Wrap It Up: Vehicle Wraps See New Developments Through Digital
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Wrap It Up: Vehicle Wraps See New Developments Through Digital

Almost anything can be wrapped, including cars, trucks, motorcycles, buses, boats, trailers, railroad cars and even buildings. Learn the critical steps to planning, creating and installing a successful wrap. Or else you'll wish you did.

This article appeared in the SGIA News, March 2006 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2006 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (www.sgia.org). All Rights Reserved.

The vehicle wrap area at the SGIA Digital Expo, held in December 2006, was a huge hit. Featuring three major players in the vehicle wrap industry, Arlon, Avery Dennison, and 3M, each wrapped a vehicle and allowed attendees to participate and experiment with their products.

Sign Elements Vehicle Templates

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  • "Vehicle wrapping is not new, but digital printing is, and so are the things you can do with it for wrapping," says Gabe Maxwell, product manager for print technology, Arlon Graphics Films. "Before digital, it was only cost effective to wrap large fleets because you had to use screen printing. But digital printing has really opened up opportunities for small fleets to use vehicle wraps, because you can wrap even one car and still get the benefits from that kind of outdoor advertising."

    Mike Stavreff, 3M Commercial Graphics Technical Service Specialist, agrees. "It has become quite common to produce even a single graphic, say to wrap a real estate agent's personal vehicle."

    Tiffany Witham, Senior Marketing Manager, Avery Dennison - Graphics Division North America, says that, "the newest thing in the market today is the awareness that people can use customized graphics to wrap their vehicle and transform what it is. We believe this awareness has stemmed from the introduction of the lower end, lower cost solvent, and eco-solvent, printers. With more people on the street now wrapping vehicles, there is a greater awareness of the application."

    There are three parts to vehicle wrapping: design, printing, and installation. Anyone considering getting into this business needs to consider all three. It is common for shops to outsource one or all of these - many larger shops provide wholesale prices for these services to smaller shops. Some shops simply act as sales reps for vehicle wrapping and outsource the entire process.

    Tackling Design and Printing
    Design work for vehicle wrapping is much different than design work for flat graphics or banners or other vinyl applications. It's important to know the size and shape of the vehicle and all its nuances. Taking measurements is extremely critical. Templates are key to doing effective design so the wrap turns out right. Experts recommend investing in an auto library - these contain vector images of cars, trucks, and buses. Design will also require the software and computers to do the designs.

    Vehicle wrapping is branding media not a message media, because people only see the wrap for a few seconds. When designing for wraps, it is best to avoid too much text or color, and to keep it simple with a strong message. "The easiest piece of the process is the printing," says Maxwell.

    While the best results are often seen from high-end solvent printers, mid-range printers are a good place for small shops to start. If you can't afford the investment in a printer you can outsource to a larger company. Many large shops offer wholesale prices on printing. Lower-cost, water-based printers are not suitable for vehicle wrap products because the media and inks used are not durable enough. "Along with high-volume output printers, less expensive digital printers continue to enter the graphics market," Stavreff explains. "A big challenge is knowing what printer to buy you need to consider dots per inch, output rate in square feet per hour, and peripheral equipment such as solvent driers."

    Installation: the Critical Step
    "Installation is harder. It gets very tricky wrapping a vehicle with, say, a piece of five by ten foot film," Maxwell says. At the SGIA Digital Expo, participants could work with the films from each company. Arlon film features repositionable adhesive that can go around channels and rivets. It can stretch 150-200 percent with heat and the proper ink density. It's highly printable, which means you can put a lot of ink down on it and therefore stretch it farther and have the ink still cover it.

    Sign Elements Vehicle Templates

    "It seems that every print shop entering the market learns from the school of hard knocks," Stavreff adds. "Vehicle graphics are tricky to design and even trickier to install properly. First-timer graphic shops will often go through a failure with a customer before realizing this." 3M product technology combined with new installation techniques have helped reduce the time and effort to install vehicle wraps. Product improvements such as films with air release have made it possible to wrap increasingly complex surfaces.

    "The best way for a shop to enter the market is to first understand the types of wraps that they would like to do and how many they think they will want to do in a given month," says Witham. "Based on that, they need to research the printer they would purchase based on resolution, ink durability, speed and cost of the unit." Avery Dennison Graphics Division also offers a range of products that are conformable over rivets, corrugated surfaces and complex curves, as well as some for flat surfaces. The products also cover a range of durability thus affecting the cost of the product.

    "For installation, I recommend companies work with a distributor of pressure sensitive vinyls, the manufacturer or the Professional Decal Application Association to understand how to install adhesive-backed media," says Witham. "This is crucial for the shop to do, so that they understand how to work with the vinyl and ensure that the graphic will last for the entire length of the recommended durability."

    Vinyl features are varied and you should check each company's product to see what is best for you. Materials are critical to getting a good outcome. Experts suggest using cast vinyl rather than calendared vinyl for vehicles: cast vinyl starts as a liquid, calendared vinyl starts as a solid and is then melted and reformed. It thus has a "memory" of what it was before melting and therefore will not lay down as easily over curves, rivets, etc. 3M recommends that only cast vinyl be used when stretching the graphic is required. Only a handful of companies cast their own vinyl: 3M, Avery Dennison, and Arlon are among them. Some experts suggest that working with high-end products can cut installation time by 30 percent, which saves money in the long run.

    "Most large vinyl suppliers, including 3M, Avery Dennison, and Arlon, offer seminars and training for vehicle wrap installation," says Maxwell. "This often can include certification programs. Vehicle wrapping requires a very specialized skillset, and so offering this service is very different from offering other commodity services. You can be distinguished by the level of your skills and expertise." 3M offers application training as well as a new DVD providing application instructions for complex vehicle contours.

    Call it a Wrap
    Almost any type of vehicle can be wrapped, including cars, trucks, motorcycles and buses. Arlon has wrapped casinos. Boats, trailers and railroad cars can be wrapped, as can buildings. "We've seen the sale of vehicle wraps going up tremendously," Maxwell says.

    "We also see the market growing," Witham says. "It's a great way for someone to personalize their vehicle. The film looks like paint, and yields a high end effect." "Almost anything with a smooth painted surface can have graphics applied," says Stavreff. "Wrapping water towers and tanks has become popular lately. Partial building wraps have also become more common." 3M believes the market will continue to grow because advertisers are looking for unique, attention-getting ways to communicate their messages. This, teamed with the fact that the process of printing and wrapping vehicles has become easier, will ensure that vehicle wraps will remain a significant feature in the promotional landscape.

    See the latest in Vehicle Wraps at SGIA'06, September 26-29, Las Vegas, Nevada.

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