Not All Wraps are Created Equal.
Here’s the deal: there are a lot of crappy wraps out there. We feel like it’s our job to help educate our community about wraps, and that in doing so people will stop accepting badly designed, poorly installed and cheap quality wraps as “industry standard” and start demanding quality vehicle wraps.
So, whether you’re on the market for a wrap, already have one or just want to add “wrap connoisseur” to your resume, we’re honored to have the opportunity to teach you more about our industry.
Disclaimer: if you’re not in the mood to read the lengthy wrap novella we wrote below, we suggest you check out the tips in each section, which are highlighted in green.
Types of Wraps
There are two different types of wraps: digitally printed and pre-cured. Digitally printed ones are designed on a computer and printed on a wide-format printer, whereas pre-cured ones come in a variety of solid colors (everything from ultra-metallic to matte) and textured films (such as carbon fiber or snake skin).
When it comes to vehicle wraps, there are two different categories of wrap films: calendared and cast. Calendared vinyl is thicker than cast and usually contains a more aggressive adhesive, whereas cast vinyl is highly conformable, repositionable and clean-removing. Both categories of films can be used for digitally printed wraps or pre-cured ones, however, we strongly believe that calendared films should never be used in vehicle wrap applications. We’re going to emphasize that point again because it’s one of the most important things you need to understand about wraps: calendared films should not be used to wrap vehicles. The reason is because calendared films cannot conform to concave and convex curves of vehicles the same way cast films can.
When calendared films are stretched into tight crevices or around curves they might look great at first, but after a few weeks the film will tighten, causing the vinyl to shrink or bubble at the edges. The unfortunate truth is that there are a lot of vehicle wrap “wannabe’s” out there who are buying calendared vinyl and using them for vehicle wraps, because calendared films are typically 50-75% cheaper than their cast alternatives. We meet people every week who come to us with a failing vehicle wrap they had done at a local sign or window tint shop. The customer is angry (rightfully so) and discouraged: they don’t understand why their new wrap that looked so great at first now looks so terrible. The most obvious culprit is always the wrong product being used (calendared film instead of cast). Now you might be wondering about calendared films on flat surfaced-vehicles, like box trucks or trailers. Sure, the film doesn’t have to stretch as much as it would being wrapped on a car, but the truth is that calendared films shrink, regardless of whether or not they’re applied to a flat board or a compound curve. Using calendared films on a perfectly flat box truck with no rivets (do those even exist?) seems like it would be okay but in actuality it’s not because the panels shrink where they overlap, causing the graphics to not line up after the shrinking has occurred.
Tip: if you’re researching vehicle wrap providers, make sure you ask them to list the brand and product specifications in their quotes so you know what you’ll be getting. That way you can be sure you’re comparing apples to apples if getting quotes from multiple providers. And remember, even though they are a lot cheaper initially, you don’t want to make the mistake of purchasing a vehicle wrap that is done with a calendared film because it will end up costing you a lot more once it fails and you have to have it replaced.
Wrap Film Quality
So now that you understand the difference between calendared and cast vinyl and the reasons to avoid calendared vinyl on vehicle wrap applications, let us remind you that there is a substantial difference in quality when it comes to the various manufacturers of different films.
American made materials such as Avery Dennison Car Wraps and 3M are considered to be the best films, and the subtle differences between the two come down to each shop’s unique preferences because they are both superior quality films. There are a lot of replica vinyl films made overseas that are not of the same quality and do not perform to the same standards as Avery and 3M, even though they are advertised to do so.
Tip: insist on brand name, industry recommended and manufacturer warrantied stuff. The knock-off films won’t perform as promised.
Digital Printing Technology
There are three main types of wide-format printers that are used to print on vinyl: solvent/eco-solvent, latex and UV. As a rule of thumb, look for a shop that only uses OEM inks because third party inks are known to show more pixilation, be more prone to UV fading and more likely to adversely affect the vinyl’s ability to adhere (and stay stuck) to the vehicle.
Tip: ask what type of printer (brand and model) will be used to print your wrap and if it uses OEM inks or 3rd party inks. It makes a big difference in the overall appearance, quality and longevity of your wrap!
Solvent and Eco-Solvent – These are the original wrap printers of the industry and use extremely aggressive, stinky inks (either solvent or eco-solvent). These printers are known for saturating vinyl with heavy amounts of ink that takes a long time to dry or “off-gas” as we call it in the industry. The main disadvantage of using solvent/eco-solvent printers is that without proper time to off-gas, wraps printed on these printers are extremely prone to failure. This is because the heavy concentration of ink can attack the adhesive on the back of the vinyl and cause it to stick inconsistently, which puts the wrap at high risk of peeling or bubbling back. Moreover, prints that are laminated too soon after printing without ample time to off-gas tend to look more cloudy, hazy or bubbly because the ink fumes get trapped underneath the laminate. Solvent/eco-solvent prints need to off-gas for a minimum of 48 hours prior to laminating.
