Looking for a definitive answer over at Yahoo Answers won’t help clarify differences:“decal is a more professional word for sticker”…Incorrect; “I would think of a sticker as say a white label and a decal as clear”… No; “Usually a sticker is paper, example an Avery label and not durable and a decal has a permanent adhesive and is more durable”…Nope!
Let’s go to the New Oxford Dictionary and try to break it down piece by piece. Then, I’ll let you know how we at Patterson Print Shop (seller of custom stickers, decals, and labels) tend to define these products.
sticker n. an adhesive label or notice, generally printed or illustrated.
label n. a small piece of paper, fabric, plastic, or similar material attached to an object and giving information about it.
decal n. a design prepared on special paper for transfer onto another surface such as glass, porcelain, or metal.
As you can see, it’s fairly obvious why we also get asked the question; “what is the difference between a label and a sticker?” A sticker can be a type of label, and labels with an adhesive are also stickers. At Patterson we use the term “sticker”, as in “bumper sticker”, “die cut sticker”, “window sticker”, etc., to define more heavy-duty labels/stickers that can be used outdoors and hold up to the elements over an extended period of time. These are printed on a vinyl or sometimes a polyester material with durable outdoor inks and a permanent adhesive .
We generally use the term “label” to describe adhesive products printed on papers not suitable for outdoors. “Address labels”, “shipping labels”, “lapel labels”, etc., tend to be supplied on rolls or sheets for use (indoors) on packaging, paperwork, clothing, products, and more.
The term, “decals” on the other hand, is often used interchangeably with other outdoor sticker products. But, as you can see in the New Oxford definition, “decals” are more associated with a “transfer” from one medium to another. “Decal” is short for “decalcomania” and usually is a more decorative type design. Thus “slide-on transfer decals” in the model building world, or water-slide ceramic decals (transfers) for tile and ceramic uses are an accurate use of the decal term.
Where the decal-or-sticker confusion usually lies stems from vinyl die-cut lettering and graphics. These are for long term outdoor use and are supplied with a pre-masking sheet, so upon application are transferred from one sheet/medium to another. Unlike a traditional “sticker” which is removed from it’s backing paper and stuck where-ever, this type of vinyl decal is being transferred (often in multiple pieces) from the masking sheet to a smooth surface. So, at Patterson vinyl cut lettering and graphics are referred to as “decals” and all other one-piece, outdoor printed vinyl or clear polyester as “stickers”. Decals are a type of sticker, however, so you’ll hear and see the term “vinyl cut stickers” as well.
I hope this drawn out answer helps you figure out the difference between these products. It is always best, regardless of the terms you use, to tell a manufacturer exactly what you are trying to accomplish with this sticky medium and where you want the sticker/decal ultimately to be applied/stuck. Whatever you are trying to label, decorate, or promote, if you want your name (or message, or graphic) to stick, Patterson Print Shop can help clarify and design the best custom product to meet your needs.