Installing PPF Kits

Dec 3, 2009

Paint protection film can be a valuable add-on for restylers. Most customers who want to modify and dress-up their vehicles will also be interested in protecting it. And since PPF involves many of the same skill sets as installing window tint, it’s usually a good fit for aftermarket shops.

Many restylers who install paint protection film do so using precut kits. But installation isn’t always a piece of cake. Even a technician with some experience can run into roadblocks.

“Everybody has their own particular cars that are harder than others,” says Jeff Phillips, a trainer at XPEL Technologies, San Antonio, Texas. “I’ve seen some people succeed easily with cars that others struggle with. It depends on who grasps certain concepts better. Your dark-colored cars are always going to be a little bit harder, as are your very light or white-colored cars because they tend to show more dirt and debris.”

We talked to some PPF kit manufacturers to find out the top tips and techniques when working with paint protection film.

The Toughest Areas

Some vehicles, and specific areas of nearly all vehicles, pose particular problems to the paint protection film installer.

“Bumpers are always the hardest due to their size and the fog lights, headlights and cutouts for different things that need to be lined up,” says Alan Bray, owner of Proline Styling, Sacramento, Calif.

Bumpers also top the list due to being one of the most curved parts of the car that a paint protection film installer would be working on.

“Bumpers tend to be a little more difficult because of the extreme contours on a lot of today’s cars,” says Phillips. “And that generally requires more stretching of the film, which can lead into quite a few different issues like the difficulty of the stretch, stretch lines, alignment points and hand placement. A lot depends on which film you use, as well how much pressure you apply on the film.”

Many late-model cars and SUVs feature particularly difficult surfaces to work with.

“On many of today’s vehicles they have double, some even have triple compound curves, meaning the surface curves in several ways in the same spot,” says Steve Novarro of TopLine USA, Traverse City, Mich.

The sleek, curved lines that have marked nearly every import and domestic car in the last few years definitely make the PPF installer’s job a little tougher-”though some are worse than others.

“You never really know until you actually do it,” says Bray. “For example, take a 350Z and Infiniti G35, which are the same vehicle essentially-the bumper on the Infiniti is much harder than the Nissan. You wouldn’t think that until you’ve done both of them. They may be the same size and type of vehicle, but each bumper is a little different.”

It’s not just the vehicle’s bodylines that complicate a PPF install, but also the presence of sensors, lights and other objects. Novarro suggests using a difficulty scale to rate the installation, which will also create a guideline for pricing the work.

“We have a difficulty scale,” he says. “Each kit is rated. We tell our customers [what the rating is] and it’s also listed on our catalogs. You need to know the difficulty level prior to giving your quote to the customer. You need to make sure you price it accordingly so you don’t lose money by not being priced right you also don’t want to price it too high and not get the job.”

Working Through the Curves

As with any other difficult task, it’s all about technique and experience when working in difficult areas, according to paint protection film manufacturers.

“Basically it’s just a matter of training and practicing until you can get the feel of it,” says Ron Legere of Chip Guard, Barrie, Ont., Canada. “After practice you will get the feel of what a product can and can’t do.”

A few tricks can make your install go a little more easily, however.

“Always pay attention to the area that is being stretched,” says Phillips. “The film will only stretch between the area that was last tacked and your hand. That leads into the importance of your hand placement. Many times, people place their hands too far away from the last-tacked point. For instance, if a bumper has a parking distance control sensor, the area above and below that sensor on the kit are a little bit thinner than the other nearby coverage areas, meaning that it’s going to stretch easier in those thinner areas. This tells you that you need to stretch just before and after this sensor to get the proper fit. My best suggestion is to learn to read the film.

“One of the biggest problems that installers have is keeping their hands and the top of the kit dry where they are stretching. Moisture forces them to put too much pressure on the film to get traction,” he adds. “This added pressure leads to many other imperfections in the install.”

But all of the manufacturers first recommended patience and practice, as well as developing a familiarity with the films technicians use the most.

“In general, it’s best to get comfortable with the stretching capabilities of the product that you are using,” says Bray. “Some stretch easier than others; some will distort if you stretch too much, while some are more forgiving. Knowing the product and its capabilities is a big key.”

Product capabilities differ when it comes to stretch, adhesiveness and built-in features.

Manufacturers use several methods to make their products easier to use, including pull-tabs or relief cuts. Keeping the workplace clean, well-stocked and comfortable plays a part in a successful installation as well.

“Get a rolling chair and use it,” says Bray. “Working out of a rolling chair, you’re not going to get as tired and your feet and legs won’t hurt as much and then, in turn, you’ll be more comfortable spending more time on a vehicle without shortcutting or rushing. A lot of guys get very tired quickly, and their feet and knees hurt, then they start trying to rush it.”

Be Prepared

Manufacturers cited preparation as a key ingredient in a successful PPF installation, as contaminants and debris under the film will become major headaches for the installer. It’s imperative that the paint be completely free of dirt.

“Cleaning the vehicle is very important,” says Novarro. “On new vehicles at the dealership it’s much easier than ones that have been on the road for some time. We offer many 3M cleaners to use, but one of the keys is to use a clay bar to clean the painted surface and get any contaminants off the paint. Brake dust, tar or sap all will cause problems if they’re not cleaned off first.”

Other cleaning techniques include Chip Guard’s suggestion for treatment of brand-new vehicles:

“If it’s a new car we use a glass cleaner and 25 percent alcohol solution, and a paint and wax remover followed by a paint wiper,” says Legere. “We do extra cleaning around the edges of the hood and inside of fenders with alcohol.”

The temperature of the car’s surface is also important, manufacturers note. Too hot or too cold, and the film won’t perform the way it was designed.

“If it’s too warm, it usually has issues with sticking faster than you’d like it to,” says Phillips. “If it’s too cold you end up with issues as far as the film is concerned. All films perform differently, but one common theme is they’re much harder to stretch when it’s cold. If it’s 50 to 60 degrees, it’s almost like trying to stretch cardboard.”

Most manufacturers suggest bringing a vehicle into a climate-controlled shop as soon as possible in order to let the vehicle get to the best temperature, but when that’s not possible there are a few tricks veteran installers use:

“We developed different solutions to use at different temperatures that make it easier to apply,” says Legere. “You have to do it in a shaded area when it’s 90-95 degrees, and it has to be a dust-free environment as much as possible-much the same as tinting.”

TopLine’s Novarro recommends using warm water with heaters nearby to wash a cold car, and cold water to wash a warm car, to speed up the process of reaching room temperature.

Staying On Top

The restyling industry sees frequent changes, and that applies to paint protection films as well. In order to stay on top of new techniques and new products, most manufacturers suggest training in the form of videos or classes. Companies including XPEL, Chip Guard, Proline Styling and TopLine provide training classes of various types.

Once a technician has finished the training that’s right for him or her, it all boils down to time spent practicing.

“I would recommend doing as many cars as possible immediately following training. This will let you get comfortable with your newfound skills,” says XPEL’s Phillips.

Finally, for extra resources and to exchange ideas with other industry professionals, there are also trade shows, many of which include seminars and other types of training.

“One way to stay current is to attend all the trade shows or training seminars you can,” says TopLine’s Novarro. “This is one of the best ways to keep up on the latest tricks.”