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Fleet Wraps Forge Ahead

Offering Fleet Wrap Services

By Amber E. Watson

Vehicle wraps are a captivating method of advertising one’s company, brand, or product. Wrapping vehicles within a fleet heightens the experience and promotes a message across many locations, reaching a wide audience for higher response rates.


Typically, companies that manufacture and/or distribute products, such as food and beverage, furniture, electronics, office supplies, and petroleum, understand the advantage of wrapping fleets because it gives visibility to their brand as the vehicle travels across the state or the country.


For print service providers (PSPs), fleet wraps are an extension of the basic vehicle wrap with added elements and challenges.


Defining the Fleet Wrap 

To define fleet wraps, Randy Clark, director of communications, TKO Graphix, first explains what constitutes a true vehicle wrap. “Many people refer to all vehicle graphics as wraps, when in fact they are decals,” he notes. “A wrap is the covering of a complete area of a vehicle, for example, a fender, rear, or the entire body.” TKO prints and installs wraps for businesses that have as little as two vehicles, as well as national companies with as many as 4,000 vehicles in 221 locations across North America.


In business for 26 years, TKO’s 50,000 square foot facility is located in Plainfield, IN and staffs 140 people. “Before advances in digital printing in the late ’80s and early ’90s, wraps were often cost prohibitive,” explains Clark. Within the last decade, TKO began offering vehicle wraps in larger quantities. Currently, 70 percent of the shop’s overall output is fleet wraps.


Large wraps often appear on fleets of semi-trailers and box trucks for trucking and delivery companies, as well as businesses transporting products all over the country. Many customers possess fleets of vehicles, from car dealerships, exterminators, plumbers and contractors, to major distributors and retailers. “Since the costs have come down and the aesthetics of a partially wrapped trailer are more appealing, trucking companies are taking this into consideration when ordering a new fleet of trailers,” says Jason Yard, training and marketing specialist, MACtac Graphic Products.


In general, fleet wraps refer to a set of vehicles wrapped for the same company or purpose. “Our definition of a fleet is any vehicle or vehicles used in the course of business,” says Chris Prenovost, VP, Azpro. By this definition, even one vehicle constitutes a fleet. “Most fleets we work on are between five to 15 vehicles,” he shares. Founded by Chris and Jason Prenovost in 2004, Azpro runs out of a 7,000 square foot facility in Phoenix, AZ and staffs 22 people. About 35 percent of the shop’s overall output is fleet graphics.


Overall, there is a sense that fleet wrap jobs are increasing. “I think the economy is finally rebounding, and some customers are replacing wraps that were done several years ago,” notes Yard. “Since fleets are typically composed of leased vehicles, the turnover in graphics averages two to four years,” says Ritchie Daize, international digital sales manager, Arlon Graphics, LLC.


Located in Allentown, PA, Image Works fell into the business of vehicle wraps when they began large format printing in the mid ’90s. “We started wrapping buses and this led to additional business as people saw what we could do,” shares Don Wertman, founder/owner, Image Works. Approximately 50 percent of his shop’s overall business is now fleet wraps consisting of utility bodies such as vans, beverage trucks, and cryogenic tankers.


Image Works wraps hundreds of bucket trucks and vans for a local cable television company. “This is a steady business because the vehicle leases are up every five years,” explains Wertman. “The main challenge is to massage artwork and text so that it fits all vehicles and works across doors and around hinges.” Image Works handles the entire process from design to installation.


They complete wraps for Air Products trucks that carry liquefied gases. Air Products owns 700 trucks that are partially wrapped. “The trucks are expensive, so they receive many years of use,” shares Wertman. In order to keep them from looking worn down, he coordinates with the company to rehab and swap out graphics as each truck reaches its five year mark. “We work with the visual communications department to obtain artwork, which typically features a new advertising campaign every few years.”


Fleets are also increasing in popularity among smaller businesses. “There has been a significant increase in passenger vehicle wraps as individuals and small businesses seek ways to customize vehicles,” says Tim Boxeth, business manager, 3M Commercial Graphics.


