Times Are Changing To A New Color
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Times Are Changing To A New Color

What is color change film and wrap? Are there advantages over paint? What are the differences between color change & printed wraps? To disassembe or not? Get the right perspective before you leap.

By Molly Waters

Learn to get all the expectations in order before going in for change.

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  • What is a color change film and wrap?
    In today's world the wraps that change a vehicle's color are known by various names such as paint wraps, paint replacement wraps, and color change wraps. In this article, I will use my preferred term of "Color Change Films." I like this term because unlike the other names it does not imply that the film is going to perform just like paint. When the term paint wrap or paint replacement are used, I find that customers have the expectation that the vinyl will be just like paint. Vinyl wrap films have many advantages over repainting a vehicle. The proper expectations need to be set with the customer prior to installing the wrap.

    The advantages of using a color change film over paint.

    1. Applying a color change film is a much cleaner and faster process for changing the look of a vehicle with the added benefit of being able to go back to the OEM finish. This is important because a vehicle can lose value if it doesn't have the OEM paint. This is especially true for high dollar cars.
    2. When buying a new car, some vehicles have the option of specialty finishes such as matte paint. These upgrades can cost thousands of dollars (even more than a wrap). In these cases, it may be more economical to go with a shiny factory finish and then have the vehicle customized with the specialty wrap color of your choice.
    3. In addition to the standard finishes of solid color gloss, metallic gloss, solid color matte and matte metallics, there are some textured options with vinyl. Manufacturers have the ability to simulate brushed metal, carbon fiber, leather, ostrich and several other textures. These textured films may be too much for a full wrap, but they offer a great option for customization on vehicles. Common uses include covering the hood, roof, trunk lid, mirrors, body moldings, etc.
    4. If the wrap is for a commercial vehicle, it is very likely that the owner will need to change the color of the vehicle again before resale. If the vehicle was wrapped, the wrap can be removed leaving a factory finish on the vehicle that helps increase its resale value.

    If you are looking for a permanent, longer lasting color change for a vehicle then you might consider paint. Vinyl does have its limitations, the durability stated by most manufacturers is going to be around 5-9 years. Also, vinyl has limitations on horizontal durability. Most color change films have a horizontal durability of 2-3 years.

    The Difference between Installing Color Change Films and Printed Ad Wraps
    With individuals wanting to customize their vehicles with these cool new colors and textures, many shops want to move in this direction. Shop owners and installers need to understand that the expectations for color change wraps are much greater than they are/were for wrapping a commercial vehicle with a printed wrap. While it is not ideal, the industry and customers have accepted that an occasional seam used in the application process may be visible on a printed wrap. It is also possible to "hide" small errors in the wrap because the printed images will help camouflage them. However, the expectation for a decorative color change wrap is that there are no visible imperfections allowed. This means no seams, no small wrinkles, no patches, etc. The final look must have a "paint-like" appearance.

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    One installer I know quotes two prices for all of his wraps. His "marketing wrap" is primarily for printed graphics going on commercial vehicles. For these applications, he often leaves mirrors and door handles on the vehicle when installing the wrap and will trim around these areas of the vehicle, occasionally leaving a seam in the film. This same installer also offers what he calls a "decorative wrap" which is priced considerably higher. For these types of wraps he takes off all door handles, mirrors, lights, etc., so that the vinyl can be applied without seams or any visible trim lines.

    Color change goes even further by removing bumpers, doors…. As you can imagine this adds a lot more work and the price installers charge goes up accordingly. A high end color change wrap takes approximately 4-5 days which includes a day for disassembly, another day at the end of the application for reassembly, and 2-3 days are allowed for the wrap installation itself. Note: in these photos they have removed the door and covered ALL of the visible paint with a wrap vinyl. When the vehicle is reassembled it is very difficult for the average person to know that this is not paint.

    Installing Color Change Films
    The basics for the installation of color change films and a commercial graphics wrap are pretty much the same. The wrap should be done indoors in a dust-free, controlled environment. Ideally the minimum application temperature is not below 70 degrees F. If it is much lower than this, more heat will be needed during the application process. The vehicle needs to be very clean. Any dust particles or imperfections left on the vehicle will show through on the wrap and likely be magnified so it is even more visible than it was without the vinyl applied.

    The biggest preparation difference for a full color change versus a printed wrap is going to be how much the vehicle is disassembled for the wrap. The more the vehicle can be disassembled the more the wrap can be installed to resemble a paint-like finish because the film can cover areas an installer cannot normally get to when the vehicle is fully assembled.

    The tools used to install the wraps are also basically the same. You may notice that scratches from the squeegee are more visible on color change films. This is because there is no image in the background to distract your eye. To minimize or eliminate scratches, it is necessary to use a good quality squeegee with a buffer. You can use a squeegee with felt or one like the Wet Edge with a built in microfiber chamois material. It is important to lubricate the face side of the film with soapy water. You can spray the soapy water onto the top of the film or saturate the squeegee buffer. Below are photos demonstrating the use of a soapy water solution to lubricate a chrome film during the installation.

    Care and maintenance for vehicle wraps is imperative to keep them looking good. It is important to provide proper guidance to your customer in this area. I wrote an article a few months back about the "Care and Maintenance of Your Vehicle Wrap" that can be found by clicking here.

    The bottom line is wrapped vehicles need to be cleaned regularly. It is recommended that the vehicle is cleaned at least every 2-3 weeks with a good quality spray wax (without petroleum distillates) or a waterless wash.

    Wrapping It Up
    If you are thinking about getting into color change wraps, please keep the things I mentioned earlier in mind. It isn't quite as easy as just buying a roll of color change film and applying it to the vehicle. You will need better than average installation skills and lots of practice to be successful in this market.

    Top section photos courtesy Ingocnito Wraps. Films used in the wraps above are Avery Dennison Supreme Wrapping Film Blaze Orange Matte Metallic and Chrome.

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