Tip: If you talk to a shop that uses a solvent/eco-solvent printer and says they only need your vehicle for two days, consider yourself warned: that shop has no intention of waiting the full 48 hours to laminate all the panels before installing them on your vehicle, and laminating too soon will adversely affect the print quality and adhesion of the wrap.
Latex – This is the latest and greatest technology in the wrap world and uses less abrasive inks than solvent printers. Latex printers are unique in that they use multiple fans and extremely high-powered heaters to cure the ink as it is being laid down on the vinyl, resulting in prints that are 100% dry immediately after being printed. Latex printers completely eliminate the need for off-gassing which makes them ideal for the vehicle wrap industry. Moreover, since latex ink’s composition is naturally more flexible than solvent/eco-solvent ink, it’s ideal for applications requiring vinyl to conform or stretch around curves.
Tip: Look for a shop that uses a latex printer for vehicle wraps. The print quality is exceptional and the panels don’t need to off-gas for 48 hours before laminating, which means the shop won’t need your vehicle for as many days.
UV – Ultra Violet (UV) printers are not typically recommended for printing vehicle wraps because the inks’ curing process under UV lights makes the ink brittle when dry. These printers are great for doing signage and window graphics, but when you take UV printed vinyl and try to stretch and conform it to fit around highly compound curves or bend into deep crevices, there’s a greater risk for ink cracking underneath the laminate.
Tip: Pass on getting a vehicle wrap done by a shop that only has a UV printer.
The Art of Installation
Would you hire a car stereo installer to replace the brake pads on your car? So why would you hire a traditional sign maker or window tinter to install a vehicle wrap on your car? Let us put it to you this way, when it comes to vehicle wraps, the only person you want going near your vehicle is an industry certified, professionally trained and highly experienced vehicle wrap installer.
The unfortunate truth is that there are countless people out there who think that because they more or less “successfully” installed a pre-made wrap purchased on Ebay using a hairdryer and “free-with-purchase” squeegee, that they have mastered the art of vehicle wrapping. Are we impressed they did it themselves and are proud of their work? Sure. Do we think they have any business offering their services to unsuspecting wrap consumers who pay good money for a high-quality wrap? Absolutely not.
Professional wrap installers have tricks and techniques that can only be acquired from formal training and years of experience. They know how to properly prep the vehicle’s surface for the wrap and take the time to do so. They work slowly and take their time to ensure panels line up perfectly and that there aren’t any visible seams unless 100% necessary. They know the proper order for which they should lay down overlapping panels to ensure their longevity and they know how to achieve perfectly straight edges on wraps without taking a blade near your paint. They know exactly how far they can stretch the film before distorting the image or risking that it won’t stay stuck, and they know how to seal off edges to insure they don’t ever lift. They know how much heat the material can take before the shine of the overlaminate is marred or the panel gets burnt and they know how to properly post-heat the wrap once installed. They know how to care for wraps and take the time to explain to each customer the do’s and don’t’s of wrap maintenance.
Mediocre wrap installers are a dime a dozen but superior ones that are industry certified, manufacturer-recommended and that have one numerous national awards are extremely hard to find.
Tip: insist on meeting your installer(s) and talking to them personally about their trainings, certifications, awards and experience. Think carefully before hiring a wrap provider that outsources their installations to third party contractors and uses that as an excuse for why you can’t talk to the installer(s) directly.
The Art of Design
Designing a vehicle wrap is unlike any other type of graphic design project. You have to have an intimate understanding of the wrap production and installation process in order to successfully design wraps. You need to be able to think about how the wrap will install on the vehicle, where the natural seams will be, where the optimal places are to put text, what areas text shouldn’t be placed, how much contrast is needed for the text to be visible, etc.
Tip: pay attention to the wraps you see on the road and you’ll start to see a noticeable difference between those with good designs and those with bad designs. When you see ones you like, snap a picture so you can share them with your vehicle wrap designer. When you see ones you don’t like, snap a picture so you can laugh at it later.
Moreover, vehicle wraps need to be designed on to-scale sized three dimensional renderings of the specific vehicle to which the graphics will be applied. Shops that are using line-drawings or “outlines” of your vehicle to proof artwork should not be taken seriously. How can they account for the contours and curves of your vehicle with a 2D line drawing? How will they know exactly where your car’s side molding is placed compared to that of a similar make/model vehicle?
Tip: ask the provider to show you an example of all of the phases of their designing and proofing process. Look to see how the artwork looks in the proof compared to a photograph of the final installed wrap.