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Catch the Wave

Steady Growth in Boat Wraps

By Kim Crowley

Boat wraps are lucrative for large format print shops. Those with experience in automobile and fleet graphic wraps already possess the knowledge to shift into marine wraps.

Boaters involved in tournament fishing are beginning to look at wraps in the same way professional race car drivers do—as an excellent way to promote sponsors. “Fishing tournaments are one of the fastest growing sports in the nation,” says Jason Yard, marketing application specialist, MACtac Graphic Products.

Traditionally, professional fishing boats were adorned with painted or airbrushed graphics. Now, “The lower cost and versatility of vinyl boat wraps are the medium of choice,” says Ritchie Daize, international digital sales manager, Arlon, Inc.

According to ESPN, all contestants registered for the BASS Elite Series, Bassmaster Major, and Bassmaster Classic events must compete with a wrapped boat.

“Boat wraps continue to climb in professional arenas and are now emerging in personalization. It is very exciting to see this evolution,” shares Tim Boxeth; marketing manager; fleet, vehicle, and marine; 3M Graphics Market Center and Marcio Oliveira, technical service specialist, vehicle and boat wraps, 3M.

John Byrne, president,—a resource on tournament bass fishing in the Southeast U.S.—says, “A boat wrap really changes the look of the whole boat.” Many professionals custom wrap boats, mainly financed by corporate sponsors, similar to NASCAR racing. “For the grass roots/weekend warriors, it’s an inexpensive way to market and protect their boat,” notes Byrne. “Most boat wraps cost between $2,500 and $3,500.”

For sign shops looking to achieve profitable returns on investment, boat wraps present several options. Repeat customers, innovative ways to use media, and unique applications are just a few.

Boat graphics look dated after several years, providing repeat business from customers that want to update their look, notes Molly Waters, sales support manager, Avery Graphics. “Boat owners update and personalize the graphics on their boats much in the same way people use vehicle graphics to personalize cars.”

Playa Graphics, based out of Emerald Isle, NC, offers canvas prints, boat wraps, vehicle wraps, photography, and banners. The company completes four boat wraps a month at approximately $1,500 to $3,500 per project. Wrapping vehicles led Playa Graphics to offer extraordinary applications such as wrapping surfboards.

Boat wraps provide additional revenue streams to the print provider, notes Yard. “We have customers using MACtac IMAGin JT5529BFD Pro to wrap trailers,” he says. “Another interesting application is the use of StreetRap—a concrete floor graphics material—for carpet graphics on boats.”

MACtac offers several media products for boat wraps. End users looking for conformability should try IMAGin JT5529BFD Pro with Permacolor RAYZor Gloss or Matte Overlaminate. “The proprietary adhesive is a micro-structured air egress pattern that provides applicators with a fast install and it completely wets out to ensure a flawless application,” notes Yard.

Overcoming the Obstacles
Designers, large format print providers, and installers must follow key steps in creating, printing, and installing a boat wrap. These steps ensure that the wrap goes on smoothly, looks its best, lasts, withstands the elements, and causes no damage to the watercraft.

“Boat wrapping is a very demanding application that requires reliable materials and special installation techniques,” points out Boxeth and Oliveira.

3M materials are used in the Bassmaster Fishing Series, Quiznos Madfin Shark Fishing Series, offshore racing boats, and consumer ski and fishing boats. For boat wraps, 3M recommends its 3M Controltac Wrap Film IJ380Cv3 with Comply v3 Adhesive with 3M Scotchcal Gloss Overlaminate 8580. These products combined provide additional conformability and lifting resistance—virtually no memory—for boats with deep channels and curves.

There is a learning curve for shops interested in boat wraps. Sirlin Enterprises of Seattle, WA offers art, design, creative media, branding, and marketing consulting services. Two years ago the five-year-old company began offering boat wrap printing and installation. Last year they completed nearly 80 boat wraps, including ones for Body Glove, Nike, Quiksilver, and a leading wake board movie.

Despite the company’s experience, boat wraps initially proved to be difficult. “We’re still improving after designing and wrapping 100 plus boats. It’s very technical,” states Josh Sirlin, managing director, Sirlin Enterprises.

Designing Around Curves
The design stage is challenging, notes Avery’s Waters. “Preparing the graphics is one of the most complicated parts. Designers must take the shape of the boat into consideration. Boats curve from the side to the bow and this curve must be accounted for in the design, otherwise the installer will be short on material during the application process.”