“Many medium-sized businesses ask for van, truck, and service wraps to stand out from the competition,” adds Yard.


Design to Installation

To best meet customer expectations, print providers must first determine the intended use of the vehicle being wrapped. Molly Waters, technical specialist, Avery Dennison Graphics and Reflective Solutions, recommends asking the client several questions up front, such as “How long does the wrap need to last? How many trucks need to be wrapped? What is the surface—flat, riveted, or corrugated?  What is the budget? Asking these questions helps select the best material and print method for the job,” she says.


Before preparing a set of graphics, PSPs must understand the fleet roster in detail. Fleet wraps are more complicated to design and install than standard lettering or CAD cut designs, so attention to detail—exact sizing, body moldings, and window placement—is essential. “Most fleets contain different types of vehicles which need to carry a common livery,” notes Daize. “It is vital to obtain a complete set of specifications of all vehicle types in the fleet.”


“It is important to have a detailed schematic of the trucks being wrapped so that the printed panels match each truck as closely as possible,” advises Dione Metnick, product manager, LexJet Corporation. “This includes accounting for wheel wells and other irregularities; then ensuring each truck is clean and free of debris before application.”


Teamwork is key when it comes to executing fleet wraps. The process usually begins with a designer who understands branding and the importance of maintaining a consistent logo, color, image, and message across each vehicle. A strong call to action should be included in the design so the audience understands who and what is being advertised.


Even when created for the same model, the wrap’s artwork may vary from vehicle to vehicle. TKO recently completed a large fleet wrap job consisting of tractor trailers for Rural King—a chain of farm and home supply stores headquartered in Mattoon, IL. “Rural King took an interesting approach to advertising by featuring different key vendors on its fleet of trailers at no cost to the vendor,” explains Clark.


TKO worked closely with each vendor on artwork and design, producing 20 unique trailer wraps. “A few vendors had artwork, some had ideas, while others wanted our assistance with the whole process, including photo shoots,” he continues. The job was printed on a Hewlett-Packard (HP) Scitex TJ8300 with Avery MPI 1005 Supercast Easy Apply with clear coat and took two weeks from design to installation per vehicle. All wraps were installed at TKO’s facility.


“Fleet wraps tend to include large logos and less specific information than one would find on smaller company wraps. This helps in the design process as it is easier to consistently place a large logo and tagline across different vehicle models than it is to lay out multiple lines of small text,” contests Prenovost.


Even if each vehicle in a fleet is a different model or design, it is important to maintain an undercurrent of continuity. “If the image and text varies from vehicle to vehicle, we try to keep the background color, texture, or fade the same,” says Wertman. “For instance, when we wrapped ten beverage trucks for different microbreweries, the box differed based on the company, but each cab featured the same amber beer with bubbles.” The first beverage truck took two months from concept to completion; with the template in place, the remaining wraps were finished faster.


Perhaps the most important element to executing vehicle wraps is working with a trained installer. “If you don’t have a certified or experienced installer, the entire project can fail,” cautions Yard. Mistakes at the end of the line are costly.


The Printing Process

The printers, ink, and media best for a vehicle job may depend on many variables including the expectations of the wrap, intended longevity, and multiple warranties. “It is generally best to select a system of materials that provide a manufacturer’s warranty for fleet graphics,” suggests Boxeth. “PSPs often use a clear coat instead of an overlaminate when reproducing large numbers of the same graphic, however, the longest warranties are generally offered when using an overlaminate,” he adds.


Large industrial printers like the HP Scitex TJ series are commonly used for large fleets and solvent inks are a frequent consumable. “For media, cast films with either a clear coat or a cast laminate are ideal for most fleet applications,” adds Waters.


TKO typically runs large quantity wraps on an HP Scitex TJ8300; smaller quantities run on a Roland DGA Corporation SOLJET PRO III XC-540. “The material depends on the needs of the customer,” says Clark. “The most commonly used material for our fleet wraps is 3M’s Controltac Graphic Film with Comply v3 Adhesive IJ180Cv3 with Scotchcal Gloss Overlaminate 8518 or Avery’s MPI 1005 Supercast Easy Apply adhesive vinyl with laminate or clear coat.”


