Vinyl-Installation Shops Offer Tips
Last month’s Vinyl Apps column featured insights from several vinyl manufacturers. Here, we’re turning the focus back to techniques vinyl-graphic fabricators have perfected to enhance their work and build their portfolio (and referrals).
Tommy Strader, who has wrapped vehicles for 12 years, founded 360 Wraps (Dallas) five years ago. The shop, which wraps anything on wheels, has broadened its repertoire to include floor, building and wall wraps. He said 360 gains most of its work through Internet marketing, word of mouth and referrals.
“Each job has its challenges; one example that comes to mind is working a wall wrap around a building’s metal rafters,” Strader said. “In cases like that, I try to design around the obstacle and convince the customer it’s more-cost effective to not try to wrap a difficult surface.”
He also said vertical surfaces, such as cartops and stairs, pose difficulties because gravity attempts to make the vinyl stick prematurely. In such cases, Strader’s crew keeps the release liner on longer and secures small pieces at a time.
He said the shop prefers films with little initial tack – 360 primarily uses Avery films, and other brands’ specialty products when needed – because they’re more easily repositioned and can be installed about 30% faster. The shop prints on an HP L25500 latex printer, which Strader likes because it doesn’t require a solvent ink’s drying time, and its onboard computer calibrates material feed and minimizes banding.
Throughout his wrapping career, Strader has maintained a fairly consistent inventory of tools. He’s added two recent inventions: the RollePro vinyl applicator, which can maneuver over some complex surfaces more easily than a squeegee, and new-generation transmask that cuts away in strings without cutting paint.
For installations, he prefers Avery’s blue, felt-tipped squeegees, which he covers with 3M’s 5151 masking tape to help the squeegee glide, especially over a hot surface.
Strader handled one particularly challenging job for NASCAR driver Michael McDowell’s team. They asked if 360 could wrap its car the morning at the racetrack. The customer allowed precisely 90 minutes before the first practice laps. And, mechanics worked simultaneously under the hood.
“I put my three best installers on the job, and we had to constantly communicate with the mechanics so we didn’t get in each others’ way,” Strader said.
Greenlight Digital Graphics (GDG)
GDG (Greenville, SC), founded in 2001 by graphic artist Wells Alewine, specializes in large-format, vinyl installations. During its decade-plus as a large-format installer, GDG’s business has evolved from vans and trailers into building wraps, wall graphics, event graphics and an array of other applications.
“Better films, better printers, better ink, better software, better tools,” Alewine said. “There are a lot of factors that have made me a more proficient vinyl-graphic artist over the years. Experience has certainly been a good teacher, and competition in the marketplace certainly motivates us all to provide the best product for the best price.”
Alewine demonstrated his vehicle-wrapping capabilities by decorating a VW microbus for the Mellow Mush-
room’s Columbia and Greenville, SC locations. Mellow Mushroom is an Atlanta-based pizza chain with a quasi-hippie vibe. GDG collaborated with TPM, a Greenville-based, digital-print provider; it produced the graphics, and GDG installed the approximately 200-sq.-ft. wrap based on TPM’s template.
TPM produced the wrap on an EFI-VUTEk 3360 solvent-ink printer with 3M’s 1500 Series ink with 3M’s 180c-10 Controltac™ with Comply v3 air-release media. The topcoat, 3M’s 8519 luster-finish overlaminate, was applied with an AGL 64C pressure laminator.
“The vehicle had been restored, so it was in pretty good condition,” Alewine said. “The microbus doesn’t have compound curves, so it was a pretty easy job.”
GDG and Optika Scenicworks, a Greenville design firm, completed environmental graphics for HTI,
a Greenville-based company that staffs manufacturing and technology companies. The customer wanted quotes from key permanent personnel that embody the company’s spirit and convey a sense of family amongst the staff.
“Originally, they wanted to hire an artist to create stencils on the wall,” he said. “We convinced them to implement vinyl graphics, which provide a quicker turn-around, more professional look and easier changeover.”
The shop applied the graphics over drywall decorated with semi-gloss paint, which Alewine said created a good media-bonding surface.
To craft the quotes, GDG contour-cut approximately 150 sq. ft. of vinyl using Oracal 631, an intermediate film with a water-based, removable adhesive, which it cut on a Graphtec CE-5000 cutting plotter. He said balancing the quotes’ placements was important; the customer wanted them to be prominent, but not overpowering.
The project was successful; GDG and Optika Scenicworks are scheduled to develop a second environmental-graphic phase with another 200 sq. ft. of additional quotes and design motifs.
Steve Campbell founded Toledo, OH-based Pro Wrapz last year. His 10 years of wrapping experience have included cars, motorcycles, buses, golf carts and countertops.
“The first vehicle I found to be a real challenge for installing a full wrap was the [Chevy] HHR,” Campbell said. “The flared-out bumpers were partic-ularly difficult for installing the vinyl.”
When he started, Campbell’s only tools included a large rivet brush and a torch. Today, Campbell prefers a heat gun because of the temperature-range options that help him adapt to different materials and surfaces. He also uses magnets instead of tape whenever possible because they free his hands.
For his work, Campbell prefers 3M’s Controltac IJ180 or IJ380 air-release media, and especially lauds the 380 for its conformability and handling ease. He contracts with a printer, who uses a Mimaki JV33-260, six-color printer. Campbell has operated four-color printers, but said he had difficultly with color-fade transitions and color matches before he made the switch.
Campbell said corrugated trailers prove challenging; “On a corrugated unit, everything has to be aligned perfectly, and each taped piece must remain in place until you get to it, or your alignment is lost. And, rivets are constantly trying to pull the film away. The only way to get through a job like that is to take plenty of breaks for your hands and wrists.”
In the future, Campbell foresees a heavier concentration of motor-cycle wraps: “They’re challenging because of the curves, but more people will realize they can wrap a motorcycle’s tank, fenders, saddle-bags and faring for one-half to one-third the price of a paint job. That market has barely been touched.”
NJ Shop Names Fiat 500 Wrap Car of the Year
The vehicle-wrap market has existed long enough for several car models to have emerged into vogue. The PT Cruiser had its turn, as did the Volkswagen Beetle and the MINI Cooper. For 2012, Sunrise Signs (Gloucester City, NJ), which installs wraps for Philadelphia-area customers and also produces them for customers nationwide, named its Wrapping Car of the Year.
It bestowed the award on the Fiat 500, a distinctive subcompact that became available in the U.S. in early 2011. Fiats weren’t sold domestically for approximately 25 years, until a partnership between Fiat and Chrysler’s ownership group cleared the way for American sales.
According to Adam Sokoloff, Sunrise Signs’ president, “It has great design, is economical, offers good mileage and has a wow factor. The Scion XB and the Honda Fit are comparable, but the Fiat 500 provides a truly excellent wrap canvas. It has compact body lines, an aggressive front end, and is nontraditional.”
The shop created a multi-car campaign of wrapped Fiats for Junkluggers, a NYC-based, junk-removal service. Sunrise Signs created the wraps with 3M Controltac air-release media on a Mimaki JV3-160SP solvent-ink printer.
The award was based on a poll of staff and customers, and he said the shop planned to name another winner next year, as well as adding a Wrapping Truck of the Year award.