Designer Wraps

Oct 1, 2012

There’s an important element not immediately considered when producing a wrap – it’s, yes, the design element.

The basic elements of a wrap are interconnected and cannot come together if one element is left out or poorly constructed. The one that takes place first, design, is the lesser-seen aspect of a good wrap, yet is seen the most in a good one.

We wanted to know more about that  aspect of a wrap, so we asked our sources for all the juicy details about today’s wrap design market and the actual steps of design. Our first question was about the market for today’s vehicle wraps in the business-to-business world. Has it changed in, say, just the past few years -¦ and if so, how and why?

Aurora Graphics, Wichita, Kan., offers users a chance to design their own graphics online by selecting from thousands of different designs. Then, they can use templates to match their own vehicle and try out those designs to see how their car would look. Dave Dorsey tells us, “Business-to-business wrapping seems to be increasing; in fact it seems business-related full wraps are the majority of full wraps seen on the street. The exceptions are racecars/trailers and such.

“Full and partial wraps seem to be increasing, and I think it’s because as more businesses do it, other business owners see it and realize this must be the new, effective way to advertise. It’s a visual validation of the concept. Plus, designs are getting better and better, which makes the business vehicle wrap look better, and also makes it more effective in an advertising sense.”

Camowraps, Slidell, La., is a manufacturer that supplies to the wholesale trade and is a major manufacturer of camouflage adhesive vinyl. The company produces such camo designs as Realtree Camouflage. Rip Stoltz says, “Vehicle wraps have been a steady market for the last five to eight years, with a slight bit of growth in the last two despite the slowing economy. More companies are looking to diversify and have moved into sign/graphics/wraps.”

One of the largest wrap supply operations, Fellers, Tulsa, Okla., actually doesn’t market or sell wraps, just the products and equipment that make them. But that doesn’t stop the firm from making wraps for its own use; when the folks at Fellers do, they design them in-house, just for internal use.

Fellers’ Stacy Clausen says, “Today’s vehicle wrap market for businesses continues to grow in the double digits year after year. More people are learning what vehicle wraps are, just how effective they are for marketing and what a good return on investment they offer. Wrap shops are doing a good job educating folks that what they’re seeing isn’t paint and that their imagination is really the only limit to what can be done. We’ve also seen an increase in quality of materials, inks, design and vehicle wrap installers over the last several years. A better finished product that is more accessible always helps grow the market.”

The ‘personal’ touch of wraps

Well and good, but does that mean vehicle wraps are evolving from business to personal designs? Why is that, and who are the customers?  Stoltz from Camowraps says, “Personal designs have become more and more in demand because of the slow economy. Consumers are looking to fix up their current vehicles instead of jumping out and purchasing a new one. This is why we have seen more custom and personal designs rather than precut or template designs.”

Clausen from Fellers agrees, saying, “Personal wraps are increasing in popularity because end users are learning that they’ve got an alternative to paint that is typically less expensive and offers a much higher degree of customization and a faster turnaround than a custom paint job or air brushing.

“Anyone with an interest in automotive customization for wheels, aftermarket interiors or high-end stereo components would be a potential candidate for a vehicle wrap. This includes amateur racers, car club members, athletes, car show attendees. Vehicle wraps will appeal to anyone looking to stand out from the crowd and take their personalization to the next level. Personalized wraps have taken off largely due to the new solid-color wrapping vinyls that offer matte, metallic or carbon fiber finishes. These materials give car lovers the personalization they want without extensive design time or expense.”

Dorsey from Aurora tells us, “What most people don’t stop to realize is the artwork for a given job is everything. The printer is a means to transfer the artwork to vinyl, and the vinyl is a means to make the artwork stay on the vehicle. The laminate is to protect the print as well as the base vinyl underneath it. But the artwork is what the customer is actually buying – the sign shop is attaching it to the vehicle.”

By way of example, Dorsey explains: “We have a client in Florida that is wrapping Jeeps in our Bushwolf Camo. These are used vehicles that need either a paint job or a wrap. The wrap is so unique and it adds appeal that a simple paint job will never deliver. Other Jeep owners see it and ask, ‘Where did you get that?’ And the rest is history. As the retail market becomes more educated and the designs improve, retail full and partial wrapping will continue to rise.”

Other wrapping opps

We then asked, ‘Besides the typical business and individual wrap clients, is there another vehicle market that could be tapped? Clausen says, “The vehicle wrap market, and wrap market in general, is still in its infancy and has an infinite amount of growth potential. Vinyl wraps aren’t just for cars and trucks. You can wrap scooters, ATVs, golf carts, boats, snowmobiles, motorcycles, buses and RVs. Vinyl wraps are also great for walls, windows, floors, doors, appliances – anything you want to personalize or use to promote your business.”

