Successful & Stunning Vehicle Wraps: What You Need to Know, Part I - The Online Magazine for the Sign Trade.
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Successful & Stunning Vehicle Wraps: What You Need to Know, Part I

When I attend a show and see a row of vehicles lined up for a contest about how fast someone can wrap a vehicle, I have to wonder how true this is compared to what the average company goes through to create a vehicle wrap.

By David King, Commander of Results, MarketKING

In this two-part article, I want to make sure that I help you gain an understanding of all the aspects of vehicle wraps so that when you take on the next wrap project, you can be more aware of the correct ways to wrap and the pitfalls to avoid.

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  • When I began wrapping vehicles with graphics in 1996, I purchased the proper "certified" equipment (electrostatic). I went to 3M Scotch Print school and I made sure I was in compliance with all of the stringent rules for wrapping vehicles. At the time, these rules were well-defined; all vehicle graphics film was to be manufactured in a specific way and only certified sites would be allowed to offer a full, five-year warranty on the wraps. This meant that all vehicle graphics film that was mounted to a vertical surface, excluding window perf, carried a full five-year warranty. The window perf only carried a one-year warranty, and coincidentally, a good number of the window graphics would fail within one and a half years. Today, we have hundreds of choices of vehicle graphics film, from water-based UV inks printed on a calendared vinyl to UV curable films with a UV liquid coating. Additionally, the current warranty from most film manufacturers is for "materials only" - meaning if the vehicle graphics vinyl is defective, the manufacturer will only pay for the materials, not the labor to remove and install the new wrap.

    Polar Trailer full wrap

    I spend much of my time working with sign and graphics companies all over the US and Canada. Many of these companies are either into wraps or trying to get into wraps and are running into problems. Our industry is not much different from many industries in that sales and marketing people are always trying to make things look much easier than they really are. In this two-part article, I want to make sure that I help you gain an understanding of all the aspects of vehicle wraps so that when you take on the next wrap project, you can be more aware of the correct ways to wrap and the pitfalls to avoid.

    Selling the Vehicle Wrap
    Today, less than one percent of the vehicles on the road have graphics on them and less than three percent of the commercial vehicles on the road have digital graphics on them. When someone tells me that the market is saturated, I always say: "I guess you are not looking hard enough." Vehicle graphics have a 10 times better return on investment than the next best choice. When my clients ask me for a price on vehicle wraps, my answer is always: "A PT Cruiser is $3,000 and a bus is $10,000." Often the response is something like: "Wow, I thought it would cost about $300-500," or a slightly more positive reaction. When I get the $300-$500 comment, I do not waste any time and I move on. When I get the slightly more positive reaction, I automatically ask them what they currently spend on marketing. Depending on the answer, I either give them the cost of a quarter page ad in The Boston Globe, a full-page ad in a magazine or a four inch block ad in the Yellow Pages. Then I tell them that the vehicle wrap is good for five years, and that every one of my clients has seen a direct return on wrap investments. I break down the wrap cost by year and then compare this with what they currently spend. Once a prospect has viewed my Web site and has previewed the hundreds of vehicle wraps I have done, price is no longer an issue. Money is spent so carefully today and no company wants to take a chance spending their hard-earned marketing dollars with a company that cannot show past success. I close a good 70 percent of all my wrap sales calls, which translates to over 3,000 wraps sold since 1996!

    ANG Humvee full wrap

    Setting Expectations
    One of the largest mistakes we make in our industry is setting expectations too high. I tell my clients to set the bar lower so that overachieving is more likely to happen. When a client brings in their vehicle to be wrapped, take the time to walk the client around the vehicle, pointing out the issues that need to be addressed before they pick up their newly wrapped vehicle. For example, the area under the door handle will not be wrapped since once the vinyl is on top of the door handle, there is none left to put under it. Since no vehicle is a perfect square (excluding straight trucks), no pattern or design will line up from the side to the back or from the front quarter panel to the hood. Save yourself some time and headaches by making sure your client knows that the sides will not blend into the back when you stand at a 45 degree angle to the vehicle. The one exception is if you have a plain background. Show them that large indents in the body may end up without vinyl on them, because you cannot stretch vinyl too far or it will tent and fail. You should not wrap the inside of the wheel well since this has no chance of staying adhered to the vehicle and will fail. You can wrap the mirrors, but this will take more than an hour to make it look good. With a total of one square foot on the mirror, the costs usually out weigh the benefits.

