All Wrapped Up

Dec 3, 2009

The vehicle wrap business has grown leaps and bounds during the past five years and continues to grow. Once people hear the dollar amount of what a full vehicle wrap costs and what profit margin is available, they want a piece of the action.

I remind people who we train throughout the United States and abroad that we are not splitting the atom here; at the end of the day it is a large sticker.

There are many aspects involved in creating and applying a vehicle wrap. Remember, that even with the possibility of a great return on your investment, the vehicle wrap market has its pitfalls and virtues.

When we first started in the business, there were no means of training, seminars or articles that described the vehicle wrap industry. In our first year in business we wasted more than $20,000 in material, labor and time. Today, there are educational opportunities – and if you want to enter this arena or want to improve your skills so you don’t waste thousands of dollars, you might consider what’s now available.

The ’20’ Rule’

Just like any other job or career, you have to set yourself apart from your competition. Anyone can print out a basic design and slap it on any vehicle. The true test or standard in the vehicle wrap industry is changing every day. Our company has been trying since Day One to change the 20′ rule. What is it? Forever, it seems, people have said that as long as your wrap looks good from 20′ away it’s acceptable. We believe it should look great 2′ away.

A vehicle wrap for a company is their identity, their image, their brand. The vehicle wrap needs to be designed properly and have an effective message. The material should be cast vinyl with a cast overlaminate. And the installation needs to be flawless. This goes back to our 20′ rule.

No single article can cover an entire subject, especially regarding jobs where precision design and application are important. Here, I will go over some of the basics about the vehicle wrap market. And like I said, at the end of the day it is just a big sticker.

Charge for your design

The first hurdle to conquer when doing a vehicle wrap project is the design. We have all of our clients come to our location to see our facility, meet the designers, and to show them any other projects that we have going on at that time. This demonstrates to our clients that we are serious about and take pride in our work.

We get a feel for what the customer wants, say, a full wrap or a partial wrap. Sometimes the client might just want die-cut logos or vinyl laid out on their vehicle.

We use a template software program that includes almost every vehicle from 1994 on. This program helps us lay out designs and quote a wrap for our customers. I also highly recommend taking photographs and measurements of the vehicle you are designing to make sure everything lays out correctly. It will take on average about four to eight business days of designing, changes, e-mails, quoting and color test prints to get an approval for a wrap –  sometimes it takes longer than expected.

Make sure you charge for the artwork and time it takes you to lay out a design. The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t charge for a design, it takes you 12 hours of design time, the customer doesn’t use your company, and then you see your design on a wrap done by another company. Once this happens you will begin to charge for your hard work and creativity. We charge our customers by the hour. We tell them it’s just like a cab ride; we will take them wherever they would like to go. The further we go the more it costs. Most business owners and customers understand this aspect of the vehicle wrap process. If you don’t have the design capabilities subcontract out a designer to help with designs. An average wrap design can run anywhere from $500-$1,000 dollars.

Material things

I recommend using a cast material with a cast overlaminate. We use a Roland wrap media in our everyday operation. This material has a repositional backing that allows us to apply the material without any application fluid or water. All wrap media that are designed for vehicle wrapping is applied dry-no water. We use Roland printers and ink in all of our projects. Our shop has a Roland Soljet Pro II and a Soljet Pro III. We also have a Roland 24-in. Cam 1 plotter. This also allows us to give our customers a warranty on all of our work.

An average 54-in.-wide printer will cost around $30,000.

Even though our shop uses these specific products, which work perfect for our means, your shop personnel may be comfortable with any number of other available brands and get the ideal results you and your customers like.

Once the material has been printed we use a cold laminator from Royal Sovereign. A cold laminator can run anywhere from $5,000-$10,000. The material printed and laminated has a thickness of 4 mil. The laminate gives the wrap media added thickness for an easier application, added durability from dirt and road grime, and from UV rays. It also makes the wrap look like paint.

There are other professional wrap materials out there to use, as well, such as those from 3M, MACtac, Arlon and Oracal to name a few. Over time you will need to learn how these materials print and install. We have certain customers who require a material to be used or applied. We do installations that have been printed by another print house on different material. All of our wraps are printed in high quality; we make sure that the wrap has no banding from the print heads, and that the colors are vibrant and all of the images pop off the design. This goes back to having a design that is effective and eye catching. The ultimate goal is to help your business-oriented customers to get the visual recognition that brings business to their doors. Once that happens, you have established a repeat customer.

Those are the best to have in any business.

