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Driving Costs of Vehicle Wraps

Proper Pricing of Vehicle Graphics Leads to Maximum Profit

By Amber E. Watson


Seasoned business owners know setting price is an art. For print service providers (PSPs) there is a fine line between profitability and losing a job because the cost is too high. A combination of efficient operations, trusted hardware and media, and marketing savvy help hit that sweet spot.


“Charging too little for a job also raises the possibility of diminishing the perceived value of vehicle wraps across the board, which is not good for the industry,” notes Dan Marx, VP, markets and technologies, Specialty Graphic Imaging Association. Many factors play into the proper pricing of vehicle graphics, including vehicle type, amount of coverage, type of material, cost of labor and installation, and even the location of the PSP.


Variety of Vehicles

Vehicle graphics range anywhere from cut lettering or logos to a complete wrap with any combination of printed graphics to partial wraps. Non-printed full and partial vehicle wraps are also available, commonly referred to as color change wraps. “Full wrap graphics may also feature overlaid lettering on top of the wrap, which increases the time it takes to install,” notes Lloyd Paxton, certification chairman, United Application Standards Group (UASG).


“A full wrap, which uses more expensive cast vinyl in a larger amount, with an increased amount of ink, and a higher quantity of labor is priced higher than a partial wrap,” states Dione Metnick, product line manager, LexJet Corporation. The complexity of the wrap matters too. “Wrapping a Volkswagen Beetle with rounded curves is more complicated than a box truck or a van with straight lines.”


Based on statistics by UASG, the price for a full vehicle wrap varies from $2,500 to $5,000 due to type of vehicle and the film used. Depending on the amount of coverage, a partial wrap may be half the cost, and lettering alone runs customers approximately $100 to $400—sometimes more—depending on the film type, vehicle type, specific requests, and location of the PSP.


Luckily, there are options for various budgets. Stan Holt, business development manager Americas, Continental Grafix USA, Inc., advocates that a properly designed half wrap can provide the illusion of a full wrap by incorporating the vehicle’s paint color. “A half wrap that eliminates areas such as bumpers and the roof, which are time consuming to wrap, but offer low visibility, is one way to cut costs,” he offers.


Most partial wraps are just as appealing and eye catching as a full wraps,” says Jesse Olvera, owner, T-N-J Engraving Co., a shop in Kerrville, TX. “While most customers use wraps as a form of advertising, many material manufacturers now feature solid color vinyls, which makes customization faster and easier than paint.”


T-N-J’s wraps with graphics are generally priced by the square foot, and vary from $8 per square foot for large, flat areas to $12.50 per square foot for more complex areas and smaller wraps. To eliminate confusion, the shop includes design and installation in the price.


The PSP’s color change wraps are a little different in pricing. “The more complex the wrap, the higher the cost for installation, but we tend to stick to doubling the amount of the material cost and make money off of the installation rather than the material. It helps to bring the price down,” adds Olvera.


For 360 Wraps Inc. of Dallas, TX the cost runs $14 per square foot and includes design, print, lamination, and install. The shop only charges for artwork when the job is less than 100 square feet, which Tommy Strader, president, 360 Wraps, says does not happen often.


“The best way for a shop to figure out how much to charge is to have a good grasp on what their operating expenses are,” recommends Strader. “Within the first year of offering wraps, I knew exactly how many square feet of vinyl I had to install each day at a certain price point to turn a profit.”


360 Wraps’ custom color change wraps are priced based on the type of vehicle. “Since there is no design in this type of wrap, it is all a matter of time and labor. We evaluate the vehicle and what material is being used and price it accordingly. A few materials are more expensive and harder to install, such as brushed metal and chrome films, therefore they fall into an even higher price range,” shares Strader.


