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Back to School: The Value of Learning to Wrap Vehicles

Faster, more affordable printers, easier to handle vinyl materials, and an unlimited supply of customers is causing more sign shops to consider adding vinyl vehicle wraps to their menu of business services.

By Johnny Duncan

One of the hottest segments of the sign industry is the vehicle wrap segment. The popularity of these mobile advertising units is causing quite a stir in the industry. Faster, more affordable printers, easier to handle vinyl materials, and an unlimited supply of customers is causing more sign shops to consider adding vinyl vehicle wraps to their menu of business services.

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  • Challenges such as entrance into this exciting market and lack of experience have opened the way for some savvy individuals and companies to start wrap schools. Wrap schools offer expert instruction in the application of vinyl to vehicles (as well as other objects), and most of them can help you to avoid some of the costly mistakes that they’ve made through their years of experience.

    Why School?
    Why, after all of the years of working and experience in one field should someone consider wrap schools? One reason is that vehicle wraps are becoming more popular than ever before. “There are a lot of factors in play causing the increase in demand for vehicle wraps, such as improved substrates from the vinyl manufacturers and improved printer technology, that makes it easier for sign shops to get into wraps,” notes Rob Ivers, a 30 year veteran of the vinyl industry. “In addition, the end customer will see a good, quality wrap and say, ‘Wow, I’d like to have that.’”

    Another reason for the growth of wrap schools is to produce more qualified installers for the industry. Paul Valdstyn, a partner in, says that having experienced installers is just the half of it. “Nothing replaces experience. If I question an installer candidate and ask questions that he answers incorrectly or doesn’t know, I can tell that he is not experienced, so the schools alone won’t provide qualified installers. However, the schools are necessary in that they provide the basis so that a green installer can at least get started in this field.”

    Learning the basics of wrapping can go a long way in laying the foundation of a skill set for doing wraps efficiently. Like most skilled learning, the value of a wrap school is found in learning from an experienced installer who can show you what “not” to do as well as what to do. These short-cuts that avoid years of headaches are an invaluable resource if taught by an experienced vinyl installer.

    “Since there are more and more end users wanting vehicle graphics, we are expanding our wrap classes to five locations across Canada,” states Jeff Uzbalis, Director of Sales and Marketing, 3M Canada. “People are finding that vehicle wraps are the most cost-effective method of advertising and so they are demanding more. At the same time, there are more changes in vehicle designs and vehicle finishes. This causes a demand to learn how to properly apply the wraps and our classes are helping people to get started doing that.”

    (Indeed vehicle wraps or fleet graphics deliver the most effective cost per impression compared to other forms of advertising at about $.70 per impression. A four-color full page ad in a magazine costs about $21.45; one-third page ad in the newspaper at about $19.70; a thirty second TV ad at $18.15; and a thirty second radio ad at $7.75.)

    “There has always been a need for the schools. Before I started vinyl application training in the early ‘90s, I looked around and saw that there was a need for some type of training, but none existed”, says Ivers. “I wanted to create a qualified vinyl application training system that worked.” Ivers’ insists on keeping his classes small in order to provide personal instruction to each student.

    Tor Black of Wrap Academy says that he saw the need to start a wrap school after he noticed that he would train his employees, then they would eventually leave to start their own business. “I decided to start a school. I took a wrapped vehicle to the ISA show in Orlando one year and just had people come by my booth to sign up,” says Black, “It has continued to grow since.”

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    Black says that if people are not learning to wrap, they are behind in the vinyl business. “People need to start doing wraps in order to keep up with the vinyl industry. The best way to learn is to actually do it. All I’m doing is shortening the learning curve by offering the school.”

    The Student
    The typical student who attends a wrap school is usually someone already in the sign business who is looking either to diversify their shop by adding vehicle wraps or a person already doing wraps looking to improve their skills.

    “We see a mix of students in the Wrap Academy,” states Black. “It is sign shop owners and/or their sons, daughters, and nephews. They are trying to get everyone involved to increase business and stay ahead of the competition.”

    The cost is always a factor in deciding if a wrap school is a viable option. Some sign shops find it difficult to find enough time, let alone the funds, to attend classes, but like most things in business, the cost should be seen as an investment into the future.

    Most large vinyl suppliers, including 3M, Avery Dennison, and Arlon offer seminars and training for vehicle wrap installation. Some include certification programs, while other companies outside of these suppliers sell DVDs and online training. Costs can range from $200 up to $50,000 depending on the company, class size, location, and length of classes.

    Rob Ivers started the Turn-Key Vehicle Wrap Training. With this training, he goes to the client’s location and provides hands-on instruction. This includes all of the materials needed, including the vinyl. “My class is a five day class with a maximum of five students which allows me to better train each student. I will allow them to make mistakes, the same mistakes I made before, then I show them how to correct those mistakes saving them all those years of headaches.”

    The cost for Rob Ivers Turn-Key Vehicle Wrap Training is $19,500 for a class of five students. The cost includes all of Ivers’ expenses and he provides all of the tools, equipment, cleaning supplies and solvents, all of the training vinyl and enough vinyl to do a real wrap on a Ford van or similar. Training sessions run from Monday-Friday, with a daily schedule of 8:00 a.m. - noon and from 1:00 - 5:00 p.m.

    At the Wrap Academy, Tor Black charges $50 for just an overview of the wrap business and $5,000 per student for a six day class with three instructors and 10 students maximum. “Our goal is to have the best trained in the nation. We also offer continuing education for our graduates.”

    “A lot of people avoid vehicle graphics because they think it is too difficult,” says Uzbalis, “but we pull people into the market and show them others who have done it before. Then, once they get through the school and see how easy the 3M products are to use, they usually feel more comfortable wrapping.”

    After learning from an experienced vinyl application instructor, students find themselves with more confidence in finding work and tackling projects they never thought possible before.

    “I’ve actually used my graduates as part of my network. I get a lot of nationwide business, so when I can’t handle all of the work, I use my network of students that I trained to take the jobs,” says Black.

    Because many of the students come from a sign industry background, they are already employed and looking to add more options to their businesses. This is a comfort for those who don’t immediately take on wrapping jobs. For those who hope to leave a school and begin their own wrap business, it is probably better to find a shop to work for to gain needed experience to go along with their schooling.

    ...and beyond
    The future looks bright for the vehicle wrap industry. We have new, innovative machines and materials to look forward to. As Paul Valdstyn of puts it, “There are two things that are happening to make the future brighter for installers. The first is that manufacturers are giving the industry less expensive printing systems which help the sign shop get into the business. The second is that manufacturers like 3M and others are making the vinyl products easier to put on and reposition. 3M in particular is very proactive in working with providing us with new, longer lasting adhesive materials.”

    “It wouldn’t surprise me that in the next 10 years that the application we are now performing will be obsolete. UV film production is improving and will probably be less brittle, there will probably be solvents that dramatically affect the adhesive,” says Ivers.

    “I see it like clothing trends. When I first started, it was the thing for vehicles to have just a thin pin stripe on it. Then, the fancy airbrush fad came and everyone wanted to have that. Now, we are doing complete vehicle wraps, more so because of advertising needs, but it is probably here to stay for quite a while.”

    And since vehicle wrapping is not going away, learning to wrap from a wrap school is a wise investment of time and money for any sign shop.

    To reach Rob Ivers for more information go to: or call 816.331.2079. To reach Tor Black of the Wrap Academy, go to: To reach Paul Valdstyn of go to: or call 1-888-290-7776. To reach Jeff Uzbalis, of 3M Canada, call 905-602-3833.

    All photos provided by the Wrap Academy

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