Like all wraps, practical design is key to success. Not only is enough material needed to apply around the curves, but text and images must lay perfectly. Readability and visibility are essential to promote a brand.

Designers must take compound curves into consideration when choosing design elements. When stripes or long lines of text are applied over the hull they rarely lay naturally straight, making the application more challenging. “Before designing or applying a boat wrap, run multiple parallel lines—six inches apart—of tape the full length of the hull. This shows how the curves of the hull will affect the graphics. Designers should create flexible designs to give the applicator room to adjust the graphic’s placement if necessary,” says Arlon’s Daize.

Arlon suggests using DPF 6000—a 2-mil cast vinyl with permanent adhesive—with Arlon Series 3220 overlaminate—a 2-mil cast laminate. DPF 6000 and Series 3220 provide a flexible face stock, allowing the application of media around complex curves and corners caused by converging bodylines, which are featured on most high-performance hulls.

OEM marine graphics producers also use DPF 5000 with a clear coat for large graphics and partial wraps. It is an engineering grade, calendered film with a 3.8-mil based stock and repositionable permanent adhesive.

“Registering the graphics to the odd contours and shapes of a boat is a challenge,” shares MACtac’s Yard. “The best tip I can offer is to be patient and practice. A boat wrap is not a job to rush through. A poor application will lead to failure.”

David Grant, VP of marketing, Oracal USA, suggests that designers begin by creating a template of the hull with simple craft paper. “Once the template is completed, the design can be done inside the template—however it will look a little strange when printed,” he cautions.

Print and Preparation
A boat wrap’s life expectancy is dependant on the type of printer, ink, and media used. Yard stresses the importance of good printing practices, “which include using proper International Color Consortium (ICC) profiles and allowing inks to dry for 24 hours prior to lamination.” For warranty purposes, MACtac covers any OEM solvent or eco-solvent printer and most leading third party ink systems as long as the correct ICC profile is used in conjunction with the printer.

Waters says that printers using solvent, mild solvent, or eco-solvent inks are the ideal for marine graphics. “Solvent inks are flexible and conform to the boat without ink cracking,” she states.

Avery tests the most popular printer and ink combinations, which are covered under the ICS Performance Guarantee program. The company recommends its MPI 1800 EZ glossy cast film for boat wrap applications. The film features Avery’s Easy Apply Technology, designed for less complicated installations involving boats with gel coats and fiberglass surfaces. The embossed liner of the Easy Apply material creates air egress channels in the adhesive to provide smooth coverage and fewer wrinkles during the application process.

Starting with a pristine surface is key to ensuring a boat wrap adheres successfully. Standard cleaning tools for surface preparation are isopropyl alcohol and lint-free towels.

“The most important step is the preparation of the surface. It should be washed and dried thoroughly, then any surface contaminants removed with mineral spirits, adhesive remover, etc,” explains Oracal’s Grant.

The most commonly used Oracal combination in boat wraps is ORAJET 3951 Professional Wrapping Film—a 2-mil cast, and ORAGUARD 290 Premium Cast PVC Laminating Film. This combination is designed to provide long-term durability with high-gloss, paint-like digital graphics. In addition to printability and high-gloss levels, the adhesive on ORAJET media is engineered to be somewhat more aggressive, “which contributes to the durability of the wrap, especially in situations where the graphic is exposed to harsh environmental conditions or high levels of water sheer,” shares Grant.

Heated Applications
All vehicle wrap installers—on land or sea—rely on tools such as a squeegee, tape, and a razor knife. Daize recommends two types of squeegees—felt and Teflon—to aid in the application process. “The felt squeegee flexes to the shape of the hull and has a low-energy edge, allowing for easy glide. The Teflon squeegee is very rigid. This gives you the advantage of working out the ‘fingers’ or ‘pleats’ that often occur when applying graphics around compound curves with minimal use of heat,” he notes.

Brad Styron, owner, Playa Graphics, uses a regular squeegee with a strip of soft Velcro across the blade to create a smooth stroke when he installs a graphic. He recently wrapped a 16-foot Hues flats boat. “I was scared at first, but then I just went for it. The wrap went flawlessly,” he shares. Styron credits the vinyl used—Avery MPI 1005 with Avery DOL laminate. “It made it easy for me to install. I had time to work parts of the vinyl without it sticking to areas that weren’t ready to be wrapped.”

