Tools of the Trade

Feb 28, 2010

Are you using the right PPF gear to make money?

The saying about a tool for every job has quite a bit of merit. And learning what tools can make a job easier can be profitable. We asked our industry sources about the tools they recommend for applying paint protection films (PPF). We also asked for some tips that could speed up installations.

Handy helpers

Some typical tools

Our first question was simple. We asked about the various tools used in applying PPF. Tim Hartt, chief operating officer of Xpel Technologies, San Antonio, Texas, got right into it when he said that “the only tools we commonly use to install PPF are a squeegee and a spray bottle. However, there is great significance in the squeegee we chose. We use the black-rubber Smoothee on our film due to its superior conformability. On some films, a harder, denser squeegee is needed to help avoid creasing the material when working an area with excess film. Xpel Protection Film compresses so well that a soft squeegee is more than enough to work out the excess, and the softer squeegee allows the installer to easily contour the squeegee over compound curved surfaces. This helps the installer leave fewer bubbles in the finished product.”

Yellow Turbo squeegee

Dick Austin of Performance Tools Distributing, Plain City, Ohio, gave us his rundown: “Yellow Turbo, used for removing water under the film. By far the most popular application squeegee for paint protection. Some installers will purchase the 18.5″ blade and cut to the size they prefer. Black Smoothee Turbo -” used for removing water under the film. Another popular choice -¦ some installers will purchase the 28” blade and cut to the size they prefer.

“Olfa Carbon 7 point blade and Olfa A1912 knife – we are not promoting cutting on any car, but if you have to, this is the best blade for the job.

Olfa knife for cutting/trimming

“Jiffy Steamer [is a] great machine for relaxing the film before doing a big stretch on bumpers and other large or long pieces.

“Spraymaster – used to spray the adhesive and top of the film during the install; [it’s] the most common sprayer for installers. A 3-gal. stainless steel pressurized sprayer – used to spray the adhesive and top of the film during the install. This is a great tool for several reasons: It is portable for installers who do mobile work; it holds 3 gal., so you are not refilling bottles constantly; and it will hold high pressure for the entire 3 gal. (and no hand pumping required). Fill it up with your air compressor and it will last until your application solution is gone.”

Todd Bergman of Interwest Distribution Co., Denver, went down his list: “The squeegee that I tend to use 95% of the time is a 5” Yellow Turbo. Many installers use a combination of the Yellow Turbo, Orange Crush, Clear Max, black Wetordry, and a blue hard card that can come in handy for door cups when cut in half at a 45° angle.

Choose what’s comfortable and works best

My feeling on squeegees is to use what you are comfortable with and something that is firm enough to remove enough moisture without being too firm that it damages the film during installation. Nice, clean microfiber towels are great for not only cleaning but to wrap your squeegee in. Focusing pressure on the edge of the film or a finger with this process will absorb extra moisture and help the film to stay down.

“Some additional things to think about having around are measuring cups for measuring out your alcohol. Measuring syringes can be used to help measure your soap. A diabetic syringe that can be used to remove trapped moisture or air bubbles when bending the needle at a 45°. You will also want to have a good Olfa knife for trimming excess film.”

Patric J. Fransko of National Glass Service Group LLC, Columbus, Ohio, says, “While each installer has their own preferences on which tools to use, I have listed some of the main tools: Olfa SAC-1 Graphics Knife – this knife features a 30° blade, which is great for delicate trimming and weeding of paint protection film. 3M Wetordry squeegee – this rubber squeegee is terrific for laying down tough areas that need a tool that can apply pressure while contouring to the vehicle surface. MACtac Felt Squeegee – this felt squeegee is ideal for paint protection installs because of its ability to glide across the material without causing an undesired amount of surface friction.”

Ease the application fatique

Phil Novac, marketing manager for Avery Dennison Industrial and Automotive Products Division, Strongsville, Ohio, says, “Avery Dennison Paint Protection Film features breakthrough technology that makes the PPF more conformable, flexible and easier to install. In fact, installation times are often cut in half. The tools and processes are the same. Two 1-qt. spray bottles for easy mixing. Rubber hand squeegees and lint-free rags.”

