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Mitigating Risk for Stunning Seamless Wraps

Know your limitations and educate the customer.

Since the first vehicle was completely covered in decal material, buyers have wanted more – more color, more resolution, more finishes, more textures, and just more options. The industry has listened, and today, there are a record number of options for a vehicle wrap. These options include many cool materials like leather, alligator skin, super gloss, super matte, and even tinted chrome. But the special request we’re seeing more and more isn’t for a new custom material, but a special installation technique – the so-called “seamless wrap.” And while they aren’t always completely seamless, the point is that these projects appear seamless to most viewers. Yet what looks simple to the customer takes special care on the part of the installation team. Over the years, we’ve gained insight on what seamless means to you as a graphics producer.

What 'seamless' really means
First, let’s look at what is actually required to produce a seamless wrap. By “seamless,” we really mean that no avoidable seam lands on the finished vehicle. Typically, this means the sides of the vehicle show no seams. You can accomplish this by figuring out which panels need to be produced, and wrapping each body panel with its own panel of vinyl. Done correctly there are no seams, then, on a vehicle’s door(s); front fender; bumper; quarter panel; A, B, and C pillars; and, for trucks, the entire bedside. Each is wrapped in one full piece. This is different than a typical vehicle wrap in which the design department sends a full vehicle to the RIP and the RIP tiles the vehicle into equal-width tiles that overlap each other with seams falling where they may.

In order to produce the panels required for a seamless wrap, you must first conduct a detailed survey that shows the exact size of each body panel or a template of that vehicle that you have reason to trust whole-heartedly. We prefer the latter because the best templates in the world still may not show each body line or molding that can be strategically used in determining the panel size and the break points.

Know your limitations
After we know the exact size of each panel – and assuming we have the design approved – we now have to play the strategic cropping game. Determine how you should crop out each panel to print with material widths, printer width or length limitations, and the limit your installers feel comfortable installing in one piece in mind. For example, if you have only 54-inch wide material and a door panel will require a 54 x 72-inch panel, that would give you zero bleed. That means zero room for error.

Many times, it’s possible that your printer will not allow you to a 54-inch-wide image on 54-inch material. Many wrap films and laminates come in 60-inch widths. More often than not, you will need to use 60-inch material to truly make a car seamless. Or, if you print on a drum printer like the HP TurboJet, there is a panel length limitation of 144 inches. So, if the Cadillac STS you are wrapping is 165 inches long, you cannot print a tile long enough to reach both ends on one side. With some careful thought and limitations in hand, you can begin to crop the design to provide printed panels that are big enough to cover each body panel.

Before you crop the image into these body panel sections, consider how those sections relate to each other for positioning. This comes most into play when you have doors being printed as vertical panels and fenders being printed as horizontal panels. Another area is where side graphics align with bumper panels. In both of these occasions, I recommend giving as much bleed or overlap as possible when doing the cropping. This gives your installers flexibility and helps them line up imagery correctly as they work their way around the vehicle.

Now that we have a strategic plan for identifying and cropping out panels, here’s another tip for early on in the process. If it seems like the overall run length when you stack these panels up in the RIP to print is a lot longer than you had originally anticipated, you’re doing fine. In fact, the square footage required to do a seamless wrap can be as much as 50 percent higher than it would have been otherwise. Be sure to let customers know that you are more than happy to take the extra steps and produce the extra material required to do a seamless wrap, but include the extra survey time, design time, and extra material required in your estimate. You never want to have to backtrack, financially, for the extra work. Seamless vehicle wraps do look better, but they also cost more. Let the customer know about the extra cost upfront.

Educating the customer
It is also important that we set the expectations of a seamless wrap. It is possible that the client may have a Chevy Lumina that has hood measurements of 61 x 65 inches. In this case, there are not wrap materials made (or at least not that bluemedia would have in stock) that would cover that hood in one piece. We have found that educating customers on our plan and options they have upfront alleviates any misunderstandings when they pick up the vehicle.

The concept of a seamless wrap is that the expert wrap shop should take every step possible to minimize and hide seams strategically. This does not mean that there will not be seams anywhere. We have been able to hide seams and the drip rail areas above the doors or hide 2-inch-tall seams next to fog light in the lower bumper. This is where your craftsmanship should shine. We have even gone so far as to show a customer how we could do a cool pinstripe effect where a ½-inch stroke of matte black vinyl could be used to cap over the seam, making it look intentional. Discussing where there will still be a seam or involving your customer in the choice of putting a hood seam right down the middle of the hood verses to small seams up by the corners of the windshield is good way to ensure they know what they are getting.

If you can get confident about the shapes and sizes each panel needs to be, confident how and where the image will need to break, confident that you are accurately quoting the time and materials required, and confident that you and your customer are on the same page, seamless wraps are something to be proud of and something for which you can charge a premium. They take a little more time and effort – and require you to be comfortable with more risk – but the results make it all worthwhile.

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