Although the installation process is very similar to traditional land vehicle wraps, seam placement and edge sealing is more critical on boat wraps, notes Waters. “The seam should face the back of the boat so the water does not catch the edge, which could ultimately cause a failure. The same is true for edge sealing. The edge sealer prevents water from getting under the graphic and damaging adhesion.”

There is some controversy regarding using heat to apply boat wraps. Yard states installers should always use a heat gun to seal the edges and post-heat any complex curves. This helps prevent wraps from coming undone.

Daize warns heat should be used with caution. “Applicators are often tempted to use heat to solve compound curve installations. Excessive heat promotes excessive stretching, which results in a media failure,” he cautions.

Another element to the installation process is the removal of boat parts that may hinder a proper application. “Hand tools such as a screwdriver help remove parts sticking out from the boat. It is important these parts are put back on after the installation. If they add to the boat’s integrity, it may be necessary to have a qualified boat mechanic on the scene,” explains Waters.

Lastly, manufacturers recommend allowing a finished product to sit. “Allow the wrapped boat to sit at temperature above 60 degrees Fahrenheit and out of the water for a minimum of 24 hours. This allows the adhesive to build to a complete bond and helps eliminate a chance for failure,” states Yard.

Removal—Failure vs. Intended
Water sports pose many hazards to a boat wrap and FL-based SignZoo has a unique way of aiding its customers. “We give every boat owner a wrap kit containing a two-foot piece of 3M clear material to use as an emergency patch in case they rub against the dock or hit something while they are out on the water. We recommend to our marine customers that they can get two to three years out of the wrap if they take care of it,” says Gerard Hannon, marketing director, SignZoo.

According to most media manufacturers a boat wrap lasts approximately five years. Elements including water, salt, UV light, wind, and contact with docking structures all factor into a wrap’s longevity. Water is a main factor. Many media manufacturers’ warranties are based on whether media is applied above or below a craft’s waterline.

“Environmental factors are very hard on boats in general and even harder on boat wraps,” says Yard. MACtac warranties boat wraps with B-free Pro adhesive because the company’s testing confirms that water is not likely to penetrate the micro channels. The company warranties a boat wrap done with IMAGin B-free Pro and Permacolor RAYZor for one year.

Arlon’s DPF 6000 cast vinyl has a five year product warranty when applied one-inch above the waterline and laminated with Series 3220 overlaminate. “Salt water is much more corrosive than fresh water,” explains Daize. “If the boat is a salt water craft, edge sealing is recommended.”

Avery’s ICS Performance Guarantee provides worry-free application for salt and fresh water on above-the-water-line applications. Boats wrapped with Avery MPI 1800 EZ and DOL 1000 gloss or 1100 matte finish have a five year durability. When DOL 1030 is used the durability is four years.

3M now offers a two year warranty for boat wraps using 3M approved printers, inks, and materials. 3M media products covered under the warranty include 3M Controltac Graphic Films IJ180 with Comply, Comply v2, or Comply v3 Adhesives; 3M Controltac Wrap Film IJ380Cv3 with Comply v3 Adhesive; 3M Scotchcal Gloss Overlaminate 8518; 3M Scotchcal Luster Overlaminate 8519; 3M Scotchcal Matte Overlaminate 8520; and 3M Scotchcal Gloss Overlaminate 8580.

Intended removal, as opposed to a media failure that results in removal, is very similar to land vehicles. Yard details the removal process.

“Heat the vinyl to around 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which warms and softens the adhesive. Then work in small areas around the boat and pull off the warmed-up vinyl. Don’t heat the vinyl too much, this can lead to damaging the boat’s gel coat. If this method is followed there shouldn’t be any adhesive transfer, but if there is, simply use isopropyl alcohol to remove the excess adhesive.”

Daize agrees heat should be applied when graphics are removed. “Some gel coats absorb the adhesive and cause some de-lamination—especially oxidized surfaces—during removal,” he warns. If this happens, he suggests using ZEP Orange Gel Product #7111, a water-soluble adhesive remover.

Catch the Wave
As tournament fishing becomes mainstream and more consumers invest in graphics for hobby and recreational boats custom boat wrap business grows. The opportunity for large format print providers is great, especially in milder climates where business is year round.

Those print providers with experience in vehicle wraps have an advantage. “Once an installer masters the process of efficiently applying film, they need to learn how the vinyl works with the surface of the boat,” says Waters.

"The biggest challenge of boat wraps is doing the first one, after that, each one is a little bit easier," says Grant. With some practice and diligence boat wrapping is a viable option for any large format sign shop.  

Mar2009, Digital Output

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