The Media Is The Message: Part 1

Sep 1, 2012

Take a closer look at wrap film to understand what you really need and where it’s best to use it.

A closer look into any dominant aspect of any business can yield answers that can help do business better, more efficiently and, our favorite part, with a better profit. That’s what we had in mind when we asked our sources some semi-technical questions about wrap film. We learned about specific uses, calendered and cast films, opacity, inks and more. And now, you can too.

In this, the first of a two-part look at the wrap film medium, we explore what films are for which uses, the new special-effects media, their conformability and more.

In Part 2, we’ll look at how and which inks are needed to work in concert with the film medium, as well as the importance of laminates. Plus our experts explain how a vehicle’s underlying color could affect a wrap’s intended color.

Films: What’s the difference?

We started off asking about different types of vehicle wrap films for different uses. Black Creek, Ga.-based Oracal USA’s Josh Culverhouse is senior product technical support specialist, and says, “It’s important to do your homework when it comes to choosing the correct film for the application. When trying to identify a recommended wrap film, it’s important to contact the manufacturer of the graphic films you are considering to get their insight and recommendations for your specific vehicle wrap job. Technical specs you should look for when identifying a vehicle wrap film should, first and foremost, be that which is recommended to use as a wrapping film by the manufacturer.

“Secondly, it should offer a repositionable adhesive with some sort of air egress technology. This allows the film to be picked up and moved if you don’t get it right the first time, while allowing the air to move through the adhesive layer through tiny air channels. This will dramatically reduce air bubbles and creases during the installation.”

Additionally, says Culverhouse, “Don’t skimp on the overlaminate. It’s important to utilize the manufacturer-recommended overlaminate that is designed to be dimensionally stable with the underlying print PSA [pressure sensitive adhesive] vinyl. Not only does the overlaminate protect the prints from scratching and fading, it also assists in making the installation of the wrap much easier.”

At Hexis USA, Corona, Calif., the company’s corporate communications manager, Martin Kugler, tells us, “In a wrap, the vehicle or a component (such as the engine hood or roof) is completely covered with a self-adhesive vinyl film. The wrap can be either with a full-colored (gloss, matte or structured finish) vinyl or digitally printed (and laminated) vinyl.

“In order to do a wrap on curved (concave or convex) surfaces, only highly conformable cast vinyl will have the properties to permanently adapt to such a surface. All high-performance cast film also has long durabilities, typically six to 10 years for colored films. Digitally printed films are different since their durability will to a large extent depend on the performance of the ink and the quality of the laminate. There are not really any low-cost or short-durability versions of cast films.”

Linda Babilo, product manager for Arlon Graphics LLC, Santa Ana, Calif., says, “Vehicle wraps are normally separated into two categories: those for commercial use such as advertising for a company and those for decorative purposes. For commercial, there are options for more short-term decals all the way to full-vehicle wraps, depending on what the end customer would like. Decorative wraps are used to change the color of the vehicle or to add decorative highlights to the vehicle, which can be anything from striping to accent pieces being wrapped, such as mirrors.”

Mentor, Ohio-based Avery Dennison Graphics and Reflective Solutions’ marketing communications manager is Todd Hain, who tells us, “Determining which vehicle wrap film is most appropriate for a client depends on several factors, such as does the vehicle have compound curves or is it relatively flat, and what’s the expected lifespan of the graphics. These films provide the consumer with the option of either changing the color of their vehicle or adding special effects and two-tone color-block looks. Supreme Wrapping Films are constructed with a cast color layer and a clear layer, so no overlaminate is needed. They also feature…a technology which allows the installer to easily reposition and slide the film into place and reduce air bubbles, minimizing the total application time for the wrap.”

At 3M Commercial Graphics, St. Paul, Minn., Doug Blackwell, business development manager, says, “Different types and different levels are used for different durations – and also different adhesives matching these to your needs and budget. Cut letters can be a partial wrap on a van or car and can be permanently mounted with the right adhesive or a temporary announcement such as a parade. It depends on the time to it needs to last. There are different types of materials that are less expensive.”

Something special about newer wraps

What about “special effects” films? Kugler from Hexis says, “Special-effect films have a structured surface. There are multiple patterns to choose from; for example, carbon, leather, alligator, super-matte, etc. Hexis special-effect cast films are multi-layered to obtain a better feel in the hand and an enhanced optical effect. The primary use of these films is to set accents on particular areas of the vehicle. However, if you want extreme visibility, try a full wrap in carbon or any super-matte color.”

Babilo from Arlon tells us, “Special-effect materials are normally used for decorative wraps.”

Avery’s Hain notes, “These films come with a variety of finishes and patterns and are primarily paint replacement films. They are easier to install and remove than paint and the colors can be mixed and matched for dramatic effects. [For example, our] Conform Chrome film provides a chrome accent look to existing paint or a full wrap. The Supreme Wrapping Film product line comes with the choice of matte, gloss or metallic finishes to create a different look. In addition, luster and matte overlaminate options provide the option to change the gloss level of the color or print.”

Blackwell from 3M says, “Primarily, style sells to two markets. High-end changes for color looks, such as a tuner’s special look. And commercial wraps are used for attention and catching-the-eye messages. Different applications such as matte and gloss letters contrast well this way.”

