The Road to Wrapping

Dec 3, 2009

Pat yourself on the back if you have achieved everything you’ve ever wanted during your professional career. Go ahead; you deserve it if that’s truly the case. But most of you are likely saving your self-congratulatory bravos for a later date because, let’s face it, there is always room to grow. Even the super-successful, mega-giants like Microsoft continue to pound away at production just to stay ahead of the pack. Sure, it would be easy to accept contentment, especially during these economic times, but then how would you bring about progress in the industry?

Consider yourself lucky to be part of this business. Scores of individuals around you are constantly cursing their jobs, working only to collect a paycheck for survival. On the flip side, you have something to look forward to each day, even in the face of a near 10% unemployment rate: slick rides, new technology, creative designs, customized options and sometimes a mix of all these things.

The pool of restyling professionals is diverse. Just focusing on a vehicle’s exterior are those who specialize in everything from the windows to the hood to the fender. Some even concentrate on all of those external parts and more-they cover the entire car with vinyl graphics. They handle sedans as well as convertibles, trucks and boats.

They are the vehicle wrappers.

Wrap road warriors

When speaking with wrap professionals, take note of their back story. Most often you’ll find that, like an extremely custom car build, no two are the same.

“I grew up always loving cars and being creative,” recalls Mike Feldberg of The Color Spot in Smyrna, Ga. Such a combination led to The Color Spot’s conception as the graphic solution sector of sister company Repro Products Inc. “Our motivation comes from our drive to succeed. We have staffed our company with innovative, goal-orientated and hard-working individuals.”

That type of spark is exactly what some businesses need to become familiar with – or even enter -the wraps market. Once exposed, wrappers can become not only profitable but also gratified with the work. Jeff Chudoff of Arizona Designs in Maple Shade, N.J., took the printed graphics avenue en route to a wraps career.

“I got into the wrap industry after doing full-color business cards for 10 years,” says Chudoff. “My motivation is the tangible creativity. I can pass wrapsIdid 10 years ago and they still look good.”

And then there’s the lure. The potential game-changer. The new innovation that brings intrigue and excitement. That’s what opened up the first chapter of wraps for J.P. Johnson of Auto Distinctions in Tulsa, Okla.

Originally a paint protection film provider, Johnson became aware of Applied Coatings International’s FLX-Paint, a composite paint film. The technology allows for vehicles to become wrapped with increased flexibility, then painted for an enhanced look.

“Right now it’s more of a niche market for us,” admits Johnson, “but as word gets around, people will become more aware.”

These three individuals have penetrated the wraps industry – and all from a different angle. But plunging into the water is just the start; it’s an entirely new discipline when learning how to swim.

Map out the road ahead

With wraps, there are usually two types of customers: the individual who wants a personalized vehicle style and the corporate client in need of enhanced product or company branding. Either way, there is a tremendous amount of creative detail and precise execution involved. Making the right decisions, while also extending top-level customer service, in the design, planning and installation, is paramount.

“An effective wrap must solicit an action: call for an appointment, visit our website, mention this wrap and receive [such and such],” says Chudoff. “Most often, the effective wrap includes a larger photo in lieu of many smaller photos.”

Feldberg lists design as a major component of wraps, and agrees with Chudoff that incorporating an attention-getting image is important.

“We are seeing designs become more and more colorful, and also the images are becoming more out-of-the-box,” he says. “A key to the vehicle wrap is the artwork. This is what will catch your audience’s attention and make you stand out from all the other vehicles on the road.”

A wrap shop’s product selection is also something that should not be taken lightly. There is a vast array of digital printers, vinyl, ink, laminates and tools on the market from which to choose. Do your research and pick what’s best for you, considering also what will coincide with your customers’ desires.

“With new materials being offered from different manufactures it is crucial that our installers are able to work with multiple applications and various vinyl,” says Feldberg, who acquires product from Fellers’ large inventory to wrap not only cars but boats and ATVs, as well.

A Roland customer, Chudoff is set with his digital printer choice, though he needs a companion vinyl to complete his wrap jobs. He believes you must consider the application to correctly select the proper vinyl type.

