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.

This year back to school will be very different than all the others with this pandemic going on. Some habits will need to be change, and some others will need to be enforced.

Identifying school supplies will be even more important. There will be no borrowing of materials. We’ll need to be careful to identify E-VE-RY-THING in order to prevent Coronavirus and other germs from spreading.

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.

Materials and tools

  • A cutting machine (I have the Cricut Maker but the Explore Air 2 works for that too!)
  • A colour inkjet printer
  • Printable vinyl (this is the one I used but for school supplies, I suggest the Cricut brand and you’ll see why below!)
  • My free template including 40 different sticker sizes and styles. You can download it from my free library by subscribing to my newsletter right here:

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.

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 happened did:

Stickers made of printable vinyl where you can see the scratches

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.

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!

Self-adhesive protective film

Yes, you know what I’m taking 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 inconvenient. 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 to try.

Stickers made of printable vinyl that I added to the dishwasher

My biggest disappointment

I decided to try the stickers 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 (and I noticed it 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

Many other tutorials out there are using Cricut printable vinyl to make pencil identification labels and it seems to work fine. Maybe I shouldn’t have tried to be more clever and should have gone with this solution!

So, if I were you, I would use the Cricut brand and apply a coat of Minwax Polyurethane to make it water-resistant. (Because the Cricut brand will bleed instantly in contact with water. That’s why I was trying something else in the first place!!!) If you do try this solution, please leave me a comment below to tell me how it went!

I promise to buy the Cricut printable vinyl in my next Cricut order and test it. Since I’m in Canada, I can’t even buy it from Amazon so it will have to wait a bit! 🤷‍♀️

For now, I’m angrily resolutely adding scotch tape over the pens and pencils stickers… 😳

The other thing I’m thinking, but it’s not as cute, is to get my P-Touch Cube out. I could use either black letters on a white background or clear background with white letters. They also have a lot of other colour options including this turquoise one 😍.

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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2 thoughts on “Should you DIY back to school identification stickers with printable vinyl?

  1. 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

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