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How to mend a vinyl seat is probably going to be your easiest fix, when it comes to vinyl repair. There are those one's that are a little tricky, but all in all the seat repair is the easiest, there is more padding behind the repair area, under patches can be used to reinforce the repair, they just seem to give me less fits and are easier to mend. Vinyl repair is definitely a game of skill balanced with patience. Taking your time to make your repair look perfect and not just good enough, will make or break a vinyl repair craftsman.
One thing you definitely need to keep in mind is if the hole or crack is to large then is needs to be replaced not mended. I've seen some pretty blown out seats in my day and have turned down a lot of work because I know my limitations to my pixie dust, as some of my customers call it ( that is one reason I love my job so much is because the products I use are definitely like magic). If the seat has a hole in it let's say 3 or more inches maybe 4 but depends on the under structure, it needs to go to an upholstery shop. The thing is a repair is just that a repair, the products are made for small imperfections, not blow outs, that if left can get worse. But by mending them you can make a piece of vinyl look new again and the repair will last longer when done so.
I have found that a good relationship with a good upholstery shop is a must in this business. If you think it's to bad, and a vinyl repair just won't cut it then always refer your customer to a good upholstery shop. Not only will they be happier with the end result, but you will be to. By building a relationship with the upholstery shop, you also gain another avenue in automotive interior restoration. A good upholstery shop will have you doing work with them, for them, for their customers, the relationships just keep going.
In this business it's who you know, what you know, and how well you can perform.
Always prep the area thoroughly with your prepping solution, using your scotch brite pad to scuff as you clean. Sand the area if you can with a 240 grit sandpaper, I usually sand just about an inch all the way around the area, this gives the area around the hole just a little bit more for the compound to grab to. Wipe it clean again.
Apply a thin layer of grip base or primer over the vinyl repair area by wiping it on with a wet paper towel. This gives you prep for the dye going to be applied, and gives you a little more bonding power.
Now, kinda warm the up the if the vinyl is cold or just kinda stiff with your heat gun being careful not to burn through the backing if there is any left, this helps so an under patch doesn't have to be put in.
If an under patch is required add it now. I like to cut the under patch to fit about a 1/4 of inch inside all the way around, cut the edges of the patch so that the corners are rounded. Slide the patch under the repair with a pair of sharp tweezers. Get the coated under patch that when heated bonds itself to back of the vinyl it helps give added strength to your under patch. If you use glue beware, it bubbles, I don't like glue in a vinyl repair on a seat...on a door panel now that's another story. Glue, even super glue can help in a vinyl repair on a door panel or dash, but on a seat, you need flex, and I have yet to use a super glue that doesn't leave a hard spot.
Once the patch is in place if needed, it's time to put you vinyl repair compound on. There are so many different brands to choose from, thick, thin, the list is pretty long. I use the Gator Grip high heat and low heat compounds. Works good, grains well, and lasts. But we all have our favorites, I'm still in research mode, always trying the newest and best to improve and get the perfect vinyl repair. So if you have any suggestions feel free to put them in the comments.
Smooth the compound along the crack, using a pallet knife, and under the area, coating the under patch if used, then smooth the top out . Now the first coat needs to be a little thicker but smooth, you don't want a glob, but a substantial amount to cover the area filling in the gap, and only take the compound out from the area about a 1/4". Smooth out with finger if needed.
Using your grain pad, held in your palm, not your finger you don't want to leave a dent in the vinyl when heated, heat the vinyl with your heat gun until the repair compound turns color and you see smoke, this is a good thing you want the two to bond together, once it smokes (not fire by the way, you don't want to burn it just melt it) remove the heat and immediately press the grain pad to the vinyl repair area. It will be pretty hot, sometimes I'll put a towel in my hand with the grain pad, a sore burned hand is not fun to work with all day. If you can while making your grain molds make them just a little thicker and helps to cut down on the burnt palm. Hold it there for a few seconds then remove. Press firmly, but not hard enough your stretching the heated vinyl. Practice makes perfect....
Dye the area with a light dry coat using your water based vinyl dye, I do this by turning the air up on my gun, helps to give you the dry coat. Now apply another coat of repair compound, remember smooth thin layers, keep your work area as small as possible, your trying to make the vinyl repair disappear, so small as possible. Heat the area again then press the grain pad to the seat, Dye the area and see what you got....does it need more compound, or is it good, you be the judge. If more compound is needed then keep it goin. Layer the compound in thin layers until the crack looks as smooth as possible. The point is, is to blend the repair back into the seat. Maybe a little more dye, or even wipe a coat of grip base on the repair to fill in the edge of the vinyl repair. If needed a texture coating can be applied but I really don't like them. After you apply the texture coating, its hard to to really make it look natural. If you know how to you can achieve texture with your vinyl dyes. But graining with your graining pads is the best way to achieve perfection in a vinyl repair. Working the vinyl repair and not letting it work you.
There is a stopping point. If your area just keeps getting bigger, or the repair just looks like well.... I better not say, then stop and step back, take a break, and see what you need to do. If there is something that can to make it look better, then do it. But don't settle for an not so perfect repair and expect to get paid for it, if you can't mend it, then don't charge, it's that simple. We all want perfection, and not all seats are repairable. We are craftsman not magicians.
Vinyl repair is a craft and takes a lot of practice to get it right. So know your limitations and if it needs to be replaced then call your local upholstery shop. If it needs a vinyl repair then by all means be the vinyl repair craftsman you are and give a lasting perfect vinyl repair.
Vinyl Repair - How to Mend a Vinyl Seat is just a start to the many articles to come on vinyl repair. There are so many other applications that can't all be put into one place, so stick around and see what else is to come and be sure to shoot me some comments on this one I'd love to hear some feedback.