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Should you DIY back to school identification stickers with printable vinyl?

I’m always very honest in my posts. No sunshine and rainbows and everything always going perfectly as planned. No, that’s not me, and certainly not real life!!! In this post, I’ll tell you if you should DIY stickers with printable vinyl to label school supplies.

Now, I was pumped to do it all by myself (well, with the help of my Cricut and kids of course!) I even made free templates for you. You’ll have over 40 shapes and styles of stickers that you can personalize and use.

What I wasn’t ready for is my plan not working as perfectly as I wanted! You see, I wanted them to really stick to pencils, pens, etc. in order to last at least a whole year.

My tests making stickers with printable vinyl

I’ve tested a couple of things in order to find the best way to make stickers that will last a least a whole school year. This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience and at no extra cost to you. Click here to see my full disclosure policy.

I didn’t want to take the regular Avery Sticker paper since it is repositionable. I instead found a printable vinyl that I thought would stick better.

Also, what attracted me to try this vinyl is that it was labelled “waterproof”. So I thought it would be way better than the Cricut brand which I found needed a sealer in order to prevent the ink from bleeding if it got in contact with water. (Check out the bottom of this post because I have a new conclusion for you!)

Materials and tools

  • A Cricut machine (I’m using the Cricut Maker but the Explore family could also work. Unfortunately, the Cricut Joy doesn’t work for “Print and Cut”)
  • Inkjet printer
  • Printable vinyl (here’s the one I was using in the video, but for school supplies, I recommend the Cricut brand and you’ll see why at the bottom of this post!
  • My free SVG file that includes 40 different styles and sizes of back-to-school stickers that you can download just below:

Is printable vinyl waterproof?

Now, even though it is written “waterproof” directly on the package, it is not totally waterproof. I would say more, water-resistant… to a certain point.

It can withstand a bit of water but don’t submerge the sticker completely in water. If you do and don’t touch it while it’s wet, it will stay unharmed.

Craftables vinyl

I was not that nice with it!!! I submerged it in water and then tried to scratch it. After all, I’m making the stickers to put on school supplies. I need them to last at least a whole year!!

Well, what I thought would happen did:

Stickers made of printable vinyl where you can see the scratches

Cricut printable vinyl

Despite being told that the ink would smudge directly when the Cricut vinyl came in contact with water, it didn’t happen!

Two things to note: I waited at least 24h after printing before putting it under water. Also, the quality of the ink or the printer may have an impact on this test. I can’t confirm since I only have one printer and no way to compare!

So, on this point, Cricut vinyl is identical to the Craftables brand: The ink stays put when wet, as long as you don’t start scratching!

How to make printable vinyl stickers more durable?

I searched the web to find the best solution to make my stickers waterproof, if not, at least more durable.

Mod Podge

So I first tested with Mod Podge. You can add the Mod Podge with a foam brush before of after you cut the stickers.

What I don’t like it’s that you can definitely see that something was added on top of the printable vinyl.

Stickers made of printable vinyl where you can see the Mod Podge

It will protect the vinyl from wear but you know what? Once I added water, it was the same thing. I could easily scratch the printable vinyl.

Minwax Polyurethane

Then I got out the big guns ?! I went outside and sprayed my printable vinyl with Minwax Polyurethane. I was sure this would be the perfect solution.

The finish was beautiful. Way better than the Mod Podge. It also added nice protection from wear.

Craftables vinyl

But still, the water test failed as soon as I scratch the stickers while it was wet. I repeat, if you don’t touch it while wet, it will dry and everything will be fine.

Stickers made of printable vinyl where you can see the scratches

Even with 2 and 3 coat of Minwax Polyurethane!

Needless to say, I was soooo disappointed!

But I had not said my last word… yet!

Cricut printable vinyl

Strangely, for the Cricut vinyl, a coat of Minwax polyurethane was enough to make it waterproof and resistant to my “scratches”. I have a hard time understanding why it didn’t work with the other brand!

Self-adhesive protective film

Yes, you know what I’m talking about right? The protective film that you can buy at the Dollar Store? The one to cover books. The one we often use as transfer paper?

Yes, that one!

Photo of protective film from the dollar store to protect stickers made with printable vinyl
Photo credit: Dollarama

It was the most effective protection against water.

But there was a major inconvenience. Adding the protective film made the vinyl a lot thicker and therefore, difficult to bend.

So it was then impossible to make it sticks to pencils.

But I did push my luck and put it in the dishwasher ?!

To my surprise, they stayed there! There was a little water that slid through the left label, but not that bad! I agree though, they wouldn’t last a lot of wash like that but it was worth trying.

Stickers made of printable vinyl that I added to the dishwasher

My biggest disappointment

I decided to try the stickers that I made with the Craftables vinyl without anything added to the vinyl. I wanted to know if they would at least stay on for a whole school year. But a couple of hours after labelling all the pens and pencils, I noticed that the stickers wanted to come off. ? The stickers wouldn’t stay in place on anything that was a bit rounded.

Stickers made of printable vinyl that doesn't stick to flat surfaces

To the manufacturer’s defence (which I noticed after this experiment), it does say on their website, but not on the packaging “perfectly formulated for walls and flat surfaces”. Oh well…

They were right, it did stay on a flat surface like this one:

Stickers made of printable vinyl that stays well on flat surfaces

The final solution: Use Cricut printable vinyl!

So I took my lid back under the water with some “plain” labels and labels coated with a layer of Minwax polyurethane. The result is really conclusive!

Before adding water:

After adding water and scratching:

The polyurethane-coated vinyl even withstood my “scratching”!

And you know what? With or without polyurethane, the vinyl holds super well on curved surfaces like pencils!!!

Seriously! I should have started with Cricut printable vinyl! ?

Check out the video!

Whatever you do, I invite you to check out this video. I will show you:

  • How to use my free identification template (that has 40 different sticker styles that you can personalize)
  • How to add a pattern to the stickers
  • How to print and cut
  • How to create a new material and what pressure to use if you’re adding a layer of the protective film.

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    Tuesday 18th of August 2020

    My kids are older so I'm not too worried about this. But what I used to do was use nail polish on pencils. Also helped to prevent chewing. I worried that with labels, it'd get picked off and another kid would try to claim it. If my kids were still elementary age I'd just buy the cheapest pencils, keep them in their backpack and not stress about it. The P-touch is also surprisingly durable


    Tuesday 18th of August 2020

    You're totally right! Thanks for your comment!

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