Installation of large format media varies by application. While printing, color management, and finishing are similar, when it comes to installation methods may differ. A number of factors affect install, including surface, location, media type, ink type, and experience level of the installer. This spotlight focuses on the unique install processes of a wallcovering and vehicle wrap.
Bringing Nature Indoors
Edward C. Robison III, owner, Sacred Earth Gallery, opened his Eureka Springs, AR based company in April 2008. An accomplished and professional nature photographer, Robison also shoots commercial and architectural work. The gallery is not only home to a 180 square foot studio and Robison’s photographs, but to his wife Janalee’s and son Ethan’s work as well.
After producing mainly large-scale canvases and 4x8-foot Photo Tex Group, Inc. prints for approximately six years, Robison installed his first wall mural in December 2012, which led to an increase in this application’s demand. Robison’s long-standing photographic relationship with Bass Pro Shops paved the way for a much larger project.
The company approached the photographer to perform his first print and install project, a 16x31-foot wall mural installed in Bass Pro Shops’ newly remodeled women’s health facility at its Base Camp corporate headquarters in Springfield, MO.
First, an in-house design team selected the images and created a mock up of the artwork in the space, which originally sized the wall mural at only 6x16 feet. The addition of eight 5x12-foot and larger mounted canvas pieces were also incorporated. Concept design and other discussions took about a month and a half.
Forest imagery was shot with a Widelux camera and enlarged from a double wide 35 millimeter scan. Several interesting techniques were used to adjust the image.
“I applied an oil painting effect to the entire image so it could be enlarged without looking grainy. Because of the effect, up close the panels looked very abstract. So, I printed small registration marks on each about two feet down from the top and up from the bottom. These were used to register each panel with one already adhered to the wall,” says Robison.
The image was printed across seven 60-inch by 16.5-foot panels using an 64-inch Epson Stylus Pro 11880 with Epson UltraChrome K3 inks onto 60-inch Photo Tex media. The aqueous, adhesive-backed solution is removable, reusable, and repositionable, adhering to any non-porous flat service and removing easily without leaving behind residue.
“Because the mural is a permanent install in an exercise facility and I used an aqueous printer, I laminated the entire mural before the installation. This required a fair amount of extra work and time, but allowed me to use my existing equipment,” explains Robison. He worked with a high-density foam roller and two coats of LexJet Corporation’s Sunset Stain Coating to varnish and encapsulate the mural.
Robison enlisted his son, a friend, and a lift for the install portion. Additional tools included a long straight edge, chalk line and plumb bob, razor, wallpaper spreaders, and plastic five-way tool for drywall, plaster, and wallcoverings.
When the installation began, Robison and his assistants created a vertical chalk line for the right side of the far left panel. They peeled back approximately a foot of the backing paper from the top of the panel and trimmed it off before aligning the top left of the image to the chalk line.
After the top one-foot of the panel was firmly adhered to the wall, they rolled up the rest of the mural panel in a scroll shape and set it on the lift. The group then pulled away the backing paper while using the wallpaper spreader to smooth the graphic to the wall, working from the center and top outwards to the panel’s edges, ensuring all air bubbles were removed. This process was repeated for each panel, while also taking a few moments to cut around obstacles.
Following the installation of the wall mural, Robison sought out any small bubbles under the media, puncturing them with the tip of the razor and smoothing the area with the wallpaper spreader. A vinyl company was hired after the installation to overlay text from an Eleanor Roosevelt quote. The wall mural took an estimated 12 to 15 hours to install. Bass Pro Shops is pleased with the outcome.
Robison notes that the height of the wall as well as the doorways and other physical obstacles in the room were the most difficult areas the crew encountered during install. He admits to learning a great deal about installations during the process, especially the importance of a wallpaper spreader and how much a small tool may affect success.
Vehicle Wrap Tips and Tricks
Casey Weaver, owner, Just Install LLC, began his business in May 2007 after spending approximately 17 years in digital print. Weaver was inspired to create his business after noticing the influx of designers, but not necessarily applicators.
“We found that between the now affordable printers and a large number of young designers with incredible software skills coming into the industry there was a missing link, installers,” he admits.
Weaver and his crew of five travel nationwide to perform onsite installations on a variety of surfaces. These include Indy cars, top fuel funny cars, commercial vehicles, an 80-foot glass crosswalk, and a 30-foot tall beer can. “Practically any surface is a canvas now,” claims Weaver.
While the business presents unique projects, close to 40 percent of Just Install’s work involves wraps or large coverage on vehicles. With vehicle wraps accounting for nearly half of the business’ work, its installers recognize crucial components to this particular installation process.
The quality of the wrap’s material and the environment in which it is applied is important. “You have to identify the material’s characteristics and if it was prepared properly before starting any project. The environment has a big affect on how the material reacts and how it should be prepared for install. If it is too cold the material may be brittle and want to crack, especially off the roll colors. If it’s too warm or humid the material has a higher stretch rate and more initial tack. This adds to the complexity when precise placement is needed,” explains Weaver.
To combat the influence of weather and temperature, the team adds a pre-mask to strengthen brittle vinyl or prevent stretching on vinyl that is too warm. When vinyl is too warm, long clean cuts on the material are difficult as the blade is likely to hop and leave a jagged cut. The addition of the pre-mask is also precautionary against jagged cuts, allowing the blade to cut through the material without stretching out of line.
In addition to the quality of material, the type of ink used also affects the quality of a wrap’s installation. “We apply prints that are water- and solvent-based inks. Each has its benefits. We prefer solvent ink if it is gassed out properly. Characteristics are more consistent with the solvent ink, but could add tact aggression when used on materials that already have high initial tack,” explains Weaver.
Before installing a wrap Just Install’s production team prepares the material with guidelines. For instance, they may mark the print with a grease pencil or tape to designate where important elements are—such as the vehicle’s door handles, gas cap, or wheel wells. These marks assist the install team in swiftly and accurately aligning the design onto the vehicle.
Recently Weaver installed a wrap on his personal vehicle, a 1967 Cadillac Deville. He updated the once gray car with a sleek new finish using Oracal, an Orafol Company’s 60-inch 970RA Wrapping Cast Film with RapidAir Technology in matte black.
“Here we have a car that would have been a sin to wrap five years ago, but now with the incredible selection of media to choose from, sometimes paint just can’t compete. Between the 60-inch wide material to avoid seams and all the new sheens and textures, we can compete with paint. To the vehicle enthusiasts it’s always been just vinyl, but with all there is to offer we can show them that in a lot of ways vinyl is better than paint,” shares Weaver.
Weaver installed the wrap onto the Deville in seven hours. The car was prepped with a urethane primer finish and the wrap applied directly to the finish using a heat gun to avoid any hot spots. Ordinarily the crew would use a propane torch as their heat tool, but the matte material required special handling.
The material was inspected after unpacking to ensure it remained on the core holders, which prevents the media from touching the sides of the box. If the material touches the sides during shipping it may be marked up and scarred several layers deep, which is subtle to first glance, but becomes more noticeable once the material is in the sun.
The seven hour installation cost Weaver only $1,900, where a similar paint job cost an estimated $3,500 and takes three to five days to apply. The finished product exceeded everyone’s expectations.
New materials present a consistent learning curve to the install process. Just Install’s goal is to make a wrap appear as close to a paint finish as possible while relying on quality standards. To guarantee this, the crew requires a sterile environment, proper material handling, and surface preparation.