Prep products

Our second question was about cleaning fluids, alcohol sprays, gels, etc. and how they can prepare and then help improve PPF applications. We wanted to know why they are suggested and do they add to the installer’s costs.

Avery’s Novac suggests “alcohol solution for tacking (70% isopropyl alcohol in solution of 40/alcohol to 60/water), and a slip solution consisting of two or three drops of baby shampoo in a quart of water. Use the alcohol spray to tack as needed. Use the alcohol solution to spray under any “fingers” that develop at contour edges. Squeegee the fingers until they lay flat.”

Squeegee out ‘fingers’ till they lay flat

Austin of Performance Tools says that paint-cleaning clay is “great for stripping off old wax and contaminants that are deep in the paint (also used to remove rail dust on new cars).”

“Cleaning solutions,” he continues “are used in conjunction with the paint cleaning: clay for a slip solution or use Griot’s Speed Shine with the clay bar.

“Film On (slip solution, baby shampoo) – the name says it all. This product is used as a slip solution for all types of paint protection. PPF has a pressure-sensitive adhesive that will stick to just about anything; it would be nearly impossible, unlike vinyl, to apply this product without a water- or gel-based solution.

“Slip solution is new to the industry last year. This product has many benefits to it. It works great in warm weather and humid conditions, will not evaporate fast like a water solution until you squeegee it out, and it will not ‘roll’ off of the paint due to its gel-like consistency. This product is great when installing a large piece like a whole hood. This product is more expensive than your typical soap solution, but will save you a lot of time in the end.”

Bergman of Interwest says this about film preparation: “Applying a polish or wax such as 3M Performance Finish or Plexus to your sheet of bulk film or before you weed your pre-cut kit can be an added benefit. This allows your squeegee to better glide across the film, minimizing scuffs on the film or squeegee compression marks in the adhesive. It also acts as a performance enhancer for your customer as debris or bugs will wash off the film easier.

For application solutions, “soap solution is generally 32-oz. of water and 0.5cc-“1.5cc of baby shampoo, depending on climate or humidity,” says Bergman. “In dryer climates you tend to need more soap than humid climates. Large pieces, such as full hoods or fenders, also require additional soap to increase your working time with the film. Alcohol solution is generally mixed using 70% isopropyl alcohol that you can find at your local grocery store or pharmacy and then dilute down to 25% alcohol and 75% water. Installation solutions are generally cheap if you are using these combinations. If you decide to use an installation gel it can help in certain situations or for a newer installer but it will add a few dollars to your bottom line per vehicle.”

Fransko from National Glass says “the prep solutions vary widely from a basic soap and water solution to specific installation gels that have been created to ease installation of certain brands of paint protection films. These liquids are designed to allow the paint protection material to be positioned properly on the vehicle and to allow the removal of the air pockets trapped beneath the material without damaging the adhesive.”

“The cost of these when broken down to a per-car cost basis is very nominal, so an installer should utilize the solution that best helps them deliver a satisfactory installation. Because of the adhesive makeup of certain products, the manufacturer might have a recommended installation liquid. Please check with the manufacturer of the material that you use to make sure that a particular product is not required for warranty or that a particular product does not void the warranty.”

Surface prep

Xpel’s Hartt says that “aside from thoroughly cleaning the surface, the only extra preparation we do is to apply a surface prep around the edges and difficult concave surfaces. This is an adhesive promoter that increases the film’s bond by 300% wherever it is applied. By doing this, we can take advantage of what we call ‘variable adhesion’; that is, less aggressive adhesion on the majority of the surface to reduce installation flaws, and more aggressive adhesion around the edges to reduce labor time.

“We developed an installation gel to use for installations rather than the more traditional soap and water approach. Soaps can commonly impede the installer’s progress on the installation due to the loss of adhesion it causes. If too much soap is used in the solution, it can be very difficult to wash out, causing a dramatic increase in installation time.”

