Part one of two
Laminates are used on most vehicle wrap applications. Laminating vehicle wraps helps improve durability and adds protection against UV rays, scratches, and fading.
“There is no substitute for a high-performance vehicle wrap laminate when producing and installing vehicle wraps,” offers Chase Pender, marketing manager, Supply55, Inc.
Advantages of Laminates on Vehicle Graphics
Applying the proper laminate adds to the longevity and durability of a vehicle wrap. “Some laminates render surfaces anti-graffiti while others protect from corrosive chemicals,” offers Frank Romanello VP sales, Kala Finishing System. He says laminates also enhance the surface of the graphic with finishes ranging from high gloss to matte.
Frank Wu, marketing manager, Eastsign International Ltd., says the laminate adds a few millimeters to the vinyl and the added thickness makes installation easier, preventing against tears while the vinyl is stretched over awkwardly shaped parts of the vehicle.
Christine Birch, marketing manager, GBC an acco brand, believes laminates should always be used for vehicle wraps. “The investment for a consumer demands that the wrap will last and a laminate ensures this. They add UV protection to prevent fading as well as protect against other elements such as wind and rain. The graphic will remain vibrant and legible, which will reflect positively on the business,” she offers.
Michael Maxwell, senior manager – corporate strategic development, Mimaki, also always recommends lamination for vehicle wraps due to the amount of wear the material will receive over the life of the wrap. He explains that solvent and UV-curable inks are durable enough without lamination, however over time the film is subjected to harsh situations such as road salts, wind, and washing. “Lamination improves the wear-ability of the print while adding the desired refractivity characteristics such as gloss or matte.”
Further, Mitchell Noble, marketing consultant, Gfp Partners llc, points out that lamination can change the look of the graphic by using different surface finishes such as gloss, matte, satin, or even textures. “Most installers require graphics be laminated to add body or strength to the thin vinyl used for the graphics, making the wrap easier to handle during installation.”
The only time lamination is not used is typically when the wrap will only stay on the vehicle for two or three months.
Tony Caruso, Eastern regional sales, AGL, says vehicle wrap requirements have changed considerably over the past few years. “In the past most customers demanded a long-term solution of five years or more. Today, the message a customer may want to convey with a vehicle wrap could last just a few months. Then it’s time for a new wrap with a new message.” He offers the example of taxi cabs serving Las Vegas, NV. “A cab may be wrapped to promote a limited engagement and then wrapped again in a few months for a new event.”
There are two primary types of vinyl, pressure-sensitive laminates for vehicle wraps—cast and calendered. Cast laminates are durable, thin, and work well with contoured surfaces. Calendered laminates are ideal for short-term applications with flat surfaces.
Carl Hoffman, director of sales, Royal Sovereign, explains that cast laminates are the standard for vehicle applications, noting their considerable outdoor life rating and ability to work well on contoured surfaces such as fenders and bumpers.
Noble agrees, adding that cast vinyl is very thin, which forms easier to vehicle contours, while having the longest outdoor durability to avoid shrinking away from the surface. He says less expensive polymeric vinyl can be used for flat side signage or simple curve applications where durability is not as important.
Romanello suggests that the width of the laminate should be equal to that of the vinyl graphics, “this makes the lamination process more efficient and easier handle.”
Durability enhancements are also found in laminates, including UV protection. “It prevents fading and discoloration that will cause the graphic to lose vibrancy,” says Birch. She adds that protection against water and wind are also beneficial as a vehicle wrap will need to withstand weather changes.
Hot or Cold
Hot and cold laminates are available. The pressure-sensitive vinyls typically used in vehicle wrap applications are generally considered cold.
While pressure-sensitive laminates are considered cold, Maxwell explains that using heat can improve the process. “Since these films are thinner, a little heat can enable it to lay better on the printed film. This can also remove artifacts such as silvering,” he shares.
“Wrap materials are pressure sensitive and therefore do not require heat,” agrees Caruso. “However, a heat assist laminator can accelerate the cure time to minimize or eliminate silvering,” he states.
Romanello agrees, adding that applying a little heat—between 95 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit—is recommended to help the adhesive flow better and eliminate tiny air bubbles/silvering between the laminate and the print surface.
It is important to match components, cast media with cast cold laminate. “Hot laminates are primarily polyester based and do not have the same conformability and coefficients of expansion and contraction as does cast vinyl materials,” shares Hoffman.
While heat-assist laminators are used for vehicle wraps, thermal laminators are typically out of the question for this particular application.
The pressure-sensitive vinyl commonly used for vehicle wraps typically cannot accept the high temperature required for hot or thermal films. Thermal films require high heat to active the adhesive that often distorts or shrinks the vinyl media used for the graphic. Thermal films are used on paper or other media, which is not affected by temperature.
“Hot laminates require too much heat, anywhere between 185 degrees Fahrenheit and above. Most hot laminates come with a polyester film base or some other non-PVC film base, which are not as malleable as cast vinyl and don’t conform as well,” adds Romanello.
With ever-growing options in wrap materials it’s important to own a versatile laminator that can change with the industry. “Whether it be a long-term cast product from one manufacturer or an intermediate calendared product from a different manufacturer or whether the wrap is printed using solvent, latex, or even UV ink, investing in the right laminator can mean the difference between getting the job done right the first time or wasting valuable time and money reprinting jobs,” states Caruso.
Before selecting a laminator, Caruso says another consideration is business itself. “Are vehicle wraps all they do? If not, investing in a dual heat laminator that can process both pressure sensitive and thermal materials will give a shop the ultimate in versatility and allow more work to remain in house,” he offers.
For vehicle wrap applications, Maxwell says a heat-assist laminator is recommended to achieve optimal results.
“Over the last 12 months we have seen a marked increase in demand for heat assist laminators,” shares Pender. “The benefit of a heat assist laminator is the option to apply heat is available to the operator of needed or desired for the project.”
Birch points out the importance of roll-to-roll capability. “This is where the film rolls back up after being laminated. Vehicle graphics are long and without this feature you are likely to damage your graphic.”
“You should always look for a laminator that has roll-to-roll capability as you will be running a considerable amount of material through the laminator,” adds Hoffman. “This configuration gives you a take-up system at the laminator exit to wind up your laminated material onto a paper core post lamination.”
Noble adds that while most laminators physically run laminates used for vehicle wraps, most operators prefer a laminator with a rear rewind feature so they can perform roll-to-roll production. “This allows the operator to output the graphic onto a roll core, load that printed roll onto the laminator, apply the film laminate, and rewind the finished graphic back to a core. This dramatically reduces the processing time and keeps the image clean from airborne dust. The finished graphic is then protected by being on the roll core when transported to the vehicle for installation.”
Top roller heating is another important feature for a laminator used on vehicle wraps. “Even though the film is called cold or pressure sensitive, by applying some heat to the adhesive during lamination, the adhesive has a chance to flow into the valleys of the ink layer. This forces out any air that might otherwise be entrapped between the ink valley and the surface of the laminate which is called silvering. This enhances the appearance of the image and allows the graphic to be used faster without waiting for the air to dissipate,” shares Noble.
Caruso says a laminator with good roller design and a repeatable tension system can effectively and efficiently process both cold and hot lamination requirements.
Vehicle wraps are popular. However, the application is subject to harsh environments, including UV rays, wind, and rain. Laminates not only provide added protection against these elements, they bring installation advantages as well. While vinyls used for vehicle graphics are cold, heat-assist laminators are preferred for applying laminates.
In part two we look at laminators and laminates recommended for vehicle graphic applications.
Read part two, Laminate Considerations for Vehicle Wraps
Jul2020, Digital Output