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Vehicle Wraps Mature

Enhanced Tools and Training Fuel Demand

By Kim Crowley

A decade ago, printed vinyl vehicle wraps began to appear in print providers’ shops. However, this specialty application required a skill and expertise in the areas of both design and installation.


Today, the demand for vehicle wraps is bigger than ever due to media that provides flexibility for the most amateur wrapper. Other advances in software, printers, ink, cutters/plotters, laminators, and application tools allow for easy entry into vehicle wrapping.



Although marketing spend is carefully scrutinized and dwarfed from previous years, the economy did not significantly affect the vehicle wrap market. Agencies, firms, and high-profile corporations recognize the worthy investment in high-impact vehicle graphics. “In the early 1990s, transit authorities discovered they could increase revenues by wrapping buses with advertising. It’s not surprising that the vehicle wrap business evolved to include commercial and consumer autos as part of the customization trend made possible with digital imaging,” states Judy Bellah, public relations manager, Clear Focus Imaging, Inc.


Wrapped vehicles increase brand identity and make use of a canvas that is constantly on the move. In research highlighted by American Trucking Association, 3M Graphics Market Center finds that a single intra-city truck with graphics can generate up to 16 million visual impressions in a year.


Wraps are popular beyond consumer marketing and branding. Boats, motorcycles, and other personal vehicles are frequently adorned with graphics. Stacy Clausen, VP of marketing, FELLERS, admits that these wraps are commonly mistaken for a high-end custom paint job.


Trends in personal vehicles include solid color wraps and the “murdered” black matte look. Martin Kugler, corporate communications manager, Hexis S.A., adds that there is a growing tendency for technical colors.


New Business

The emergence of wrap providers is boosted by advances in digital print technology, which affects cost of entry. “I always thought the vehicle wrap industry would gain popularity because of the technological advances in high-resolution digital printing,” shares Larry Lopez, owner, Art Station Vehicle Templates.


Ritchie Daize, international digital account manager, Arlon, Inc., agrees. Citing that wide format printers generating high-quality output are found in just about every sign shop thanks to their affordability. Technological advancements such as faster speeds and UV lamps, which heighten drying time, also aid in wraps’ popularity.


However, Dave Dorsey, president, Aurora Graphics, Inc., regularly speaks to vinyl shops that are so busy they need to turn away business. This is one sure sign that the wrap market remains steady.



Application is the most important part of a wrap project. “A great design with shoddy installation isn’t going to fly,” notes Clausen. FELLERS Certified is a large nationwide network of providers.


Installing a vehicle wrap takes skill, time, and practice. It requires tools such as rollers, scrapers, special cleansers, and cutters. Precise media placement is necessary while hugging vehicle curves. Sometimes wipers, boat fixtures, or other parts must be removed before the process commences. Several media options feature air egress technology for more forgiving, repositionable placement. This advancement saves time and prevents waste.


With more providers in the industry, it is essential for print service providers (PSPs) to know what they are doing. “Skill levels increased a great deal partly due to the need to provide high-quality service in the face of growing competition,” notes Michael Chramtchenko, director of marketing, CADlink Technology Corporation.



Training is available from various sources. Options include online tutorials, videos, on-site consulting, seminars, and certifications. “Many shops entered the wrap market, but the successful ones continue to grow business by investing in ongoing training,” notes David Conrad, product manager, finishing, Neschen Americas.


Even for seasoned wrappers, continued education is recommended. “Any networking opportunity between car wrappers should be used, at trade shows, workshops, social media, and vehicle wrap events,” says Dirk Moebes, co-owner/CEO, Digital Designware. The company hosts events and contests at trade shows, which promote wrapping skills.


International Sign Association (ISA), FESPA, and the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA) are respected resources for design, printing, and installation skill development. The groups offer online tools, training, certifications, and networking.


The Professional Decal Application Alliance (PDAA) unites vinyl manufacturers and other key players in the vinyl graphic community. The PDAA Graphics Application Zone at the October 2010 SGIA Expo, held in Las Vegas, NV, featured demonstrations by sponsors 3M, Avery Dennison, Clear Focus, FLEXcon, Hewlett-Packard, and MACtac Graphic Products.


Another installer association is the United Application Standards Group (UASG). It requires companies to meet criteria to be members, including professionalism, a proven track record, and installation skill.


The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) is also a source for information. FLEXcon suggests that printers and installers follow the organization to network and expand business.


3M recommends the Certified Graphics Installation Company title administered by the UASG and/or the 3M Preferred Graphics Installer title. “These options validate the company or the installer, while offering networking and continued education,” explains Tim Boxeth, business manager, 3M.


Arlon offers wrap classes through distributors, instructional videos on the Web, and exclusive application training sessions with high-volume customers.


Clear Focus customers can access technical staff and resources online, via email, and by phone for design, printing, lamination, and installation information. The company offers Webinars to distributors that include guidance on choosing the most suitable Clear Focus products for vehicle wraps.


Hexis offers training courses for vehicle wraps and window films at beginner, advanced, and proficient levels. One or two day courses are held in English, French, German, and Spanish.


MACtac’s Application Nation, launched  in 2007, is a seminar-based training program and community forum designed to educate and emphasize the correct methods of vehicle wrapping along with trouble shooting and support.


Neschen provides an education and training facility in Elkridge, MD where printer OEMs send their own personnel, customer installers, or dealers to learn tips and tricks of the vehicle wrap business. Application, printer, and software training is offered in a classroom environment.


Oracal USA offers a technical support team, along with an instructional DVD and wrap academy classes throughout Canada and the U.S.


Ritrama Inc. aids customers by offering a large number of printer profiles, an instructional video, an application guidelines booklet, and in-house instructional seminars. The company’s cast vinyl products and overlaminate materials are designed to ease application and removal.