Xpel’s gel, he continues, “works mechanically to hold the film away from the paint for positioning rather than chemically impeding adhesion. Once the gel is removed via squeegee from beneath the film, the adhesive bonds very quickly, which improves installation speed and quality. Also, because the gel is thick and viscous, it resists evaporation and dripping from the installation surface, which means the installer uses very little per installation.”


Is an after-treatment sealant smart thinking? What about treating scratches? Austin tells us that “we use and recommend Griot’s Spray-On Wax and Griot’s Paint Sealant, which provide an additional protective coating on paint protection films.”

Bergman says, “Using a sealant or wax on any film will help prolong the life and stain-resistance overall on any type of film.”

“Certain films,” he continues, “have different characteristics, and you should check with the manufacture or local distributor to see what type of sealants or cleaners they recommend that works best with the type of film you are using. Scratches can also be removed on most films but different methods may be used depending on what brand of film you are working with. Again, check with your manufacture or distributor to see what they recommend. Try to stay clear of sealants or waxes that have any dyes or coloration for the best long-term results.”

Fransko tells us, “There are many schools of thought regarding the aftercare of paint protection films once installed. The first thing to keep in mind is what type of paint protection film that you are working with. Some films are more porous than others and take extra care to ensure that the product used does not stain the material.”

“Overall, a good-quality wax and keeping the car clean is still the best overall protection. You want to use a wax that is white in color or has very little in the way of dyes. The reason for this is that it has been determined that a contributing factor to the yellowing of paint protection kits in the past was the use of waxes and protective solutions that had yellow dyes or petroleum distillates that stained the material.”

Film sealant

Adds Hartt: “All paint protection film should be sealed after installation. Polyurethane is porous, which makes it susceptible to staining from contaminates off the road or in the environment. The most common staining comes from hydrocarbons, which manifest as a yellow hue cast over the film. Polymer-based sealants, like Xpel Sealant, which we designed specifically for PPF, provide a much more resistant barrier than traditional waxes, and enhance the longevity of the film. Further, many waxes contain solvents that are harmful to the film and can actually make the problem worse.”

PPF removal

Our final question was about removing PPF. What tools and/or other solutions make the job go better?

Fransko took us through the process: “Removing paint protection films should be done carefully. If a car was repainted before the paint protection film was applied, it is possible that some paint could be removed during the removal of the film.”

“Some tips to avoid this and to leave behind the least amount of adhesive are as follows: Make sure the surface of the car and the material are warm before you begin removal. I am not saying to heat them with a heat gun or anything that extreme, but you do not want to remove cold paint protection film from a cold vehicle surface. Remove the film slowly in a pulling motion parallel to the surface of the car. This removes the film cleanly with minimal adhesive residue left on the vehicle surface. You do not want to remove by folding the film over itself as you remove or you will leave most of the adhesive behind.

After removal, clean any remaining adhesive from the vehicle surface using a good-quality, paint-safe adhesive remover to soften the adhesive, and a microfiber towel to wipe it away.”

Bergman says, “Steamers can be a great tool for removal because [they] will soften the adhesive and make the film release easier. You want to try to remove the film at a 45° angle rather than pulling the film straight up or folding it over. These two combinations will decrease the amount of adhesive left behind. There are many solvents that can be used to remove any residual adhesive but you will need to make sure that they are safe for painted surfaces.” Austin agrees, “We use and recommend the use of the Jiffy Steamer to warm the film to approximately 170 degrees.”

Hartt notes that, depending on the age of the material, “most films can be removed simply by warming the surface to 170 F. This can most easily be accomplished with a heat gun or steamer.”

“Some films will leave adhesive behind or come off in small pieces if it has been on for many years, requiring an adhesive remover such as Rapid Remover.”

Novac says, “No tools are needed -” just a fingernail to start lifting up the film at a corner. Using a soap or slip solution would make it go easer since the adhesive is strong. Continually spray at the base of the film as it is being lifted. When the film is lifted there is normally no residue.”