By Elizabeth Quirk
New products, tools, and techniques are constantly introduced in the vehicle wrapping segment. It is important for installers to recognize these advancements. Adapting them to their business model can help to save both time and money.
Heat guns or torches, application gloves, squeegees, and magnets are all helpful when it comes time to install a wrap. Gaining popularity is another tool, tape. Tape technologies are often used in vehicle wrapping to either minimize the use of knife cutting, which may cause damage to the vinyl or the car, or to accent a graphic as a design feature.
Evolution of Tools
Ergonomics, practicality, and eﬃciency are the driving factors of innovation when it comes to vehicle wrap installation tools. Certain techniques were once only found in an experienced installer’s tool box. Now specific products like magnets, squeegees, and heat sources are available for the less experienced and enable higher quality and more profitable installs.
Simple items like magnets and squeegees have become more substrate-specific and user friendly. According to Jason Yard, marketing director, Mactac Distributor Products, there are now magnets with many types of handles and strengths to accommodate varying magnitudes of wrap projects. Squeegees are also user-preference specific with suede, felt, Tefl on, or plastic edges.
Louie Calma, technical services specialist, Arlon Graphics, LLC, says squeegees were once only available in different hardness levels. Today, a number of shapes allow for more ergonomic and detailed installs. Snap-off blades are available in different tip angles. Some are even capable of carrying multiple spares in their housing.
“Many other tools are modified to cater to the ever-evolving graphics industry,” continues Calma, citing heat guns as an example. Once equipped with a simple on-off switch, now these tools feature a digital readout. Heat guns and torches were also once only capable of heating smaller sections of film during application but the emergence of infrared heaters allows for faster and better vehicle wrap installations by evenly heating larger sections.
Ease of Installation
As the market grows more competitive, faster and more eﬃ cient installations are a valuable way to set a shop apart. Realistically, all tools make installation easier. Favorites include tape, application gloves, magnets, and squeegees.
Kimberly Tostrud, product marketer, 3M Commercial Solutions, advocates for 3M Knifeless Tape, stating it provides installers with a way to avoid damage on vehicles and other substrates. “Though many print service providers (PSPs) profess the ability to avoid cutting through vinyl when installing it on a car, sign, boat, or other substrate, using tape offers the peace of mind that no scratches or damage will take place on a customer’s vehicle,” adds Tostrud.
3M Knifeless Tape speeds up challenging vinyl installations such as custom racing and rally stripes. It can also simplify seaming multiple colors and types of vinyl. “Using a tool like tape proves to be much faster than trying to plotter cut and install your vinyl. Th e tape also eliminates the worry of damaging the surface, so you can more eff ectively manage tricky cuts with ease,” explains Tostrud.
“Tape technologies emerged to allow for custom cut designs while not risking cutting over the vehicle’s paint job,” agrees Calma.
Application gloves allow an installer to use finger touch to apply vinyl to the complex contours of vehicles without having to worry about the oily or sweaty fingerprints the installer or some other person interacting with the wrap may have. When stretching a film, the glove can be dampened with water and slides across the media relatively easily.
Magnets act like an extra set of hands for vehicle wrap installers. The great advantage of using a magnet is it doesn’t come undone like tape usually does. Magnets can make positioning the graphic easier.
Molly Waters, senior technical specialist, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions, notes that the installer can slide the graphic under the magnet without risking pulling the tape free on the other end of the same graphic.
Squeegees remove bubbles in the media without incurring damage. Waters suggests using the Avery Dennison FleXtreme micro-squeegee tucking tool, which features one end that can be used to lift rubber moldings to allow the installer to tuck film underneath. “The other end has a small squeegee with pointed edges that allows the installer to tuck film into tight areas. Another specific car wrap installation tool is the softer Red Squeegee Pro Flex from Avery Dennison, which conforms to contoured surfaces and makes the installation process much easier for the PSP,” says Waters.
Let’s Talk Tape
Tape technologies vary in width and adhesion. Choice of use depends on the specific type of vehicle wrap applied and the media used for the wrap.
According to Yard, the most common tape width for vehicle wrapping is one to two inches.
Tostrud argues that the most commonly used widths come in ⅛, ¼, and ½ inches, and that each one is designed for a specific application. The ⅛-inch tape is primarily used for a finished cut, while the ¼-inch sets an even distance between a cut and substrate edge. The ½-inch tape is ideal for spanning between panels, as the tape attaches to the two panels that have a gap with the filament being placed in the center, allowing for a perfect cut.
The width sizes mentioned above can be divided into further categories. Per Calma, ⅛-inch tape can be flexible semirigid or equipped with a metal filament. Flexible tape allows for a tighter turning radius; however, because of a thin construction, it only cuts one to two layers of film without snapping.
“Semi-rigid tapes do not turn as tight as flexible ones, but can cut multiple layers of film for multi-color designs. Metal filament tapes are designed for thick and stiffer materials like chrome and paint protection films. The wider tapes allow for cutting between the gaps of vehicle panels, perforated window films, and multiple filaments for pinstripes or overlaps,” continues Calma.
Tape removes as effectively as it adheres. The only thing to keep in mind with removal is that if you have a wrap design that requires you to cross or intersect the tapes, the tape put down last must be the first removed.
“Repositionability is an important aspect of tape,” shares Tostrud, “because it is common to take more than one attempt to get the perfect straight line or achieve a smooth transition.” Sometimes installers simply change their mind of where they want the cut made, and repositionability gives installers that design freedom.
Calma says the adhesive of a tape must be repositionable, even multiple times, to allow for corrections and re-alignment. It should remove cleanly, easily, and without damaging the vehicle’s paint. “These are crucial factors to get right because trimming, even though it is the tail end of the installation process, is still one hundred percent of the project. In the graphics industry, visual appeal is a big factor,” continues Calma.
“Some installers have different tapes in their tool kit, one for ultra-smooth applications like a glossy car or windows, and one that’s more aggressive for a hard-to-stick wall or worn out trailer,” explains Yard.
Tips and Tricks
When it comes to the tips and tricks users should be aware of before working with tape technologies or any other installation tool, Yard states that the general rules still apply.
It is recommended that PSPs follow the manufacturer’s user guide to avoid costly mistakes. Resources like training courses, online video tutorials, and trade shows are great options as well.
Specific tips to keep in mind before using tape include learning how to start the tape, knowing how to lay the cutting tape down, and how to use tension without stretching the tape.
According to Tostrud, once the basics are mastered, creative installers will go as far as the imagination allows.
Other tricks focus on the type of vehicle being wrapped and the structure of its surface. Foam rollers are now common practice for applying riveted panels compared to the traditional pinwheel-and-rivet brush method. “It’s faster, requires less elbow grease, and the graphic does not have these swirls and scratches that a rivet brush leaves,” says Calma.
Many commercial printers wrap or install graphics on Sprinter vans. “For this work, I like using the application gloves better than the rollers that are also available on the market because I have better control over the pressure I’m using to push the film into place. The glove is also much less expensive than the roller is and can be used in other areas of installation,” adds Waters.
Media manufacturers familiar with vehicle wrapping techniques offer multiple installation tools to support PSPs. This includes heat guns or torches, application gloves, squeegees, magnets, and tape technologies. Tape technologies are particularly growing in popularity thanks to their ease of use. Not only do they minimize the utilization of a knife to cut vinyl, they are also a design aesthetic in a wrap. Vendors involved with vehicle wrapping provide these installation products in addition to a full range of printable and non-printable wide format substrates to print providers interested in the whole vehicle wrap process from start to finish.
Mar2017, Digital Output