Ritchie Daize, national account manager, Arlon Graphics, LLC, breaks down color change wraps into two general applications. “The first is skinning a vehicle, in which the applicator changes the skin color of the vehicle, but when the doors, hood, or trunk are opened, the original color is visible. Cost typically ranges from $1,800 to $2,500,” he shares. “The second is called dipping a vehicle, in which the applicator wraps everything for about $2,500 to $5,000. Dipping a vehicle takes about three times as long as skinning, so pricing should reflect the difference.”


Commercial wraps, whether partial or full, reflect a message, image, or brand. “The average sign shop takes four days and the equivalent to 32 hours—eight design hours, eight production hours, and 16 application hours—to produce a full wrap and charge as much as $3,200 if printed on premium cast wrap media,” shares Daize. “A partial wrap, however, is more profitable to design, produce, and install. The average price for a partial wrap is $1,800 to $2,500 if premium cast media is used.”


Tally the Expenses

Expenses begin in the design phase. Good design takes time, “from two hours for a quick mock-up to about two days or more depending on the customer,” explains Olvera. He tries to include at least three revisions. Anything after that is $45 per hour.


Paxton outlines some of the other cost points along the way. “During the production phase, there is the input of the design in the computer and RIPping; in the printing phase there is the cost of the film, toners, laminates, labor, and packaging materials. Lastly, during install there is the expense of all labor.”


Metnick advises PSPs to calculate all of the cost elements, including time, labor, materials, ink, and overhead, then gauge what the specific market bears, adding a profit margin based on that. “If, however, a customer has two or more of the same vehicle with the same artwork, the upfront layout and artwork preparation is already done, so PSPs offer discounts on multiple units.”


“Since a full wrap takes about four days, charging too little can be costly,” notes Daize. “Do not take your first client’s word for it and adjust pricing right away. If it is discovered that prices are too high after quoting three of four jobs, look over the quotes and try to find places to adjust while remaining profitable. It is better to turn work away than be busy and lose money.”


Olvera agrees that undercharging reaps worse consequences. “I try to keep pricing on the higher side because I know how much work goes into a job and the quality of work we offer,” he shares, bearing in mind there is a price limit for most people. “A good sales pitch comes in handy when I sense a customer shying away at a ballpark; I negotiate a smaller number, but tell them about the many options to cut costs, such as partial wraps, simple designs, and installation shortcuts.”


Jim Miller, CEO, Miller Decals, LLC of Woodstock, GA, recommends researching the competition. “Call around to see what others in the area charge. However, keep in mind that some quotes are dramatically lower than others and there is usually a reason for this.”


Daize cautions beginners against simply taking a competitive price in the market, dividing it by the square footage of the project, and using that number as a benchmark square footage price for all jobs. “Every sign shop has a different profit margin generated by each work station.


Material Options

The cost of material per square foot is influential in calculating the overall price of a wrap job. An expanded number of materials were introduced in the last few years, with many specialty films and laminates entering the market.


Ritrama explains that, “As far as films go, thicker textured wrap films cost more to make than 2-mil printable and clear overlaminating films. Solid color change films at 3.2-mil are the most economical to the end user, no lamination or printing is required.”


Miller notes that special techniques used in the application for chrome and specialty film take more time and require a more experienced skill level.


Textured vinyls such as carbon fiber or snakeskin can cost twice as much as regular vinyl. “Brushed vinyl requires more material to make it look good because it is directional. This causes more material waste and added application time to line up the texture compared to a solid one-dimensional color,” explains Miller.


A perceived value may be attached to a particular finish that allows PSPs to command a higher price. Specialty films typically cost more, and there is more than one way to use them. “A PSP, for instance, may wrap a vehicle with traditional media and do reflective overlays on top of the wrap so it can be seen at night,” says Metnick.


“Materials such as chrome represent a new set of challenges for installers,” notes Holt. “Anything new takes extra development and testing time, which increases the bottom line. The key is determining the wrap buyer’s budget as well as design aspirations, and bringing the two in balance.”


While Olvera has tried many types of media, he ultimately found that sticking to one brand helps determine how quickly and reliable the material is to install, as well as consistent color profiles for printing. T-N-J uses MACtac Distributor Products due to affordability and ease of installation.