    Sign Elements Vehicle Templates

    Complete PT Cruiser Vehicle Wrap

    Designing the Wrap
    Always use a template as the base for the vehicle design. I prefer the Pro Vehicle Outlines templates because they have templates for just about every vehicle from 1998 to today. Next, my team designs vehicle wraps only in Adobe Photoshop. We shoot for 100 ppi at final size, but this makes for a huge file, so many times we will create at 75 ppi. A 100 ppi Photoshop file for a PT Cruiser driver's side without any layers or artwork (just the vehicle and a colored background) is 492 MBs, but the same vehicle at 75 ppi is 276 MBs. Ask yourself these questions to help you decide what ppi you will use:

    1. What resolution of files do you have to put on the vehicle? If they will never reach 100 ppi at the final size, go lower on the total wrap.
    2. What is the viewing distance of the vehicle? Are you wrapping a show car or a tractor-trailer? Tractor-trailers are best at 50 ppi, where a show car might be best at 100 ppi.
    3. What computer are you using to design the wrap? Do you have a Mac with dual processors, or an older PC? A very good Mac with a 700 MB file will take 20 seconds to modify. If you do not know, open any file you have and scale it up to 700 MBs in Photoshop and make a modification to it. This will give you a good indication as to how much pain you are going to deal with while designing the wrap.

    Box Delivery Truck vinyl wrap

    Make sure you put each element on its own layer and make sure you design the wrap with an extra two inches (at final size) on the top, bottom and on both sides. This way, if you have a small issue with the position of a graphic element, the installer can shift the wrap either way to help fix the positioning. In addition, because you do not want the installers touching the adhesive part of the wrap that will touch your car, with the extra two inches all around, they will touch the bleed area and not the adhesive.

    Make sure you send your clients a PDF of the final wrap and put it on a file with your company name and intellectual property statement, so they will not take the wrap design down the street and get someone else to do it for less money. Also, I always charge for designing wraps. Depending on the wrap, I ask between $500 and $1,500 for the design. I also ask for 50 percent of this up front so that I do not spend hours making a wrap and then have the client tell me that they found someone else to do a better wrap for less money. Keep in mind that if you charge them for the wrap and they pay you, then they own that wrap. They can take the files anywhere they want to get the design printed - of course, you don't want this to happen.

    Fully wrapped utility trailer

    Vehicle Prep and Removal
    In the process of selling a vehicle wrap, I give my clients a "Vehicle Prep Guide" that I created. In this guide, I have a "Reasonable and Unreasonable Expectations from Your Vehicle Wrap" section and a section for them to sign-off on so I know they are clear about what I will be doing to their vehicle. The Reasonable/Unreasonable section covers everything from using a sharp blade on the vehicle to removing paint and, most importantly, the ideal distance to stand when viewing a good wrap - 10 feet. This document sums up (in writing) what I have already told them when I walked around their vehicle with them. There also is a section that tells them that I will remove all emblems, name plates, dealer stickers, rub rails (if rubber) and anything else that will interfere with the look or success of the wrap. If the client opposes this, I ask them to rethink who they are promoting. Some installers remove the mirrors, but most people would not know where to start to pull off a mirror on a vehicle, and since so many vehicles are different, this would be a difficult task. If the vehicle you are wrapping is older, you could risk breaking something in the process and this would be an expensive decision for you.

    Once everything is removed, check for holes in the body (from where the emblems or rub rails were). I use a piece of reflective vinyl to cover the holes, so they will not blow out the life of the wrap. The next step is to wipe down the vehicle completely with alcohol. I always install vinyl inside a clean and climate-controlled building.

    Stay tuned for Part II when we'll cover printing and laminating the wrap, installation, and delivery of the final wrap.

    David King is "Commander of Results" at MarketKING. "The Master of Printing and Graphics" offers the Print Shop Makeover, the program is designed to teach business owners how to be successful with large-format digital graphics.

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, 3rd Quarter 2009 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2009 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association ( All Rights Reserved.

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