Auto Graphics: Colorful Personalities

Apr 1, 2012

Vinyl graphics go especially well with small cars and CUVs.

“The interesting thing is to see what vehicle restylers and artists conceive to do with our [graphics] films – their creativity astounds us.”
– Doug Blackwell, 3M

Anything in our market that has as much impact as graphics needs to be watched closely for its seemingly constant changes. From its visual aspect to the latest trends, vinyl is a force to be reckoned with for shops and manufacturers alike.

We wanted to know just what that market is doing for this coming year so we asked a panel of experts just what is hot, where we’re seeing it and even if they have moved inside the vehicles.

Our first question was about those hot-selling small cars and CUVs. Are they an especially good fit for graphics? In St. Paul, Minn., 3M’s Doug Blackwell tells us, “They are an excellent fit for the graphics market. Wrapping cars with either full wraps or graphics only in front of the wheel wells, around outside rear view mirrors, on door panels, roofs, hoods and trunk lids allows every vehicle owner, whether it’s for a personal vehicle or a business vehicle to express their personality and style.”

For example, Blackwell cites his company’s Scotchprint Wrap Film Series 1080, available in 34 colors, textures and finishes, saying the film is “a distinctive way to make car owners and their cars stand out in a crowd.”

For Goddard, Kan.-based Universal Products, Joan Omo says, “These [small-cars] are great candidates for graphics. Many of the graphics currently on the market are made specifically to enhance the body lines of these smaller vehicles. Our new OE Unlimited Series offers several choices that are perfect for application to these vehicles.”

Lane Carter, Restylers’ Choice, Cincinnati, is energetic in his answer: “Absolutely! There aren’t many vehicles on the road today that graphics don’t improve their looks. Small cars and CUVs tend to all look the same, and graphics let the owner of the vehicle personalize their car.”

In Oostburg, Wis., Vinyl Graphics’ Dale Huenink links it to increased sales. “The resurgence of American car sales over imports may be one of the reasons. The Ford Fusion and Chevy Cruze both are giving their import competitors a run for their money. As demands for these cars increase, the car dealer will feel confident to front-load the cars with stripes and moldings. The reasons are simple: to set his inventory apart from the dealer down the street and to increase their net profit on each unit sold.”

As well, Greg Duchinsky of Wichita, Kan.-based Sharpline, says it’s the style, too, “since vehicle graphics have become more conservative in design complexity, size and color, smaller cars and CUVs are more popular choices for graphic application.”

What’s the graphic theme?

Our second question was about any new looks/designs/colors consumers can expect to see this year. Omo from Universal says, “Silvers, blacks, reds and matte finishes remain strong. Octagon and matrix patterns are a trendy new look.”

Carter from Restylers’ Choice says look at the cars: “The OE look is really popular and still driving the graphics industry right now. Matte finishes continue to be the trend of popularity.”

Huenink tells us, “At Vinyl Graphics, we are very excited with Universal Products’ OE Unlimited Series line of graphics. The concept of having graphics and promotional fliers designed for Chevy, Ford, Dodge and import dealers will help pull-through sales for the mobile trim installer. We also feel this is going to be another strong year for factory-looking rally stripes.”

Duchinsky from Sharpline says it’s the buyers, “Consumer tastes are still focused on smaller, vehicle-complementary designs. Classic muscle cars’ graphic themes also continue to be popular.”

3M’s Blackwell says that the company’s “broad portfolio of graphic products in printable, colored and textured films” continues to grow, citing the introduction of the aforementioned Wrap Film Series 1080, “a vinyl film that sleekly imitates the look of carbon steel as well as the look of matte paint.” That line, he notes, “has grown from two textures and a few colors to now include gloss, metallic, brushed aluminum and includes more than 30 colors with more to be introduced this year.”

“The interesting thing is to see what vehicle restylers and artists conceive to do with our films – their creativity astounds us.”

Put it where?

What about graphics placement. Is it still mostly sides and hoods? Are roof and rear applications gaining traction? Carter says, “We are doing a lot of side, roof, hood and deck lid graphics. Rally stripes continue to sell well because of the OE look customers are wanting.”

Huenink adds that, “For vehicles like the Camaro, Mustang and Challenger, this is going to be a good year. So there will be many opportunities for the mobile trim installer to sell rally stripes. Vinyl Graphics was one of the first companies to import air-release vinyl that was designed for horizontal stripe application. We understand how product failure can occur when installers use regular cast vinyl for roof or hood applications. Rally stripes have become an important part of the graphics industry and using a warranted product is important for the professional graphic installer.”

Duchinsky tells us, “Vehicle sides will always be the most popular place for vinyl graphics. There is greater interest in hood graphics, but there are durability issues. Unless the vinyl film is specially treated with additional UV inhibitors, vinyl can have a drastically shorter life span on a vehicle hood or roof, depending on conditions. Tailgates and lift gates are ideal locations for graphic applications.”

Omo agrees: “With superior, new films on the market that provide excellent durability for application on horizontal surfaces, such as Avery’s Supreme Wrap film, the possibilities are unlimited.”

