A regular wrap … or is it?

Apr 30, 2010

Brad Conrad thought it would be cool to customize his brand new, charcoal black 2010 Camaro. When he started looking at the choices, he found hundreds of them: rally stripes, simple pinstripes, intricate pinstripes, various painted and printed graphics, custom paint jobs and full-vinyl wraps. Somewhere in the process, the idea of a two-tone slipped in.

He doesn’t remember where he first saw it (maybe in a dream?) but it turns out his inspiration was the Dale Earnhardt Jr. concept-edition Camaro – two-toned charcoal black-and-white with an orange stripe separating the two colors – and he started looking for ways to do it. Obviously he could have had it custom painted, but he needed to know whether there were other choices.

In the process, he found out about FLX-Paint, a removable paint skin manufactured by Tulsa, Okla.-based Applied Coatings International.

What it is

FLX-Paint is a three-layered material consisting of a 2-mil modified, premium-cast PVC-base film (the company uses films from Oracal and 3M), a layer of modified automotive-base coat paint and a layer of clearcoat.

This is a little different from some of the films used for graphics or advertising wraps. The company actually paints the film and clearcoats it in 12′ sections in a nine-step process. The final product is a little thicker than the graphics versions of a typical wrap. Standard colors (PVC base, paint coat, clearcoat) are typically about 5 mils thick and will vary slightly depending on color. Because of the mil thickness, FLX-Paint more closely resembles a paint protection film (PPF) installation than it does a graphics wrap.

The important thing about using it for vehicle wrap applications is that the paint is custom formulated so it can stretch, making it possible to wrap around a vehicle’s contours.

Because it is paint that has been clearcoated, the paint-film can be washed, waxed and otherwise maintained the same way the original vehicle paint is maintained.

So why use this film instead of paint? It is paint, for one, just applied onto film instead of directly onto the car itself. But the real reasons are that while it can be a way to change the car’s color, it also acts like a paint protection film; it can be removed after as many as four years so that the car can be restored to its original color; it does not involve a paint booth; and installers are not exposed to paint fumes, overspray and VOCs. (Applied Coatings positions it as a “green” alternative solution to custom painting because they can control the environment completely during manufacture, keeping all VOCs, etc. contained.)

It seemed to Conrad to be the right choice.

Similar but different

After a few phone calls and e-mail exchanges Conrad convinced a local restyling shop, Autoplex by Vanworks, Fort Collins, Colo., to take on the project. Eric Carlson handles sales and Zach Fulton handles installation at the company’s South College Avenue location.

Applied Coatings is developing an installation certification process, but in the meantime works with shops that have experience installing paint protection film or vinyl wraps. There is some learning curve associated with using the FLX-Paint material. Fulton has become highly skilled in installing window tint as well as vinyl pinstripes and rally stripes, but the Camaro was his first attempt at wrapping; so when the team agreed to take on the project, they expected to go slowly and feel their way through it.

The film can be applied wet or dry. ACI recommends wrapping around edges such as doors, trunks, etc. the same way a conventional vinyl wrap is done, rather than terminate the film at the edge like PPF. They also advise using a wrap primer on the backside of the body panel at the attachment point or, for wet applications, using a 1/2″-wide strip of PPF to seal the edge.

The film can be repositioned and, although not recommended, will even come back apart when the adhesive side is stuck to itself.

Because it is thicker than graphic vinyls the painted film can be stretched more severely without losing color density, which can allow the under-color to show through; but the stretch limit is about 15%.

Get a feel for it

Fulton says he likes the way the material feels and works. He uses an application fluid solution of about 95% water, 3% baby shampoo and 2% rubbing alcohol, which helps the adhesive stick but also makes it easier to reposition. Some shapes such as graphic stripes can be cut using a vinyl plotter, but most wrap installations just require using a very sharp knife. Because it’s thicker than typical vinyl films, it’s a matter of learning how it feels to cut through all the layers without scratching the paint below.

Some other recommendations include the use a piece of film for each panel and avoiding seams, if possible; use a heat gun to help the material conform around tight compound curves; take anything off that can come off without damaging the car.

“It was a pretty straightforward installation and mostly went as expected,” says Carlson.

He says he plans to market the product to area dealers, pointing out the advantages of paint protection, removability and an economical alternative to a custom paint job.