"Wrap" Sessions With Three Vehicle-Graphic Providers

Tips, tricks and trends they've observed

Last month, we said goodbye to Dale Salamacha, who’s authored Vinyl Apps columns for approximately four years. Beginning with the February issue, he’ll author our Shop Ops column, which will address best practices for general signshop operation. Going forward, I will author the Vinyl Apps column, with input from expert vinyl-graphics providers about preferred methods to design, produce and install vinyl (and, when applicable, non-PVC-media alternatives).
This month, I will focus on vehicle-wrap best practices; six providers, all of whom have won awards in ST or vinyl-OEM competitions, have responded to our questionnaires. This and next month’s edition will feature three responses apiece. March’s Vinyl Apps column will address wall and architectural wraps.
If you have any vinyl-graphics topics you’d like to see covered in this column, please contact me at steve.aust@stmediagroup.com or (513) 263-9308.
360 Wraps, Dallas
How do you earn most of your customers?

We wrap our own vehicles, which provides nice exposure, but most come from referrals from happy customers. We know that, wherever they go, they’ll get asked about their wrap for the next few years. We want successful wraps that generate referrals.
Do you use wrap templates to create designs?
We create our own designs from template we create with Photoshop® using photos and measurements we’ve taken. Templates you can buy are OK, but it’s impossible to have an in-stock template for everything.
The difference between an off-the-shelf template and a custom one is like the difference between an off-the-rack suit and a custom-tailored one. I’ve had issues with the consistency of stock templates.
What film do you prefer, and what’s your wrap-printing process?
We use Avery Dennison Graphic Solutions’ MPI 1005 Supercast Easy Apply material with air-release technology. This cast material provides less shrinkage and peeling on the vehicle than other media, and its adhesive reduces installation time.
We’ve purchased four, HP 360 latex-ink printers this year. This system has removed almost all maintenance, and the problems we saw from previous printers (disappeared). Its page-feed detection sensor auto adjusts as the roll progresses to prevent banding. Latex is odorless and allows lamination without outgassing, and printheads are cheap to replace. We print in 10-pass, bi-directional mode at 720 dpi to provide optimal print quality.
We use FlexiSign software and Flexi-RIP, although our RIP is less important than it would be for other shops. We save all panels for printing as individual files from Photoshop to avoid tiling within the RIP software. This ensures that, whenever possible, we cover each door, fender, hood, etc., with no seam.
Tell me about your installation process.
The most important installation tool is an experienced installer. You can’t underestimate the importance of their attention to detail. I see wrappers who have a tool pouch with 50 implements; I’m sure they’re all helpful items, but are they necessary? An experienced installer probably won’t require nearly that many. The most essential are torches, friction-taped squeegees, RollePro applicators, cutting tape and an Olfa knife with high-angle blades.
What do you see as the most common vehicle-wrap failure?
It all comes back to design. Too many designers still create wraps that are too busy, with poor layouts that don’t convey the wrap’s intended message. Also, the failure to create custom templates often leads to graphics that don’t properly fit, which also detracts from the message.
Palmer Signs, Roseville, CA
Are most of your wrap designs custom?

Yes. We provide a certain amount of free art time for each wrap, and the improved flexibility, ink reception and adhesive allow for better graphics. Low-res artwork, always a problem, requires design from scratch anyway. We prefer vector files or ultra-high-resolution .BMPs, but, obviously, that’s not always what we get.
Do you use templates? What software do you use?
We now create our own templates from vehicle photos. We’ve found that the contours, insets and depths from off-the-shelf templates can be very misleading. They’re fine to develop a general size ratio, but you need more precision for well-designed wraps.
We primarily use Photoshop and CADlink SignLab®, but we also employ an illustrator who draws custom mascots, graphics and other images for a unique touch.
SignLab is great for vector art and digitizing hand-rendered designs, as well as tiling, and Photoshop is great for more complex, layered effects.
What media and printing process do you incorporate?
We use 3M’s Controltac with Comply air-release media, and always laminate with Scotchcal 8518 glossy unless otherwise instructed by the customer. We print on both our HP 360 and Mimaki JV33. The Mimaki is a workhorse that provides vibrant color, although the installers prefer the 360 because waiting for solvent outgassing delays installation.
Are non-printed wraps a growing part of your repertoire?
Yes, they’re very popular. We use both 3M 1080 and Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions Supreme unless otherwise instructed by the customer. Carbon-fiber and other film textures are great for hoods, roofs and overlays.
What’s key in your installers’ toolkits?
One of the biggest changes has been squeegees. Formerly, one or two squeegees were used for all surfaces. Now, every specific need has a squeegee designed for it. Microfiber squeegees are great. Neodymium magnets are a great help with installation, and easier to use than transmask.
We use both torches and heat guns. The young installers prefer the heat gun because it’s easier to use. I like the torch’s quick heat. Whatever you use, post-wrap heating is the most-overlooked part of successful wrapping.
What are the most common wrap mistakes you see?
There are many to choose from. Not measuring the car for accuracy. A dirty car surface. Poor installation on door jambs and wheel wells. Insufficient post heating. Sloppy design. And that’s just a few areas.
Wicked Wraps, Mukilteo, WA
What have been the biggest changes since you opened your shop?

