Wrapping: a vehicle for print profits

Creating a wrapped vehicle presents signage and print shops with a number of challenges.

To start with, the demands made on the self-adhesive film and the physical complexity of curves and angles on the vehicle mean applicators can expect to have their abilities tested to the limit.

One vital factor in this process involves the investment in a high quality durable film. It needs to have the capacity to withstand the environmental conditions which the customer will expose the vehicle to.

In Australia, the higher than average UV exposure figures as a major factor affecting film on a vehicle wrap. On the vehicle itself, horizontal orientations will test the film in the extreme.

Your expectations for long durability will decrease significantly when you have to apply film on any angled or horizontal surface simply owing to increased UV exposure. Because the effect on durability can cause such a strain, you will find that not all products carry a warranty when you use them on horizontal surfaces.

Typically, the quote you will read for durability on technical data sheets will refer to unprinted, unlaminated films in vertical orientations for countries that have a lower UV index than Australia.

Printing on a 10-year film, laminating and applying to a vehicle in our harsh climate can quite simply reduce that durability to a year or two. So you really need to know exactly how the warranty applies for local conditions for the film you intend to use.

Of course, when you use a laminate, then you will refer to this this layer rather than the base print film as the determinant for final durability.

Easy on and easy off

Ease of application can seriously affect your decision in terms of the type of film you select.

Labour time still features as the most significant cost in any wrap.

Believe it or not, the real cost of any film doesn’t sit solely with the purchase price but actually depends on how the film impacts on labour time. While one film may cost significantly less than another in the first instance, you will find that if, at any point in the application process, the film becomes harder to work with, or takes longer to install, then your savings will quickly disappear.

The same applies to the removability of the film. If you can remove the film easily and in large pieces, then you can cut the labour time by a decent cost-saving margin.

However, if the film leaves any adhesive residue, how much it leaves will impact on the cost to the client because of the time taken on clean up. Even so, don’t consider it a given that a permanent film designed for long term car wraps will leave adhesive behind. You can remove some films quite easily and quickly with minimal cleaning up to three years after application. Paying more for these installation and removal features counts as a worthwhile investment for your client.

Prior to purchasing the film, you need to know about the vehicle your client wants wrapped. While that seems self-evident, we see many wrapping failures occurring because applicators and printers have not given due consideration to the specific aspects of the vehicle; not considering them prior to film selection and installation.

Although you may feel you have a typical, or common, vehicle model and make, you may not know about modifications such as spoiler kits or other specific aspects that will impact on the films ability to adhere.

All films have a limit of conformability: a point to which they can be stretched and remain in position. And these limits can vary between brands and even within a product range. For example, coloured films designed for car personalisation can differ in conformability and performance depending on the effect and composition of the top sheet.

Laminated digital prints will also have a reduced conformability depending on the type and thickness of laminate used. By closely examining the complexity of curves on the vehicle and then matching it to the right film, you can eliminate future failures.

So your first step should involve an examination of the complexity of curves of the vehicle and match it to a film that can perform to that level. Some cars have extreme indentations or protrusions that you simply cannot successfully cover in film long-term; or you can only cover them by cutting or patching the film. You will find it better in the long run to discuss these areas with the customer prior to commencing the job so they have an understanding of what the final wrap will look like.

Read the instructions

YOU must understand the information on the technical data sheet or application material supplied by the manufacturer is essential. These documents will tell you if you have any special considerations when using a particular film and how you need to treat that film. Though you will find the application method between brands generally the same, you will also find some differences. For example, you need to know if you will need to cut in deep recesses, areas that might not suit the film, or other special application techniques.

The quality and composition of the vehicle surface will also determine how well the film applies and stays in position.

Ask the vehicle owner about the paintwork and perform a pre-application inspection of the car to ensure that you won’t encounter any nasty issues or surprises later. Evaluation includes determining the quality of the paintwork. Is it original? Has the owner had any repair work or resprying done?

If the owner has had paint work completed on the vehicle recently, or filler used, then the film may not stick well or at all. Or if the bond of the paint to the surface is weak then the film could damage the paint work on removal or during repositioning when being applied.

You must know your surface and avoid wrapping gaskets, rust, rubber seals, and ABS plastics.

Check for any scratches, chips, or imperfections on the surface of the car. Noting these will ensure there are no complaints from your customer when the film is removed.

You must prepare the vehicle surface well before application begins. This will ensure you have a completely dry vehicle, particularly in critical areas like seams and rivets. Any trapped moisture will delay adhesion. You may need to wax or specially condition some paint surfaces. You need to remove these treatments with the appropriate chemical cleaner. Just prior to application, you should wipe the vehicle down with isopropyl alcohol, followed by a wet rag and then dry with a dry rag rather than allowing for evaporation.

Preparation make take some time but it can save you hours reapplying the film later.

Next, consider the location where you will apply the film.

Ideally, applicators perform their work in dust, wind, and moisture free, temperature controlled environments. If you don’t have one of these, then you need to take special care.

The most important variable to pay attention to is temperature. For vehicle wrapping, temperature influences application and adhesion. If you have a too cold ambient temperature, the film will not be pliable and the adhesive will not be fluid enough to stick well. While a heat gun should be used to relax the media, if the vehicle surface is too cold then the heated film will cool down too quickly and application will need to be done more slowly heating a smaller area of film at a time.

Post heating the film after application is the most crucial step. The film must reach a certain temperature in order to relieve any tension created by stretching the film and to set the adhesive.
Failure to reach the right level of heat will cause the film to lift in recesses over time.
After application, make sure you don’t expose the film to extreme cold for a number of hours to avoid thermal shock which could cause the film to lift. These steps become much more difficult if you have to complete the application outside in colder climates.

Ideally, vehicle wrapping should form a profitable part of any signage or print business. However, when something goes wrong, any profit will quickly shrink or disappear entirely.

Of course, the key to success turns when getting the job right the first time.

Spend the time to do just that by examining and preparing the vehicle surface, by researching and familiarising yourself with the film you will use, and by choosing the right environment.

Invest in these important features of vehicle wrapping and you will go a long way to ensure the best application outcome.

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