Wraps That Go To Work

Feb 22, 2013

Wraps for everyday cars and small trucks are a completely different animal from commercial wraps. As specialization gets more defined, the chasm between the two grows. We wanted an update on commercial wraps so we asked our sources some very direct questions. Their answers prove very informative.

Vehicles that fit the (big) bill

When it comes to commercial trucks, vans, trailers, RVs and big rigs, which groups offer the strongest potential sales avenues? Sergio DeSoto is a Mutoh user at his shop called The Dezynery and tells us, “For vehicle wrap providers, the bread and butter will always be trucks and vans. When you break down the cost per impression, this medium is very attractive to both large fleet owners and operations with one vehicle.”

“RVers are a very special crowd,” DeSoto continues. “It takes some guts to trick out your vacation house for the world to see, so these jobs are very far and few between. However, this could be a great opportunity for a reader to start a trend.

“Big rigs are also unique because they are a completely different segment in our marketplace. There are only a few providers nationwide that can handle a large branding project for big rigs due to printer capacity and know-how. That being said, installers often make less per square foot but have a decent-size job on their hands if they get this type of work.”

Jim Wheat is a Mutoh and Mimaki user at his Pro Dezigns operation. When it comes to the big wraps, he says vans and trailers look to be the strong market, “as they are usually an easy install, and they are larger ticket items vs. cars and trucks. You would have to wrap several cars to equal the sale of one good-sized trailer or sprinter van.

“Another reason for this,” Wheat adds, “is that for most wrap shops the bigger vehicles, such as big rigs and RVs, require a larger facility to accommodate those vehicles. RVs are not something that we get a lot of requests on; however, we are getting more and more requests all the time and have actually wrapped a few RVs. This could be because wrapping an RV is far less than the cost of a custom paint job.”

Matt Richart is a Roland user and co-owner of Digital EFX Wraps. He says, “From an installer’s point of view, I think anything with wheels that can be wrapped is a great sales avenue. That being said, trucks, trailers and vans make up most of the vehicles we wrap. The majority of commercial wraps we do are on standard Econoline vans or trucks, as these are the most common models used by electricians, plumbers, HVAC companies, florists, home repair and other service companies.”

Designing for impact

When it comes to the design process, might there be certain rules of thumb for “marrying” the graphic and colors with the text to get the most visual impact, but also be the most readable?

Richart points out, “Vehicle wraps not only need to be eye-catching and attractive, they also need to be effective. An effective commercial vehicle wrap clearly communicates the company name or brand, what that company does, and how to get in touch with them (that is, website and/or phone number).

“If the wrap involves text or logos that lay over a background fill, you’ll need to ensure that the stroke/outline is lighter in color so the message pops. Sometimes, cleaner is better. Doing drop shadows, glows and strokes around objects and text will result in a clean look. The first five commercial vehicle wraps we ever did looked great from a style standpoint. There was just one problem: You couldn’t read any of the text. That error definitely made those initial wrap efforts ineffective. If the wraps we install don’t make our customers money, we’re not going to make money either. All customers want a return on their investment. If the wrap is successful they will bring you more vehicles to wrap. Also keep in mind that some vehicles actually have less area than you may think to convey a client’s message.”

DeSoto says, “Good design is good design. Unfortunately, some wrap shops forget this. There are a few key rules that every vehicle wrap should live and die by especially when it comes to commercial: What do they do? Who are they? How do you get a hold of them? In that order, in less than 30 seconds.

“My suggestion is use a photo that emulates or reinforces what the client does for a living. For example, if this is a plumber, use some sort of plumbing image. The better the image is at getting the point across the less the public has to think and the faster it can file it into the ‘I might need this’ category. The [vehicle] sides should have an easy-to-read phone number or website, and the easier one of the two should be prominent. Then, the company logo. If the company has great brand recognition, then make this a big deal. If not, the message is more important. Reserve the heavy text for the rear. All bullets and other lengthy type should always go on the back of
the vehicle.”

Wheat cuts to the chase: “If you can’t read it, it’s useless. The logo and text have to be readable. If you have a wild design that looks really great and the vehicle drives by at 20 mph and you can’t read it…no good. There are definite key areas of the vehicle that we carefully choose for logo placement and
contact information.”

Production tips

Keeping on the nature of commercial and fleet vehicle wraps, what tips are there regarding production timesavers? Wheat from Pro Dezigns says, “This could get deep, and be quite lengthy. However, the key is to have a good work-flow system that ensures consistency throughout the process. The client must also approve the design on each different make of vehicle to be sure they understand how it will look on van vs. a truck, this will save time and money.

“So how do you do that? You need template software such as The Bad Wrap that allows you the ability to design the wrap and then show your client these concept/proofs on their vehicle.”

DeSoto from The Dezynery says, “Handle your housekeeping up front. When dealing with a fleet of vehicles vs. a single vehicle, there needs to be some work done up front on the organizational end of things. For example, document your fleet with both VIN numbers and photographs of each vehicle and each side of each vehicle. Use software that can help manage this for you, for example, SignVOX or Worketc.

“Once the artwork is approved for one of the vehicles, lay out the rest of the vehicles and get final approval on the entire fleet. This will save you when something does not look right on a pickup but does on a van and needs to either be added or removed from both. You’ll want to handle this up front so you only lose design time and not prints – design time is an easier pill to swallow. When all the artwork is approved by vehicle for the entire fleet, create install maps for each type of vehicle and attach them to the appropriate file (either digitally in your shop management software or the hard file). Last but not least, write up one vehicle per work order: The client’s accounts payable person, fleet manager and owner will love you for it as well as your shop members.”

