Under Wraps

Three award-winning shops’ top tips
Creative Color Studio (Minneapolis)

You see them all around. Milk mustache-clad superstars plastered in larger-than-life images on the exteriors of buses, trains and cars. As the cutting-edge approach to outdoor advertising, vehicle wraps using specialty or high-quality vinyl digitally printed with eye-catching graphics offer the best of both worlds – a long-lasting advertising medium and thousands of individual views on any given day. 

Unique, daring and disruptive wrap advertisements create buzz and draw stares as drivers traverse streets and highways, building awareness of companies, products or events. While cars and buses are the key tools in vehicle wrapping, helicopters, airplanes, boats and trains have also become roaming billboards. 


Marketers and advertisers recognize that transportation creates movement of both vehicles and people, which, in turn, multiplies exposure to advertising messages. And to achieve this considerable advertising reach for up to a decade with contemporary wrap products is within the budget of many, many customers.

Experts stress that vehicle wrapping requires tremendous skill and extensive training. Wraps require good handling. The material must fit the vehicle’s contours and retain its good looks long-term. Elements like windows, doors, tire wells and vents can create a veritable obstacle course for the vehicle wrap designer and installer to work around. In addition to ORAFOL, Avery Dennison and Arlon vinyl wrap products, many shops use 3M wrap vinyl because all are ideal for vehicle wraps in high-traffic areas where durability is important.

Brent Luther, co-owner of Creative Color Studio in Minneapolis, specializes in design, signs, vehicle wraps, large-format printing and branded environments. His company is also United Application Standards Group (UASG) and 3M certified. During the last few months, Creative Color has wrapped more than 125 cars as part of the Crown Rally, a multi-day road-rally event that includes exotic and specialty vehicles. Rally teams spend a weekend traveling through hundreds of miles of Midwest backcountry roads, all while raising money for charitable causes such as the Epilepsy Foundation.

“We have had the opportunity to work with a couple of awesome car rallies over the years; however, our most recent one – Crown Rally – is very diverse, using 3M 1080 films as well as 3M IJ180 digitally printed films,” Luther said. “Each car gets a livery package of different colors and many owners want to go full custom – creating a totally unique look embracing the Crown Rally brand. These are some of the rarest and most unique sports cars in the Twin Cities and beyond.” 

Luther and his team turned to 3M wrap vinyl for this project because of the vast amount of colors from the 3M 1080 library. The company says this line features air release technology, which offers an exceptionally smooth appearance – paramount when wrapping finely designed sports cars. “It made for some truly unique cars and color combinations,” Luther said. “Also, being a fully removable vinyl, as they are 100% safe to remove after the event, leaves little to no residue behind.”

When bidding the project, Luther and his team priced each “standard” kit at a set rate, as well as offering customization. To obtain these unique looks and others, Creative Color used multiple 3M 1080 colors, 3M IJ1080Cv3, 3M 8518 and 8520 Overlaminates, their HP Latex 360 printer, AGL laminator, as well as Summa and Mimaki plotters.

The Creative Color team had the opportunity to create everything from a custom camo-style Lamborghini and Deadpool-themed Jaguar to a more simplified race-themed kit on a few Porsche 911s. “Our highlight project of the event was a couple of rare McLarens – 720S and MP4-12C – with custom livery and graphics, giving a ‘Tron-style’ feel with matching vinyl so both cars flow together well,” Luther said. 


Surf City Graphics (Huntington Beach, CA)
Surf City Graphics (Huntington Beach, CA)

When John Grijavla with Dark Horse Racing reached out to Surf City Graphics (Huntington Beach, CA) to wrap his ’93 Biesemeyer capsule and ’70 Biesemeyer performance boats, the Surf City team was more than excited. They knew that this opportunity would allow their work to be seen from the Idaho Regatta, to the ARP Long Beach Sprint Nationals in California, to the upcoming Parker Enduro in Arizona.

“Our goal was simple. We wanted to design, print and install the most badass wraps on the water,” said Michael Dmytrow, owner of Surf City. “We knew that with the consistency of 3M Metallic Printed Wrap Film IJ180mC-120, the possibilities were endless when it came to custom design options.”

As Dmytrow explained, with the Biesemeyer boats having many body lines and unique curvatures, tailor-made templates were needed before printing on the company’s HP Latex 315. In addition to the 3M Metallic printed wrap film, Surf City used 3M’s Scotchcal 8518 Gloss Overlaminate to seal in the “candy paint effect” to really make their custom colors pop.

“The depth of dimension that 3M Metallic printed wrap film allows for printed color and their micro-air egress technology for speedy installations made the choice for material a given,” Dmytrow said. “The execution of these custom wraps resulted not only in flawless boat fleet appearance, but also winning a lifetime relationship with the Dark Horse Racing team. Winning is one thing; winning in style means you will not be easily forgotten.”


Adjustable, heavy-caliper or laminated vinyl can make wraps easier to install, but these materials may also increase the likelihood of premature separation along contours and cut edges. Families of compatible pressure-sensitive films, including body-wrap film, one-way window graphic film and flexible overlaminating films all provide easy installation and removability, as well as consistent image quality for a seamless graphic look. And vinyl films developed for partial and full vehicle wraps provide exceptional environmental resistance and easy, repositionable installation. All materials are UV laminated and most are fully warranted against color fading, cracking, peeling and edge lifting. 

According to Ben Gonzales, co-owner of Baltimore Graphics in Glen Burnie, MD, when he and his business partner, Matt Webb, started their company in 2007, they knew that vehicle wraps were a niche that could really help Baltimore Graphics grow. So they immediately focused their marketing efforts on vehicle graphics.

“Being designers in various industries we were familiar with brand design, offset printing, screenprinting, embroidery and signage,” Gonzales said. “We took this knowledge and began offering our clients a ‘one-stop-shop’ solution, providing all of the services listed. We steadily built a strong reputation for vehicle graphics and wraps and we’re now in an 8,000-sq.-ft. facility with eight employees.”

The Baltimore Graphics team recently worked with a startup locksmith company that came to the company researching vehicle wrap options. “The initial challenge was that he didn’t have a logo or any graphics to work with,” Gonzales said. “We were able to take his budget and spread that out to create a logo, business cards, custom invoices, flyers, uniforms and a partial wrap.” Anticipating the addition of vehicles to his fleet, a partial wrap was a great option for this particular client. The wrap was produced on Baltimore Graphics’ HP Latex printer using Orafol’s Oracal 3751RA (a cast wrap film featuring RapidAir Technology) and Oracal 290 Gloss Laminating Film. The adhesive used with this vinyl is a solvent-based, repositionable, permanent low initial tack adhesive that can be removed with heat and leaves little or no adhesive residue. Likewise, the Oracal 290 Gloss Laminating Film is used for a wide range of outdoor applications and offers high flexibility with a clear solvent-based adhesive. 

“We lean toward the Oracal 3751RA on just about any vehicle project,” Gonzales said. “While we hear that many installers shy away from it because of the initial tack, we’re used to it. We love the conformability and we’re confident it’s going to stick when applied to deep recesses. It’s simply been a reliable material.”

For many within the industry, wrapped vehicles are considered to be the most cost-effective, head-turning advertising medium available today. As they become more prevalent, the principal challenge to signshops has evolved from convincing customers of the value of wraps to designing graphics that truly stand out from the competition as more and more vinyl-laden vehicles hit the streets.


Signs of the Times June 2019

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