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Complex Wraps Demand Advanced Techniques, Part II

Are you handling your film right? Is your graphics guy designing with wraps in mind? Are you removing vinyl from contours the right way? Lots of questions. We’ve got answers.

By Jennifer LeClaire

Even master wrappers can learn a few new tricks, especially when it comes to modern-day wraps, which are getting more complex all the time. Read on because you don’t know what you don’t know.

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  • Now that you’ve selected the right film, prepared your complex surface and ensured that you’ve followed the temperature considerations laid down by the vinyl manufacturer, it’s time to get to wrapping.

    As we proceed with the “hard part” of complex wraps, you’ll discover that half the battle is doing your homework before you ever peel the backing off the film. In other words, you need to approach complex surfaces differently from the get go. Part of that is practical in nature, and part of that is in your own mind. The bottom line: don’t be intimidated by a complex wrap. Just keep in mind what the experts have to say and install ­ and remove when the time comes ­ with confidence.

    “What has made some wraps more difficult are the vehicles themselves, specifically, vans that are designed for both passenger and cargo use. The way doors or window channels are designed into the sheet metal parts of these vans can cause real problems for the installers,” says Doug Mier, a partner and operations manager at two FastSigns franchises in Kentucky.

    In part two of this two-part series, we’ll delve into design considerations, film handling, a few tips and tricks and how to remove the vinyl so you can move on to the next opportunity.

    Design Considerations
    At the end of the day, Mier says, a wrap is just a wrap. Indeed, a wrap is a just big sheets of vinyl that are applied to a vehicle ­ it doesn’t matter what’s on the vinyl. The complexity of the design can affect the alignment, however, and that’s where teamwork between the installer and the designer comes in.

    “Most designers that do vehicle design have come to understand that the K.I.S. (Keep It Simple) principal is paramount in design,” Mier explains. “Backgrounds of ambiguous shapes and colors that need very little alignment, combined with clean, sharp messages that pop, are most effective.”

    Mier points to a recent design he encountered as a prime example of his reasoning. The design was comprised of a background that looked like a page of a newspaper. Getting the lines of text perfectly level and then matching the seams would have been nearly impossible ­ and that translates to greatly increased installation times, which translates to higher installation cost. Beyond that, once a sample was printed, the primary message was lost in the “activity” of the background. Ultimately, he says, the customer rejected the design.

    The lesson learned is that designers and installers should work hand in hand, especially with complex vinyl applications. Otherwise, you could be wasting time and money and turning away customers.

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    Film Handling Tips
    Despite the actual design, you should always identify all areas on the vehicle where graphics may tend to lift, but this is even more vital when you are dealing with concave channels and other areas of complex curves or contours, according to 3M Technical Service Specialist Michael F. Stavreff. He offers five ways to reduce problems with lifting.

    1. Use a recommended primer to promote better adhesion where the film will be stretched.
    In concave channels, apply a thin layer of primer over most of the concave area. When wrapping convex areas, apply a thin layer of primer at the outside edges of the curve to prevent film edge lifting. Allow the primer to dry for five minutes.

    2. Avoid areas at the underside of the vehicle.
    These are often too difficult to clean sufficiently for proper adhesion.

    3. Use heat to soften film when stretching it around and into complex curves.
    Use as much heat as possible to soften the film without burning it. Typically, heat film to about 180 degrees Fahrenheit for convex and concave areas, including bumpers and channels. Film cools quickly, so gently stretch the film immediately. The film should be too hot to handle with unprotected hands, so wear cotton gloves. For concave channels, use cotton gloves or a squeegee with a low-friction sleeve to press the heated material into the middle of the channel first.

    4. After the film has been applied, heat the graphic to reduce the internal stress.
    Adjust the heat source so the film reaches 200 degrees Fahrenheit — too hot to touch! Move the heat source slowly across the stretched film surface.

    5. Long-term use films may be cut in deep channels to relieve stress.
    In general, cutting is not necessary if the previous applications techniques have been followed—unless the film is expected to lift in high stress areas or a non-recommended film was used.

    Develop a Feel For It
    While there are standard application procedures emerging ­ and experts agree that installers should be well versed in them ­ installers inevitably discover or develop techniques that work for them and those techniques are the real innovations in the industry, Mier says. That said, he offers a few tips from his own experience.

    “When working a cast vinyl over a complex curves, it’s important to remember that while the vinyl can be stretched and conformed, it can also be distressed if too much force is applied,” he offers. “The physical properties of cast film allow the ‘memory’ of the film to be changed with heat. Heat must be applied to both soften the film and allow for more conformability and then to again to ‘reset’ the vinyl to the new shape.”

    In Mier’s opinion, the most difficult part of a vehicle wrap are complex curves within convex areas ­ indentions that require the vinyl to both curve and shrink into channels in the vehicle body. Most vinyl manufacturers have technical bulletins that deal with these problem areas specifically and installers should review those bulletins to see what is required for the particular vinyl he is using.

    Removing the Vinyl
    Likewise, you should always look at the film manufacturer’s recommendations before attempting to remove vinyl. Fair enough. But what if you a customer comes into your shop to have vinyl removed and a new installation completed and you don’t know what kind of film was applied? Try to remove a small piece first.

    “Films with low-tack (changeable) adhesives can generally be removed without heat at 70 degrees Fahrenheit,” Stavreff says. “Other films require the use of heat for removal, which softens the adhesive. Remove the film at low angles to avoid adhesive splitting. As the surface cools, removal becomes more difficult and the surface will need to be reheated. Upon removal of the film, some adhesive residue may be left on primed surfaces. The adhesive and primer may be cleaned off with a citrus-based cleaner.”

    There are many different ways to remove vinyl and all of them have their pros and cons, adds Mier. There are chemical strippers that work to varying degrees of success. The MBX Vinyl Zapper is very effective, but messy. He says he’s even seen wallpaper steamers used with success, but only on certain vinyls. Ultimately, removal will require lots of time and labor, which again translates to increased cost. Be sure to charge accordingly.

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