Richart from Digital EFX notes, “If the entire fleet consists of vehicles of the same size and make, that can save time. Typically, we bring in the first vehicle to determine size, fit and color. We also confirm that all vehicles going forward will be the same. Once we have this information, we print all the hoods in one run, rear prints in one run, etc. This ensures that everything is the same size, color and fit. After printing and installing the first vehicle, we take exact measurements of all the graphics and text to make sure the next 5, 10 or 15 vehicles look the same. This also makes the installation run smoother, as everyone knows where the graphics fall. There’s nothing worse than seeing a fleet of vehicles parked next to each other with text and graphics that vary from vehicle to vehicle. It’s also a good idea to create an installation guide that shows all the graphic positions so the installers know where everything fits. Sometimes graphics may not exactly fall in line with the designer’s proof. If the wraps are performed correctly, the fleet vehicles should look like they rolled off an assembly line.”

Vehicle size, shape matter

When wrapping big vehicles, is there a difference between applications? Richart says, “Every vehicle varies when it comes to shape, size, difficulty of the install, and the quality of the paint to which the wrap is being applied. If we are wrapping a plumber’s van or an RV our print process stays the same. With vans or trucks, we try to avoid seams whenever possible. With an RV or trailer, you will have seams, so your prints will need to be broken up into segments. I have seen other reputable installers complete an RV wrap faster than it takes us to wrap a high-end race car, due to the complex shape, bumpers and contour areas. No matter what type of vehicle you’re wrapping, take the time necessary to ensure that your craftsmanship is at the highest level possible.”

Wheat points out another difference. “The application process is the same with all vehicle wraps,” he notes. “Only the size and complexity may change, until you get into boat wraps or aircraft, at which point the application changes, with the use of primers and edge sealers, etc.”

Special tools required

We also asked about wrapping bigger vehicles. Any special tools or equipment needed? DeSoto says, “Any shop should have the basic wrap tools. The bigger stuff gets a little more serious: You must have scaffolding, ladders, a fast, reliable printer like the Mutoh ValueJet 1624, an awesome laminator like a Kala. Both are needed for quick production. Mutoh also makes a great cutter. A fleet of large vehicles may be best wholesaled out to a larger print provider with higher-capacity printers. Here is a warning, though: The faster the printer, the worse the print looks. So, if you’re doing 10 or less, use your own equipment; 10 or more, you may want to call a company like Lowen Color Graphics.”

Wheat tips us to a secret to making his large wraps clearly professional: “A battery-powered caulk gun,” he offers. “On the few RVs that we’ve done, to ensure the best look we remove all of the caulk around windows and doors and re-caulk after the vinyl has been laid to give a nice paint-like finish to the install.

“Of course, the obvious: Ladders and rolling scaffolding make the job much easier, as well.

“And let’s not forget the quality of the printer that makes these paint-like reproductions on vinyl happen, and that is our Mimaki JV33 (solvent inkjet),” adds Wheat.

Richart says, “For bigger vehicles, you’ll need an installation building that’s large enough to hold the vehicle and allows enough room to perform the job. If you don’t have such a facility, you’ll be dealing with Mother Nature on a constant basis. Having a controlled environment will allow you to wrap in 90-degree weather, a full downpour, snow or wind. It will also allow you to be profitable year round.

“Having large sturdy ladders and scaffolds will make your life easier, too. We have also built production tables that will allow us to roll right up to the edge of RVs and box trucks, stand on top, and begin the installation process. Using high-quality, Roland large-format printer/cutters and plotters will also help you perform successful wraps. Never sacrifice quality on any aspect of the vehicle wrap process.”The media: wrap film, overlaminates

Lastly, we wanted to know what kinds of wrap and overlaminates are best for commercial vehicles? Richart says, “We use cast overlaminates on every vehicle we wrap. It doesn’t matter if the wrap is for a plumber, real estate agent or even if it’s temporary. Ensuring maximum durability and long life is crucial.

“Most overlaminate films come in a variety of thicknesses. We normally use a 2-mil overlaminate, but we also use a 1.3-mil overlaminate for bumpers, mirrors, recessed areas and other complex aspects of a wrap. If you will be printing and installing window perf, make sure you use an optically clear laminate. Also be sure to use a manufacturer’s laminate designed to be used with the media you’re printing on. If you ever have a failure, this will help in getting a warranty covered. Use whatever type of overlaminate you feel comfortable with and gives you positive results. We always stress the importance of using a cast film. This will allow you to give your customers a warranty and [for you to] sleep soundly at night.”

Wheat stresses, “Laminate is very important and must be used to ensure the wrap lasts its full term, and in the end it makes the removal process much easier and less expense for your client. The main thing is to use the same brand of laminate and material: 3M vinyl, 3M laminate; Oracal vinyl, Oracal laminate; and so on. This is for warranty issues, should you have one. The thicker laminate is less conformable than thinner laminate, so if you’re wrapping a Sprinter with deep channels you will want a thinner laminate than you might use on a trailer. Other than that, the finish of the laminate can be the client’s preference.”

DeSoto wraps it up with, “Laminates are like house paint. They basically come in different sheen levels. This really becomes a personal preference even up to metal flake and other fancy finishes.

“The key thing a professional shop should look at is how the vehicle is going to be used. For example, a plumber may access a certain door many times a day, so throw some clear bra on that area; or a realtor may have clients in and out of their vehicle several times a day, so add some protection on the area where the client’s hands or shoes may naturally hit. This will be the extra service and detail that will make you stand out in a crowd.”

Commercial wraps are an area where bigger means big differences.