was useful to you, please share this article!