Excitement surrounding wide format graphics tends to encompass design, production, and installation. However, the technicality of removal is an important consideration. The graphics provider’s name is on the line throughout the entire lifecycle. To avoid issues such as leftover residue and damage to a vehicle’s finish following removal, an uninstall plan should be part of the initial process.
Every vehicle wrap removal is different. Jason Yard, marketing training manager, MACtac Graphic Products, suggests various factors—including the length of time a wrap is in place, how it is installed, and the type of media and print technology used in production—make a difference when it comes time to uninstall the graphic. “For instance, a lightly printed, well installed wrap that’s been on for one year is going to be a lot easier to remove than a heavy ink saturated, five year wrap that was installed using a primer,” he explains.
Additional factors include everything from wrap elements—a full or partial—to the conditions a vehicle endured while a wrap is in place, such as extreme temperatures or body damage. “Even the temperature on the day of the removal is a consideration. Many people like to park the vehicle in the sun on a warm day. Low tech, but it works,” advises Stan Holt, director of sales, North America, Continental Grafix Ltd.
Throughout a wrap’s intended lifecycle, it is important to look out for potential damage to avoid a challenging removal. “Intense exposure to UV rays and surface damage from wear or chipping make removal more difficult,” says Martin Kugler, corporate communications manager, Hexis S.A.
Poor application techniques, such as overstretching of the film or insufficient drying of printed media, can lead to a longer and more complex removal.
Every vehicle wrap presents a different experience to the installer and uninstaller. However, following a guideline helps keep the unwrapping process of a vehicle graphic effective.
First, start with a clean vehicle to reduce the risk of dirt and sand causing scratches to the paint. Additionally, this step helps remove any flammable contaminates, as heat is used further in the process.
Dione Metnick, product line manager, LexJet Corporation, suggests next inspecting the vehicle and taking high-quality pictures of the entire wrap, focusing on any areas that display possible damage. This helps determine if removal is possible without extra time or undue damage. Address any concerns with the customer prior to removal.
Heat provides an aid to wrap removal. Ritchie Daize, international digital sales manager, Arlon Graphics, LLC, states that the heat source used should provide a stable 50 degree Celsius or 125 degree Fahrenheit temperature. As previously noted, this is often accomplished by leaving the vehicle in the sun.
The heat warms the vinyl and adhesive, making it softer and easier to remove. “Removing vehicle wraps when temperatures are on the colder side is more difficult,” states Josh Culverhouse, senior product technical support specialist, Oracal USA.
Alan Miller, technical service, 3M Commercial Graphics, adds that film becomes brittle in the cold weather, causing it to break into small pieces during removal.
Culverhouse suggests bringing the vehicle indoors and warming it to room temperature in the Fall and Winter months. He advises investing in several heat guns as well as a large handheld torch attachment and a 17-pound propane tank. “These tools will make the removal process much easier during the colder months,” he adds.
Molly Waters, technical specialist, Avery Dennison Graphics and Reflective Solutions, advises steam over a handheld torch method.
Miller warns against damaging the substrate with excessive heat.
The angle and speed one uses to remove a wrap is also important. After properly heated, removal includes gently lifting the edge of the graphic with a blade. Uninstallers must be careful not to damage vehicle paint at this point.
“Just as there is a difference in ease of removal with temperature, the angle in which you pull the graphics can make a big difference in how much it tears and how much adhesive residue is left,” says Holt.
He explains that there are two angles to be aware of, one applies to most self-adhesive products, and this is where material should be pulled at an angle back on itself at about 45 degrees. “This will reduce the amount of residue left,” he says. The other only applies to perforated films. “This is where you want to pull at an angle where the holes in the perforation pattern do not line up in a straight line. This will result in less tearing of the vinyl,” adds Holt.
Remove enough material for a good handhold; lift by pulling away from the vehicle at a 15 degree angle. “Do not pull the vinyl away from the vehicle at an angle greater than 90 degrees, as this could cause the vinyl to delaminate, leaving the adhesive behind,” warns Daize. Then, try to keep the leading edge of the removal in a straight line by spreading your fingers out along the top of the removed graphic. It is important to pull slowly for a clean removal. “If the vehicle cools before the removal is complete, cut off as much of the removed vinyl as possible and reinstall any lifted edges before reheating and repeating the steps,” adds Daize.