Back in the day, we printed on an eco-solvent machine that took forever to outgas and dry. Now, we use a latex printer, and never have to wait before we laminate. We began with calendered film for flat surfaces, but have switched to cast films and laminates for everything because of its superior performance.
The biggest change has been knifeless tape. The filament-cutting system lets us trim in hard-to-reach areas and crevices without the risk of cutting the paint.
How do you incorporate templates and software into your design?
We use The Bad Wrap templates on everything we do. They help us visualize how the design translates to a vehicle, and how we work around such obstacles as door handles, body lines, etc. The templates save so much time in having to create the initial channels yourself, and make creating presentations for customers easy and very professional-looking.
However, they’re not foolproof. Although they’re sufficient for the simple surface of a box truck or trailer, it’s impossible to perfectly replicate the curves on a vehicle’s surface – they have curves. Neither can flat Photoshop files account for them. You can get into trouble if you go straight to print without checking, and double-checking, measurements with a soft tape measure and adjust 1/8 in. either way to provide an optimal fit.
We use Photoshop software for wraps, and Illustrator for die-cut graphics. Photoshop has so many features, but you need to understand them, and educate yourself about how they function. Great artists proudly admit the learning never stops.
How do you prep vehicles for wrap installation?
First we wash and clay-bar the vehicles (a system that incorporates a putty compound and spray cleaner to more effectively remove contaminants than soap and water). Then, our body shop comes to our shop and removes all auto-body parts that would impede wrapping. Then, we use 3M’s prep solution for a final cleaning, and remove wheels and tires. This process adds a few hours, and having the parts pulled raises our cost, but it improves the overall quality.
What materials and printer do you use? RIP?
We primarily use Avery Dennison films – we’ve found they perform well in our damp climate – and matte laminates are becoming more popular. We don’t use calendered vinyl for anything. Latex-ink prints are a boost for print resolution and installation time; we always print high-quality, low-speed with the highest resolution.
Color profiling with Caldera’s RIP is incredible. It has a steep learning curve, stringent technology requirements, and doesn’t allow designing within the program. But we couldn’t be happier; the color control makes it superior.
Special-effect and carbon-fiber, non-printed wraps now represent about 10% of our business. It’s a growing market, but still small compared to business wraps.
What tools are most essential?
Geek Wraps felt squeegees are far and away the best, and its PowerSlam neodymium magnets help installation. YelloTools’ gold Titan blades provide superior cutting. But our favorite tool is a 360° laser level. This type shoots a plumb line that you can set to be level or follow a body contour.
Ours was the first U.S. shop to purchase a Kala Mistral laminator. It provides even heat and controlled, precise pressure. With no impeding metal plates, the rollers are easily accessible for loading and cleaning. You can laminate 150 ft. of roll media with very little “walking”, which means the laminate roll is moving towards one side or another and applying unevenly.
What are the most common wrap mistakes you see?
Many mistakes can result from a third party getting involved with design, fabrication or installation. Constant communication between everyone involved is important. Whether it’s where to seam if necessary, whether to bleed a color, whether a graphic should be an overlay or imprinted, or countless other decisions, they’re best made when everyone is working in-house as a team from start to finish.

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