The details in the detail

The installation process, in my shop, is the most critical point of vehicle wrapping. There still is no standard in the vehicle wrap market. We print and install all of our graphics without any seams. Large box trucks, semis and other large vehicles do require you to put seams in the panels when installing. On all SUVs, cars and most vans, we hide all of our seams in the door jams, or breaks in the body of the car.

But the first thing we do once the vehicle to be wrapped arrives at our facility is to detail the entire car using isopropyl alcohol. You should use at least a 70% cut of alcohol. This will cut through any grime or grease that has built up over time on the vehicle. If the vehicle is too dirty, we recommend hand washing before detailing. You can have the best printer, the best facility and the best installer, but if the vehicle is not detailed properly you will have issues in the end because the material needs a clean surface to adhere to. Just like window tinting and paint protection film, the prep work is very important.

All panels or prints are laid out on the vehicle using tape and magnets to properly fit the wrap. We want to make sure all lettering and graphics line up properly and are running straight. The worst thing that can happen is to have a beautiful design, a high-quality print, and install it with the wrap running downhill. This will stick out like a sore thumb.

Remember that “20′ rule”? Every wrap looks good from a distance. The true test of a good vehicle wrap is to get up close to it. Look at how the design was printed: Are there seams? Did they patch in pieces to hide mistakes? Wrapping a hood of most vehicles may take only 20 minutes. What takes time is the tucking, rounding of the corners, and the finishing of the hood.

An average full wrap for a typical SUV will take 8-14 hours depending on the vehicle style. PT Cruisers, Sprinter Vans, Volkswagen bugs and motorcycles pose the toughest installations due to the complex curves and convex contours that make them difficult.

Care & training

You can stretch almost all cast wrap media where you want it to go. The hard part is keeping it down. If any material has been overheated or stretched beyond its limits it will shrink back. It may look good today, but come back a week later and you will have serious issues; if you have a vehicle come back more than once for any repairs or re-printing you are losing money. We always emphasize to people we train that you never hear about the good news, but you always hear about the bad. Take your time with the installation process.

There are a lot of resources out there to learn from. Our company trains people, as well, about the ins and outs about vehicle wrap installation. There also are companies that just do installation. You might consider subcontracting out vehicle wrap work to a company that can do the installation for you. People ask us all the time how long it takes to be trained or master the vehicle wrap installation process. It’s not just the time to learn, it’s the number of vehicles you’ve worked on. Every vehicle is different and poses different challenges. One day you might wrap a Hummer, the next day it could be a PT Cruiser and, later on, a box truck. Once you have wrapped all three you can begin to see how much detail and precision comes into play when installing vehicle wraps. You will also learn what to charge and how long it takes to complete each project.

Consider all the angles

The vehicle wrap industry is a fun and exciting career. It certainly poses issues and problems just like any other job. We believe it is an art form with quality and precision put into every project. An average wrap can run anywhere from $3,000-$5,000 depending on size and make of vehicle. You can have 5-10 days of design time, 4-6 hours of print and finishing time along with 8-14 hours of installation. Add this up and you can see that any mistakes can cost you money.

Take pride in your work and your clients and
competition will see it. Every vehicle wrap you complete is a sales tool for your company and another notch in your business belt.

If you have never wrapped before, practice on your own vehicle. The only person you have to impress is yourself. This may help you determine whether you will get into the vehicle wrap market, or subcontract it out to a company that specializes in vehicle wraps. If you can produce an effective design, a high-quality print and a flawless install, you can charge a premium for your work.

Our ultimate goal is to set the standard with vehicle wrap design, print and installation. Stick to your guns with pricing and let the customer know how much time and effort goes into producing a vehicle wrap. You’ll both appreciate what’s involved.


Tools for the Trade

Tools for wrapping vehicles vary depending on the installers or what they are comfortable with.

We use heat guns to heat the media for complex curves and areas that need to be post-heated. Some installers use blow torches for remote installs or even on a daily basis. Play with both and make up your own mind as to what you’re comfortable with.

Here is a list of installation tools that we use. You will note that they are basic tools to make the installation go smoother. Most of these items can be purchased at a hardware store or sign supply company.

  • Heat gun
  • Xacto knife or Olfa Blade
  • Masking Tape (3M Blue Painter’s tape to hold graphic on car)
  • Magnets (to help hold graphics on car)
  • Soft rags (for detailing of car)
  • Isopropyl alcohol (needed for detailing of car)
  • Tape measure or level (for alignment of graphics)
  • Tool belt (for easy access to tools)
  • Scissors (to cut away backing paper of media)
  • Patience