“Being better comes with the availability of differently constructed vinyls,” he says. “A [thicker] calendered vinyl works well on a trailer with no rivets. Chevy HHRs require [cast vinyl’s] air release technology, [3M] Controltac adhesive, a torch, patience and technique practice.”

Johnson puts his trust in the Applied Coatings model, using FLX-Paint instead of more commonly used vinyl. From the wrapping perspective, he believes he can get more flexibility from FLX-Paint to navigate around tough curves and contours on a vehicle. “The product is very mobile and stretchable like protection film,” he says. “It does follow suit with installing vinyl but you can do things with it that you can’t do with vinyl.”

Get up to speed

Walt Disney once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” While this phrase may not apply 100% to the wraps industry, perhaps “if you can learn it, you can do it” rings true.

Training sessions are readily available in the industry and have proven to be tremendously effective in molding wrap professionals. Across the nation, industry manufacturers, associations and shops are providing training opportunities.

“There are a few very well known schools throughout the country that offer great hands-on training to educate beginners and refresh experts,” says Feldberg.

These training classes cater to those who have never handled vinyl to those with several dozen wraps jobs already under their belts. And as often as technology and new methods gain popularity, it’s a good idea even for veterans to enroll themselves for a skill-sharpening session now and then.

“As someone that started out in business as a window tinter in 1985, my ego said ‘I don’t need no stinkin’ training,'” Chudoff says. “One Ford van later I signed up for a training course. Shrinking back windows isn’t like torchingwrap vinyl.”

Even with some of the less traditional wrapping techniques, a need for training exists. According to Chris Harren of Applied Coatings International, “Wrapping is a learned skill and, like any trade, getting up to speed requires a learning curve. The best way to get training is to take a class offered by the vinyl film manufacturers and distributors.”

Of course nothing comes for free and wraps training does carry a price tag. If you’re on a budget, or simply cannot adhere to the training course’s travel requirements, try practicing on your own vehicle. You can use scrap white vinyl to cut costs. Feldberg emphasizes this point: “Practice, practice and when you think you have practiced enough, practice some more,” he says.

“We continuously have our installers test new materials and provide us information on the materials. If our installers do not have a customer project to work on, we always have them working.”

Your destination

Some of you might still be skeptical. There are probably a slew of questions swirling around your heads. Why should I risk getting into this business? How does wrapping relate to what I’m currently offering? Can I really make a profit? In the end, only you can decide whether your shop and its staff are equipped to provide wraps. As for this article’s “road warriors,” they have experienced the advantages.

“Wraps are important to the industry because they help continue car customizing,” says Chudoff. “You once had to know a good airbrush guy to get skulls and flames on your car. Today, an Aurora Graphics disk, a good designer with a digital printer, can fix you up fast.”

In Feldberg’s opinion, “Wraps offer something that other avenues sometimes can’t – affordability and uniqueness. You can do things with vinyl that could never be done with a spray gun, and often for a fraction of the cost.”

Johnson goes one step further and describes a recent project he has completed. While wrapping a 1996 Chevy Cavalier, Johnson explains the ease of wrapping this vehicle’s rather-difficult areas around the bumper, lights and hood. “I don’t see things as being very extreme,” he says. “And you can do it with one piece of material instead of several separate pieces of vinyl.”

These wrappers also understand the importance of changeability with vehicle graphics. Wraps allow for easy switch-out of graphics if the design is undesirable or if the car’s exterior becomes damaged. With the permanence of paint, it’s a little more cumbersome to fix these problems.

“When you are ready to change your message or look, it comes off in just a few hours,” says Feldberg.

Even custom paint jobs can be matched with wraps. Johnson explains, “If you want
a nice, candy apple red Honda Civic, boom, you’ve got it. You also have the paint protection from it, and you’re not going to spend another $10,000 to paint over it.”

Wrappers tend to have the same passion for their craft as painters do. Once they get into the business, they become committed to their projects on a special level.

“These are my thoughts,” says Chudoff. “I bring many years of hard work and talent to the industry. Quality is the key, and creativity is what pushes the trade to the next level.”

Maybe you’ll be the next wrapper on board to keep the push moving forward.