Tim Boxeth from 3M says, “Graphics aren’t [just] for vertical vehicle sides anymore. Roofs, deck lids, hoods, front fenders, rear fenders, doors, outdoor rearview mirrors -” essentially all the exterior parts of the vehicle – are fair game for the person wanting to express their design and personal perspective. Sometimes these are full wraps, and sometimes they are designed to be more like appliques. In the past year, 3M introduced 3M Scotchcalâ„¢ Gloss Overlaminate 8528, the first over-laminate designed to withstand the ravages of both acid dew and intense UV light for two years in a horizontal orientation, and warranted by 3M.”

But what about window graphics? Are they still “American flag” and “sportsman” oriented and for pickups only? Huenink says, “The Top 2 selling vehicles are the Ford F-150, followed by the Chevrolet Silverado, so we feel pickup truck rear-window graphics is a market that is going to be used for a long time. We have seen a slowdown in the patriotic type of designs but increases in outdoors, sportsman type of designs. Still doing strong is the licensed Harley-Davidson graphics.”

Duchinsky tells us, “Rear-window graphics have slipped in popularity, but patriotic and sports themes are still good sellers. Rear-window graphic issues center around the holes in film getting filled with dirt or water, cutting down on visibility from the inside. Rear wiper blades on SUVs will wear through the film in just a short amount of time, so pickups are still the best choice for rear window graphic applications.”

3M’s Boxeth says the greatest use of window graphics right now “is in the full or partial wraps of business vehicles, which allow a design to flow across a large part of the vehicle without interruption and without blocking the view of the window. 3M offers a full line of films for window graphics. Just introduced was 3M Scotchcal Clear View Graphic Film IJ8150 that allows one-way vision graphics without a perforated window film. Although window films may be applied to personal vehicles, it’s not yet a popular usage, and certain state laws may prohibit it – just as dark window tint is prohibited in some states.”

Omo points out, “The offering of window graphics on the market today is extensive. There is something to appeal to most everyone’s interests and tastes.”

Carter says, “We have had a record year selling our Window Canvas rear window graphics. Flags, wolves and nature-themed graphics are still our best sellers.”

Inside jobs

We also want to know about interior graphics and if they are growing in popularity. And is this an area where consumers can install the product themselves or is better left to the pros? Duchinsky explains that, “There seems to be more consumer interest for interior (home and office) vinyl graphics as an alternative to painting them. There are several websites offering interior graphics for DIY installation. Time will tell if there are opportunities for aftermarket installers with this niche.”

Boxeth says, “Interior graphics present an entirely different challenge for both graphics manufacturers and installers, including adhesives that won’t melt and allow a graphic to slide off of an interior component that becomes very hot in the summer heat, resists cracking or shrinking as flexible vinyl or plastic components contract or expand with different temperatures, the risk of interior components outgassing over a long period of time (think of the odor many new cars have -” that’s a result of outgassing), which can affect a film’s adhesion, and the inherent odor of some films and inks used in the graphic. 3M offers graphic film for rigid plastic components such as dashboards. We do expect this area to grow in popularity and we are exploring and testing the best products for that environment. Many innovative 3M products have come from our core competency in adhesive technology. Whether an individual can apply the graphic themselves or use a professional will always depend on the confidence and skill of the individual, as well as the complexity of the graphic and the location to which it is applied.”

Omo notes this: “Home interior wall graphics are becoming quite commonplace and can be purchased at many consumer retail stores. However, larger projects such as wall graphics that are used for promotional and decorative purposes in buildings are applications that should only be done by a professional installer.”

Huenink says, “Yes. Carbon fiber is becoming popular for interior. Also, strong sellers are camouflage and brushed aluminum. There are also markets outside automotive, like laptop covers and hunting equipment just to name a few.”

Carter seems to be the exception, “We looked at getting into interior graphics and didn’t see much demand for it.”

Online customizing

Lastly we asked about such automakers as Ford, Mini and others that have programs for consumers choosing designs and color schemes online. The dealer or its expediter then can apply the graphics. Is this something suppliers might offer?

Carter says, “Yes. We have a lot of the same graphics that they offer. We don’t market directly to the dealership or the vehicle owner but choose to support the installer and expediter industry. We make our graphics available to installers and expediters via our catalog and websites. One of our graphics websites is designed for the installer to be able to show the dealer without fear of the dealer contacting us. It’s a generic site that has become a great selling tool for our customers.”

Omo says her company is not at that point. “Not at this time. Universal Products promotes our striping and graphic products through our distributors and their network of installers by providing the literature that is necessary for their professional use,” she says.

Duchinsky notes, “Several manufacturers have been trying their hand at vehicle-specific graphic offerings with limited success. For graphic manufacturers like Sharpline, there are multiple issues that have to be resolved before such a program can be made cost effective for the aftermarket. At this time, Sharpline has no plans to offer a similar program to that of the OEMs.”

Huenink tells us that his company “is part of the Scotchprint Graphics Program. We work with both the dealerships and installers for the Ford, Nissan and Mini graphics program. Our printing inks and 3M vinyl substrates are in compliance with the 3M Matched Printing System.

Jason Amidon from 3M says, “We are currently powering both of these programs, as well as others with GM, Fiat/Chrysler, VW, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia and others through our 3M Original Wraps department. 3M partners are helping to execute business driven through the model, and it’s our hope that the entire graphics industry grows globally as a result.”

Vinyl graphics is an aspect of our market that deserved more than a passing look. Are you watching?