Dorsey points out, “Markets are limited to your imagination or your desire to penetrate a new market. Some guys are wrapping [burial] caskets and it’s a fast-growing area. Who would have thought that would take off? It’s limited by your imagination, there are no boundaries. Golf carts, snowmobiles, motorcycles, helmets, racecars, aircraft, boats, personal watercraft, cell phones, laptops, game consoles, amusements rides, and the list goes on and on.”

Getting in on the action

All right, then, if wraps are such a growth market, how do restylers get a stronger presence and find qualified installers? Dorsey advises, “Make it known that you do custom wraps for business and retail. If no one knows you do it, they will never contact you about it. Advertise. Wrap your own and drive it around. As far as skilled, talented employees, either get out your checkbook and buy good employees, or get the right person and train him/her.”

Stoltz says, “The best way to get qualified, skilled, talented installers is to look at organizations like the PDAA (Professional Decal Application Alliance) at SGIA (Screenprinting & Graphics International Association). Here you can find those installers and also become a professional installer.”

Clausen says, “In many ways, restylers are well positioned to get in the wrap game. They’re already working with an audience that is ready and willing to spend money on the latest and greatest automotive trends. Wrap is definitely a trend that’s here to stay. If restylers want to get in the wrap game they need to put wraps in front of their customers. This means wrapping shop vehicles, staff vehicles, and the showroom and whatever they can wrap. Wraps are very visual and end users have to see the possibility of what they can do with wraps.

“Restylers need to make a decision if they want to offer design and installation in-house or if they want to outsource. If they want to bring it in-house they’re going to have to find the right talent for the job. Both designers and installers have a unique skill set and like to be on the cutting edge with what’s possible. Wraps are the next great frontier for many designers and installers. If restylers don’t want to bring these functions in house they can certainly work with a local wrap provider and outsource these projects, just like they’d outsource window tint or another customization. For outsourcing to work, the restyler and wrap provider must have open communication and work together to get the customer the wrap they want.”

The client as ‘designer’

Today’s technology allows for online “designing” by clients. We asked our sources if they were involved with this type of customer customization, and if so, how do they assist these customers to make sure their design schemes will achieve what they’re looking for?

Clausen gives us this advice, “We’re not involved in this aspect of the wrap market. While there are many “canned” design programs and websites out there, we find that it’s best to give the customer a custom solution.”

Dorsey notes his company does offer such a service. “We have our Wrap Design Studio, which is an online modeler. This cool little tool allows anyone to design online very easily and quickly. The user can pull from over 1 terabyte of artwork to use on any of over 600 vehicle templates. Change the paint color with a click of the mouse. Add graphics up to seven layers deep while each layer is still fully editable. Move elements forward or backward in the layer stack, add or delete individual elements, scale, rotate, move, mirror…it has it all. You can even e-mail it to anyone so they can see your idea. Hot-swap templates while not disturbing the layout, all the while the layers remain editable. It’s a great little tool that every shop should have if they are serious about making money in the vinyl business. Now anyone can see for themselves what a graphic will look like on their particular vehicle, and the designer didn’t have to do it for them. Our method allows a person to try on thousands of different graphics to see what it will look like when finished.”

Getting into the core of design, we asked about the step-by-step process. Dorsey illustrates the value of a good website program: “We don’t meet with the customer, but the sign shop does,” he says. “This is a classic example of why we created the Wrap Design Studio [WDS]. If you steer the client to the WDS, he can start trying different designs and combinations on his/her vehicle until they find what they want. Then it’s a matter of the shop bidding the job. Once the deposit is paid, the shop owner can simply purchase and download the artwork and get started producing the wrap/partial. Scale is rarely an issue for us because our artwork is wide- or grand-format scale to begin with.”

Clausen adds this: “In most instances,” she notes, “it makes sense for the end user (wrap customer) to sit down with the designer and with the wrap salesperson. This way, everyone can get on the same page with regard to what the customer expects from a design and durability standpoint. There are a variety of different wrap materials so it’s important to find out upfront how long the wrap will be in place.

“The design process starts with the designer finding existing high-resolution stock photos and vector illustrations off reputable websites. Those elements are then acquired and edited/modified to fit the project needs. If designers can’t find anything close to what they want, designers will often create elements or take photos on their own. While there’s no standard time-frame for concept to design approval, three to five business days is fairly realistic. Managing customer expectations during the design process is critical. There can’t be an unlimited number of design revisions, and design time definitely has to be factored into the wrap price. It is very important that the customer approve the final design in person whenever possible. While there are instances when email approval is the only option, having the customer sign off on a mockup of the design is always preferable.”