Culverhouse notes, Oracal’s 975 Premium Structured Cast films “are designed for accentuating existing wraps. For example: If someone is wrapping their vehicle [utilizing the company’s matte black], it’s not uncommon to apply some of the textured/structured carbon films offered in the 975 series as accents – on side view mirrors, trim pieces, dash kits, door handles, rally stripes, etc. These textured films are not designed for full wraps, but look great when used for accenting a vehicle’s various components.”

Getting physical

Next, we asked about the physical qualities wrap films share. Babilo tells us, “All films are slightly different when it comes to vehicle wraps. Standard digital vehicle wrap products normally range from 1.5 mils to 2 mils in thickness and then are laminated with a cast laminate that is 1.3 mils to 2 mils thick. Conformability is a must as a full-vehicle wrap must be able to go over complex curves.”

Hain says, “Most cast vehicle wrap films are about 2 mils thick, conformable to complex curves, repositionable and feature air egress technology to allow air to escape.”

Blackwell says, “Repositionability of the film is controlled by the adhesive structures used. What we call ‘slide-ability’ is our air-release, patented film technology for easy removability. -¦  Essentially, many films are similar in general structure, but what makes our wrap film special is the combination of slide-ability, repositionability, air release and removability.”

Culverhouse cites this: “It’s important to do your homework when it comes to choosing the correct film for the application. When trying to identify a recommended wrap film, it’s important to contact the manufacturer of the graphic films you are considering to get their insight and recommendations for your specific vehicle wrap job. Oracal offers the assistance of experienced tech support representatives as well as quick-reference documents that make it easy to identify the correct product to use for any graphic application, not just vehicle wraps.”

Kugler points out that, “Traditionally, cast films for sign-making are rather thin, normally less than 2 mil. Cast films for wrapping applications are typically 2.8 mil to 3 mil. While maintaining their extreme conformability, the extra thickness makes them easier to handle. Also, when stretched and shaped, the film will keep pigment spread and stay opaque. Many manufacturers make their wrap films with a structured adhesive. During application these films start off with a low contact surface; thus, the film can easily be repositioned and any trapped air bubbles can easily be driven out. However, it is essential to squeegee them hard to obtain high permanent adhesion.”

Cast and calendered films

How about the difference between calendered and cast films? Hain tells us, “Choosing the right one depends on the graphics expected lifespan, whether or not the surface includes simple or complex curves and the finish that is desired. Cast films offer better conformability to compound curves and surfaces and provide more durability. Calendered films are suitable for short-term graphics, typically on a flat surface.”

Blackwell says, “Calendared is extruded, cheaper to make. Vinyl wants to go back to its original state. Cast film is on a casting liner, is conformable and has less ‘come-back’ (to the original state) than calendared.”

Culverhouse educates us with, “The difference between cast and calendered films is quite significant. Typically, vinyl manufacturers recommend cast materials when it comes to vehicle graphics and wraps. Cast materials are much more pliable and dimensionally stable to be able to handle complex curves and recesses. Not to mention the heat and cold stress that vehicles are subjected to with drastic temperature fluctuations throughout the day. A cast film is better equipped to handle these caveats than a calendered film.

“When it comes to calendered films, there are typically three types: an economy grade, an intermediate grade and a high-performance grade. Typically economy-grade calendered films are paired with a water-based adhesive, which would not be recommended or warranted for use for vehicle applications. The intermediate-grade calendered films are paired with a solvent-based adhesive and are typically designed for short- to medium-term signage applications; these films would also not be recommended or warranted for fleet or vehicle applications. Finally, the high-performance grade calendered films are typically matched with a solvent adhesive and are typically designed for flat decal/logo applications on vehicles or box trucks and trailers with rivets. Basically, the high-performance grade calendered films are a lower cost option for a flat to simple curve fleet or vehicle application, not requiring a lot of conformability. It’s not uncommon to match a cast overlaminate with a high-performance calendered film to achieve superior results for these applications.”

Kugler goes even deeper. “The terms ‘calendered’ and ‘cast’ refer to the manufacturing process of the film,” he offers. “Calendered films are made from a dough-like PVC mass that is heated and then extruded through big stainless steel cylinders (the calenders). To get the desired thickness, the film is then further stretched. This process will induce stress and tensions in the film which may still be manifest in the finished product. The production of calendered films is a large-scale industrial operation. The main advantages are that it can produce large quantities of good-quality film with good durabilities at a reasonable price.    Depending on the plasticizers used, these films are suitable for outdoor applications on flat or slightly curved substrates with medium to long-term durability. They are the most commonly used films for general signage applications.

“Cast films are made from PVC that is liquefied with solvents. It is cast on a ‘casting sheet’ and, since it is liquid, it freely spreads on the surface without any stress or pressure. Cast films use almost exclusively polymeric plasticizers, which will ensure excellent conformability and very stable performance over long life cycles. Cast films are used for full wraps and cut markings on curved and riveted surfaces.”

Babilo says, “The biggest difference between cast and calendered films is performance. Cast films tend to be more durable and more conformable then their calendered counterparts.”

Now you know what the film is, which type to use and how it should be used. But what about how the film interacts with ink? Which inks should be used? And, does the underlying color of the painted vehicle have any effect on how a wrap, full or partial, will finally look?

In Part 2 of this discussion of wrap film, which will appear in an upcoming issue, we’ll look at those all-important aspects.