To keep up the brand and reputation that 360 Wraps worked hard to create, it partners with material manufacturer Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions.


Maintenance Means Money

Before a quote is submitted and design begins, it is important to understand the vehicle at hand, as it affects both design and install.


Jim Hingst, business development manager, RTape Corp., advises PSPs to conduct a thorough inspection of vehicles prior to the start of a job. He looks for elements including the condition of the paint job. “What corrective action needs to be taken prior to application of the graphics? When was the vehicle painted and with what paint, as this may effect the film.”


The surface of the vehicle may also affect installation costs. “Dirty or older vehicles may require sanding or pressure washing and have an upcharge or cleaning fee,” shares Miller. “If the vehicle has more doors or areas that need to be cut around, such as vents or specially added equipment, that is a factor as well. Lastly, the location of the vehicle and conditions of the space available for the application is a factor.”


Professional wrap shops generally invest in software that includes templates for most popular vehicles, however it is still important to take your own measurements. “Measure everything bumper to bumper, including each individual body panel, roof, hood, and trunk and use these measurements to adjust the template,” adds Hingst. “Also, be sure to take pictures of each side, from every angle and any obstruction on the vehicle that the installer will encounter such as damage or rust.”


Proper design can ease any installation. “Ultimately the success of the entire job lies in whether the applicator is able to install the wrap perfectly to match the creative,” shares Daize. “Many designers do not consider the application in their creative and cost the applicator hours of patching, stretching, or even the need to reprint panels.”


Proper communication between the PSP and the installer is crucial, as other expenses may add up simply due to a lack of accurate information. Miller Decals is a Professional Decal Application Alliance (PDAA) Master Certified installation-only company that provides different options for coverage on vehicles varying from cut graphic application and door decals to full premium coverage. Miller shares that his shop sometimes get graphics with no layout from the printer, or the vehicle that is delivered is not the one on the layout.


As an installer, Miller Decals quotes jobs assuming the printer knows that small lettering needs to be pre-masked so that when the backing is peeled off, the letters do not separate and have to be individually applied. “Extra steps like this on the front end impact the time and outcome of the entire project,” he adds.


A full premium solid color coverage wrap from Miller Decals includes removing the grill, badges, door handles, and lights, and in some cases, the bumpers to leave no sign of vinyl edges. “This gives the finished product a more paint-like look because you cannot see any original paint color in the recessed areas around the hood, trunk, or doors,” explains Miller.


On a printed wrap, the material should be paneled so the overlaps on the print land in the natural bodylines of the vehicle. The PSP should make large overlaps that are cut away during installation and installed deep into the door edges to cover all of the paint, giving the wrap a seamless look. This is decided on the front end of printing so that there is not a lack of material.”


Miller promotes the use of a certified installer with credentials backed by reputable organizations such as the PDAA or UASG. To become certified with them one must have extensive product knowledge and pass a hands-on and written test designed to evaluate the installer’s skills and knowledge.


The value a shop brings with a professional wrap certification is a way to increase price. “A certified wrap installer is able to command higher prices for their training and expertise. This is something that should be promoted and advertised since a certified installer typically provides a higher quality, longer lasting product,” says Metnick.


Any time a PSP is looking to quote a wrap installation, it is wise to contact the installer one plans to use and obtain an install quote. “Be sure to give the installer all of the details such as exact film type, exact coverage of the vehicle, and if they plan on applying pre-mask to the graphics. All of these factors help the installer determine the most accurate price for the PSP,” says Paxton.


Factor in all the Pieces

Vehicle graphics and wraps hold the potential of expanding a PSP’s business and generating profit, however, there are a lot of moving variables when it comes to properly pricing out a project. A learning curve for cost is part of being in the business of vehicle wraps. Successful PSPs quickly learn the importance of properly pricing the job to ensure they outdo the competition and bring in a steady profit.


Nov2013, Digital Output

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