Yard says to pull vinyl back 180 degrees onto itself to release the adhesive better. “Use isopropyl alcohol to remove any excess adhesive that may be left behind,” he suggests.
It is imperative not to overheat the vinyl. “If it is scorched and the surface becomes blackened and bubbled, allow the area to cool and then bathe the area with adhesive remover,” suggests Daize. “Before continuing with vinyl removal, rinse the area with soapy water to neutralize adhesive remover,” he adds.
Waters points out cases where people used a knife to cut film into strips to aid in removal, but also inadvertently cut into the clear coat of the paint. “They may not have pulled paint during their removal, but if the car is getting another wrap, the likelihood of pulling clear coat during that removal is very high,” she warns.
Not an Afterthought
It is important to consider removal at the planning stages of a wrap. If not completed correctly, several pre-installation and installation steps could lead to issues down the road, making for a difficult removal or potentially damaging the vehicle underneath.
For instance, the intended length of time a wrap remains on a vehicle helps determine the best media and laminate. Print providers, installers, and the customer should agree to a timeline and choose media accordingly.
Vinyl characteristics also play a role. Laura Schied, marketing manager, Renolit, notes that since calendered films are thicker than cast films, they are less likely to crack when stretched. “When looking at the entire lifecycle, from installation—where calendered films have a similar performance as cast films, but for an affordable price point—to the removal process, calendered films lead,” she adds. “This is something installers should consider when choosing a film for car wrapping.”
Miller flags film properties, the underlying substrate, and the maintenance and location of the vehicle as points of concern. For example, the underlying substrate, which includes the paint or clear coat, can affect removal. He explains that powder-coated paints are considered more low surface energy substrates, which make removal easier but adhesion more difficult in the beginning.
Kugler adds that pigmentation can also influence the properties of the film, as metallic or metalized films tend to be more brittle than plain colors.
Metnick cautions installers against covering any push buttons on door handles, sensors, or emblems. He adds that it is critical to be careful when cutting and trimming.
It is a good idea to present customers with a limited responsibility agreement in regards to the integrity of the vehicle’s paint and bodywork prior to installation. “If areas of a vehicle have been repainted, or repainted without primer or body filler, it is likely that these areas will be damaged when graphics applied to them are removed,” suggests Daize.
Managing Damaged Goods
Since vehicles are subject to a variety of potential hazards, including harsh weather conditions and accidents, removing a wrap is subject to the complication of damaged vehicles. In terms of removal, fewer, larger pieces are the best course of action. However, this is not always an option after damage to the wrap or vehicle has occurred prior to wrap removal.
Culverhouse points out that damaged and abused wraps show signs of being dried out, faded, and cracked. These wraps are challenging to remove. “You may literally have to peel material the size of puzzle pieces. As you can imagine, this kind of painstaking removal will require many hours,” he suggests.
“Stone chipping, holes, or cuts in the film result in the film coming off in several pieces as the film tears along the weak spots,” warns Kugler.
Proper vehicle maintenance is critical to the longevity and visual appearance of a wrap. In addition, clean wraps by hand on a regular basis to prevent staining from environmental contaminates. “These contaminates, when left on the horizontal surfaces of the vehicle, begin to eat into the surface of the film, which results in pitting and staining,” adds Culverhouse. He warns that Carnuba-based waxes are also a culprit of vehicle wrap staining.
In addition to neglect, Yard suggests that wraps baked by the sun or damaged by acid rain can cause laminates to breakdown and result in splitting.
If a wrap is showing signs of cracking, it is a good idea to remove it or the bad section immediately upon recognition of the problem. “If a wrap looks like dried, cracked mud, there is a good chance that acidic dew or moisture can seep down into the cracks and become trapped, thus causing a subtle staining effect in the clear coat of the vehicle,” says Culverhouse.
“If the clear coat on the paint becomes damaged, this can create a failure point when the film is removed. This is why it is important to have a professional remove the wrap. They know how to look for possible damage and try alternate methods of removal to minimize it,” says Waters.