Enhanced Media

Wrap media is available in a range of features and price points. Options include low-grade economy films to high-performance cast for long-term applications, media with specialized adhesives for repositioning, and film that eases installation.


Arlon’s latest innovation in vehicle wrapping is DPF 6000XRP, which features an opaque, low initial tack adhesive with air egress technology. The tack level of the adhesive strengthens quickly, so applicators do not need to use third party primers and edge sealers to secure applications in channels and slip stream areas.


Molly Waters, sales support manager, Avery Dennison, recognizes the increase in vehicle wraps as a direct result of easier to install vinyl that features air egress technology. “This technology makes it simple for beginners to quickly become decent installers,” she says. Avery Dennison offers MPI 1005 Supercast Easy Apply RS. When used with its DOL 1300 series 1.3-mil overlaminate, the overall construction is conformable and works on some of the most difficult vehicle types.


3M manufactures Controltac Graphic Films with Comply Adhesive designed to conform to a vehicle, resist lifting, and offer durability. The company completes testing to offer the 3M MCS Warranty with 3M inks and the 3M Performance Guarantee. In addition, 3M offers the VCAT-2, Roller S, and Roller L applicator tools.


Clear Focus provides ClassicVue film for vehicle window graphics, which features a 50/50 perf pattern and 1.5-millimeter holes. It also offers SuperVue film with two-millimeter holes, suitable for rear windows.


FLEXcon manufactures media with a focus on short-term vehicle graphics for partial and full wraps. BUSart is a calendered vinyl with removable adhesive. No heat or chemicals are needed to remove the media. The company offers window films with its seeTHRU-sign STSWBF2. A higher thickness, 8-mil, allows for easy installation when compared to films in the 6-mil or lower range.


Hexis meets the demand for eco-friendly products with its cast latex digital printing film and gloss laminate. Both are PVC-free and do not contain any plasticizers.


MACtac offers IMAGin B-free PRO digital media and PERMACOLOR RAYZor laminates as one available vehicle wrap combination. B-free, or bubble free, allows for smooth, wrinkle-free application.


Oracal’s RapidAir Technology complements ORAJET 3551RA High-Performance Inkjet Media. It features an advanced air release liner and a solvent-based, grey-pigmented repositionable adhesive.


Software Tools

Before wraps are printed or cut, graphics are conceived and mapped out with the aid of software and templates, which help installers set up, print, and align graphics with minimal waste.


Templates and pre-made designs are set to the exact proportions of specific cars, buses, motorcycles, and other vehicles. The canvas goes beyond cars and trucks. Digital Designware’s software includes over 60,000 different templates for buses, tractors, trailers, boats, bikes, skidoos, jet-skis, a golf cart, and some planes.


Shops new to vehicle wraps are not typically fine artists, and don’t possess art generating skills. “Most people enter vehicle wraps to make money. These are the same people that hope to be flat out in production and installation every day. However, a customer is also buying the art,” explains Dorsey. Aurora Graphics offers an extensive line of high-resolution artwork, featuring background elements and imagery such as outdoor scenes, flames, flags, fish, and more. The designs are available in packages and single downloads, and work with design software from Corel Corporation and Adobe Systems Incorporated.


Most PSPs use templates to create a wrap and work in conjunction with Adobe Photoshop and various fills and vector graphics. “Templates are helpful for text placement and very handy for proofing,” says Clausen. From SA International, Inc. (SAi), The Bad Wrap software program includes more than 320 vehicles, spanning over 1,500 model years.


Professionals agree that wrap templates are an important investment. Josh Culverhouse, technical support, Oracal, recommends them. “They are a great tool that provides useful guidelines for layout design,” he shares.


Jason Yard, marketing specialist, MACtac, says he always recommends wrap templates. “When you start out with the right graphics that fit the job perfectly, it is a smoother process,” he explains.


Purchased templates alleviate added work and lessen room for error. There are many facets to designing a template that inexperienced PSPs may not take into consideration. Art Station Vehicle Templates addresses perceptive issues to achieve undistorted rear window and front hood shapes. “Our templates help with job pricing and designing with confidence,” states Lopez.


Art Station Vehicle Templates features over 3,000 templates created at 1:20 scale, which are saved as Adobe Illustrator or EPS files. The templates can be imported into almost any vector and cutting program such as CorelDRAW and SAi’s FlexiSIGN-PRO, and are completely editable.


Templates also act as mock ups. Digital Designware, which offers the Car’n Truck Pro Vehicle Outline Collection, provides a 3D presentation tool with which the designer can convert the conventional 2D design into an animated 3D presentation. “The end user lacks the ability to visualize how the wrap will appear on the vehicle,” confides Moebes.


Aurora Graphics offers an online Vehicle Wrap Design Studio where customers virtually wrap vehicles. It allows sign shops to mock up a design and forward to customers for approval prior to purchase.


CADlink’s SignLab software facilitates the design and production of vehicle graphics. The design front end of SignLab includes bitmap and vector design special effect features used to create graphics. The back end production area of SignLab, known as Visual Production Manager, is a fully integrated print–and-cut software RIP that supports most printers, cutters, and hybrid print/cut devices.


Coming of Age

The vehicle wrap market is a large competitive industry, with a host of factors affecting its evolution. “The sizeable increase in shops that specialize in vehicle wraps is due to demand for advertising, the ability to reach more people, and the affordability of large format printers, ” concludes Arnold L. Padgett, cast color specialist, Ritrama.


Some industry insiders claim the increase in wrap providers has leveled out, but as equipment continues to mature, more may venture into the industry, realizing its potential.


Nov2010, Digital Output

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