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The Most Challenging Vehicles to Wrap

Tips on how to deal with those difficult vehicles.

Just when you think your shop has what it takes to really knock out a great wrap, a vehicle comes along that presents a whole new set of challenges. I certainly wish we only got to wrap box trucks and cargo vans-but it just seems that, sometimes, people buy the most difficult vehicle to wrap and then immediately call our company.

Yes, we appreciate every project we get at bluemedia, but some vehicles can really make you scratch your head or pull your hair out. If you come across one of the vehicles below, be prepared to spend a little extra time and effort to get them all wrapped up.

Sprinters
I know they look easy, but ask any installer about a Dodge Sprinter and he will tell you a different story.

Sprinters were designed to be configured in many different ways: with rows of seats or as a cargo van, with windows or without. But this universal approach presents one very "deep" challenge: The sides and/or rear of this vehicle have indentations where windows would typically go, much like are seen on the back of a cargo van. These channels, however, are very deep. To correctly install in these channels takes a very high-performance material and great install technique.

We have tried magnetic strips to bridge the gap and wrap over, and I've heard that a company may have even manufactured an insert of some type to help fill the gap. Our favorite technique for this particular problem is to use 3M’s new IJ380 vinyl, which is made with a more aggressive adhesive to stay put in the deep channels. I understand this product has been available for a while in Europe and is now available in the US. We've had great results with it so far.

H1 Hummers
If you've ever stood close to an H1, the challenges are obvious: Big steel hinges, bolt heads, steel cladding, rivets, brackets, vents, and latches are just some of the fun things to figure out how to deal with.

You'll need a high-performance material and skilled installation, but the true trick here is to work the stock paint color into the design of the wrap. In the likely event some of the paint is visible (as it should be, because there are painted items on an H1 that you should just flat out not wrap) then the overall presence still will look great. Whatever you do, make it look like you did it on purpose.

Porsche 911, Chevy HHR, Chrysler PT Cruiser, VW Beetle
It's pretty obvious why these curvaceous cars would be tough to wrap, but the solution is not as obvious. The answer is in the amount of time the installer and the designer spend together before the files are dropped to the RIP. If the installer could explain to the designer how these pieces will go together and what can line up-as well as what cannot-the final outcome becomes so much better.

Just as with the other vehicles I mention here, these require great vinyl skill and great install skill, but more importantly they require great communication between the person designing the pieces and the person installing those same pieces. I believe there's a need, industry-wide, for the design and install teams to work together more often and this is a great place to start.

53-foot Trailers
I will admit that we occasionally get a super smooth, brand-new trailer without any rivets and these are a dream. More often than not, however, we'll get a trailer that is slightly oxidized, completely corrugated, has 100,000 rivets, is too tall for our shop's roll-up door, and has rusty doors with hinges that seem to be borrowed from the back of an Abrams tank. Those are the fun ones.

It's never easy to tell a client that their piece-of-junk trailer is in too poor of shape to wrap, but sometimes it's necessary. We have sent many trailers back out to be acid washed to remove the oxidation; we have even sent trailers out to have rust issues solved (by cutting out the rusted metal and welding in new metal). With good scaffolding, good rivet brushes, a good temperature-controlled environment to work in, and good vinyl, you can labor through these big projects.

Allow enough time and be up-front with your client if the vehicle and/or paint finish are not in sound shape and you should be just fine.

Semi Truck Cabs/Tow Trucks
The actual install on these vehicles is relatively easy, but one common feature that's easy to overlook until it's too late: the big fenders. When we're presented with one of these vehicles, we now take special note of how we're going to approach the fenders-especially the top surface of the fenders.

I think the main reason this potential area of concern comes up is: From a side view photo or template, you cannot see this area; and this holds true from the front angle as well. Many designers will think that area should be covered with the "hood" panel, while other designers think it should be handled in the "side" file.

My advice is to get a cloth tape measuring tape and have the designer who will be laying out the graphics and the installer who will be installing them measure the curved fenders. The designer and installer should agree on how the pieces will be installed and design accordingly. We like to give the installers a "kit" of vinyl that will contain enough bleed to give them options and breathing room when laying down the final pieces.

Shuttle Buses
Another sneaky area that seems to hide at first glance is the area where a fiberglass shuttle body meets up with a standard cab, usually in shuttle buses by Ford or Chevrolet. The most common two mistakes: the team does not even produce vinyl for this area, or the vinyl is produced in such a way that any copy or photography just does not look right from a straight-on side viewing. If you think like an installer when you design this area, however, and capture good measurements, you can avoid this potential pitfall.

Keep in mind to look out for extra caulking that can appear in these areas and come up with a plan to handle those seams. About a year ago, we actually sent a shuttle out to have the entire shuttle body completely re-caulked before we proceeded and the client was very pleased with the final outcome based on our recommendation. Don’t let the existing condition of the vehicle be the reason your job looks bad in the end. Point it out to the customer and let them make the call. They came to you because they heard you were good, so prove it and tell them the right way to handle these troublesome areas.

Motorcycles, Snowmobiles, and ATVs
We really try to be careful not to over-promote these types of vehicles in our marketing materials. They look amazing when wrapped, but we can never charge enough to make it worth our while. It's possible that the install fee would need to be two or three times the price of the vinyl in order for these vehicles to be money makers. The fairing (shell placed over the frames of some motorcycles) and cladding just seem to take a long time to remove and reinstall, while leaving them on the frame can present a whole set of issues such as not being able to reach a section.

The other technical difficulty is the finish of the plastics. Some are textured and the vinyl will just not stay down. Lastly, there are many complex curves and extruded vents and body lines that present not only a design challenge but an install challenge as well. My recommendation is to steer away from these jobs unless it is for high-profile marketing opportunities or a client just insists on paying what it is worth.

Take the time to look for these types of issues, walk around the vehicle with a note pad, tape measure, and camera and don’t hesitate to call a preflight meeting with the designer and the installer until you are very confident that what you produce in the print department will actually install correctly and look great when you are done.

Happy wrapping.

Jared Smith is president of bluemedia (www.bluemedia.com), a leading provider of design and printing for use in vehicle, large-format, and environmental applications, in Tempe, Arizona.

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