Image Works prints vehicle wraps with a Mimaki USA, Inc. JV3 and Seiko I Infotech Inc. ColorPainter printers. Preferred media is 3M’s Controltac Graphic Film with Scotchcal Gloss Overlaminate 8518 and comparable Oracal USA products.


“It is recommended that premium cast vinyl and laminate are used for most jobs because graphics installed on vehicles are subject to harsh service life environments and most fleet wrap applications have long service life expectations,” says Daize. “Either a high-performance calendered vinyl or a cast vinyl printed with solvent or low-solvent inks is ideal for fleet graphics,” adds Metnick.

“If fleet graphics are intended for shorter term promotional use, a calendered vinyl film—assuming there are no rivets and/or corrugations—or a cast vinyl film with a changeable adhesive offers the best solution. There are also intermediate level reflective films one can use for 24 hour impressions,” notes Boxeth.


Laminate is an important part of a vehicle wrap as it not only protects the graphic on the road, but also makes installation and removal easier. “Some large PSPs use liquid laminate in lieu of cold laminate film to save money, but this can actually cost more for installation and removal, ultimately making the cost of ownership higher for the client,” cautions Prenovost.


Rise to the Challenge

Smaller fleets tend to face higher scrutiny because of more hands-on involvement. Larger fleets are challenged with being spread out over remote locations; receiving infrequent washes and waxes so they require more preparation time, and working through the chain of command at the client company.


With large fleet programs, trucks may be spread out across the country making coordination and installation difficult. “The PSP needs to either send installers out on location or work with professional installers, such as the Professional Decal Application Alliance, in the area,” explains Waters.


The logistics of organizing multiple vehicles to be out of service while they are wrapped is also difficult. “The biggest challenge when working with fleets is usually scheduling. Because the vehicles tend to be in heavy use, installations may need to be completed at night or on weekends,” says Prenovost.


Azpro employs HP’s latex technology in the form of Scitex LX800 and Designjet L25500 printers to print vehicle wraps quickly. “We typically print on 3M’s Controltac Graphic Film with Comply v3 Adhesive IJ180Cv3 with Scotchcal Gloss Overlaminate 8518,” he adds. Azpro recently wrapped over 50 Mini Coopers for Red Bull across nine states—including HI—in three weeks.


Preparing fleet graphic packages so they are easy for the applicators to understand and apply saves time in the end. “Package the graphics so the panels come out in the order they are to be installed,” recommends Daize. “Graphics should be packaged per vehicle in either a plastic sleeve or a cardboard shipping tube, and the inside diameter of the rolled graphics should be no tighter than the original core of the print media. Always remember to roll the graphics printed side out—this will make application easier and prevent the graphics from lifting off the liner in ‘fingers.’”


Even if the job is local, a print shop must have enough space and manpower to successfully house and install fleet wraps. Fleet wrap programs are usually high-volume jobs and take a lot of careful planning. Every step in preparation, production, and application consumes many PSPs’ resources, which is why it is important to be aware of one’s limitations. “PSPs should know that approaching a company with 100 trailers is different than approaching a company with 100 or even ten Chevy HHR’s to wrap. The installation location, time sensitivity, and complexity of the job will likely be different,” cautions Boxeth.


Dealing with large fleets takes pinpoint execution, as they don’t have the luxury of downtime. Prenovost suggests PSPs start with small fleets and work their way up to gain experience. “PSPs must ensure they can print the correct colors, distribute graphics effectively, and have a network of installers to call upon to provide professional installation services nationwide.”


Wrapping Up

While wrapping fleets requires a significant amount of time, resources, and a well-trained staff—it is a rewarding service for those who work hard to meet client expectations.


Small print shops may not be equipped to handle large fleets, however starting small and building experience with single vehicle wraps may open doors for expansion into the fleet wrap industry. When done well, fleet wraps are an impressive form of advertising and provide a steady stream of business for PSPs.


Mar2012, Digital Output

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