Taking the Paint-Wrap Plunge

Igniting an explosion of new possibilities when it comes to vehicle wraps.

The advent of colored cast adhesive-backed vinyls that utilize air-release-type technology has led to an explosion of new possibilities when it comes to vehicle wraps. Many of the major media manufacturers and suppliers now feature full lines of this type of product, comprising scores of vibrant colors and textures.

One particular wrap type that’s resulted from this technology – and one I’ll admit I did not see coming: paint wraps, or wraps sans graphics.

Paint wraps are interesting because they differ from normal wraps in more ways than you might think. At the same time, they also offer your customer a way to reinvigorate his or her vehicle’s exterior, while providing you with an additional profit center.

Distinct differences
The first difference in paint wraps from the installer’s point of view is that the install is no longer governed by the alignment of text and imagery. As a matter of fact, the installer might just be handed an entire roll of paint-wrap film. This can seem quite foreign to installers who are accustomed to being provided with labeled panels for each vehicle element.

So how and where to start? At bluemedia, we’ve instituted a policy to continue to provide digitally trimmed and labeled panels to the install team. This helps save time while also providing perfectly straight lines in the event a seam can’t be avoided. These panels can then be laid on the vehicle to test fit for coverage (we use magnets for this step) before any release liners are peeled back. With paint-wrap installs, a plan of attack remains vital.

So with the focus not on lining up imagery and text, we shift our emphasis to determining how to end up with absolutely no seams. While this goal isn’t always possible, it can often be achieved with some up-front planning. This planning begins in the design department. Just as with traditional wraps, the digital vehicle template is pulled up, verified against real-world measurements, and a strategy is determined on how to panel or tile the vinyl.

It’s important to ensure that your designer is aware of the roll width for the material being used. Many of these paint-wrap films come in 60-inch widths and this is a major advantage when trying to not have any seams. In small, tough-to-reach areas where you might be forced to patch in vinyl, we recommend a quarter-inch overlap versus a more traditional ¾-inch overlap, because this will help hide the seam a bit.

Another aspect to keep in mind is any dismantling of the vehicle that might be necessary – remember, we’re trying to make this look like paint. On average, it takes our shop about three extra hours to remove parts off the vehicle that would otherwise not be removed in a traditional printed wrap. These items can include headlights, tail lights, grills, even door handles. Be sure to plan for this extra time when scheduling and when quoting the install.

And it might be a good idea to see if anyone in your shop has some bodyshop experience, because it actually might not be the best solution to have your skilled vinyl install team taking apart door panels. Make sure you have the right tools and look into a few specialty tools for removing these items. Always keep in mind that the right tool is usually cheaper than replacing any part you might break.

Six tips and tricks
Some additional paint-wrap pointers of note:

• We have found that the detail work and extra finishing or trimming work on paint wraps adds approximately 30 percent more time to the overall install time (plus a few hours to remove and reinstall parts).

• Keep in mind the obvious when estimating costs. You don't have to design, print, or laminate these wraps, of course, but you will still have some time in the design department and your finishing department or on your plotter.

• There’s a big advantage when things go wrong with paint wraps because it’s pretty easy to remove a problem panel and just get more material. No reprints are necessary and no worrying about matching color. This also holds true if your client comes in with a damaged vehicle in the future – just grab some material and complete the repair.

• Most of these colored films are typically only 3.5-mil thick (versus a traditional wrap film and laminate at 6-mil); these thin films can easily outstretch and conform in ways traditional vinyls cannot. This comes in handy when trying to emulate the look of a paint job, because you’ll be required to wrap in places you would not otherwise need to worry about, specifically in and around fog lights, grills and other hard-to-reach insets. The extra conformability of these thin films is key to accomplishing this.

• The film’s being thin is a plus, but it also brings me to an install tip from Mike Tovar, bluemedia's install manager (and two-time international second-place finisher in the SGIA wrap competition): "Using a heat gun instead of a torch will help keep you out of trouble on paint-wrap films. The heat gun will allow a much more even heat distribution and that leads to less chance for damage on films this thin."

• And, says Tovar, there is a distinct difference in the feel of a paint-wrap film and traditional printed and laminated vinyl. This means you will need to try a few different squeegee covers to see what works best for you and on which film. There are many options – from Velcro and suede to felt and microfiber, to name a few. One might work best on matte-finish films whereas others might work best on textured films like carbon fiber. Do some quick tests to see which performs best for you and keep a list for future reference.

Pushing the wrap envelope
Finally, keep in mind that, the buyers of these wraps generally have a different motivation from your average client. They typically aren’t looking to increase their brand awareness or get any kind of message out to the public. Instead, they’re simply looking to customize their personal ride. You’ll quickly learn that working on a personal vehicle for someone who just wants to improve the look lends itself to closer final inspections. That detail work I mentioned earlier? It had better be very clean and well done, or you’re sure to hear about it.

Paint wraps can be real work, but they can be real fun, too. These types of projects can bring exotics to your shop. I still remember the day we put carbon fiber on a silver Lamborghini – very cool stuff and this kind of job is very worthy of promoting via posting to your shop’s blog or website. And don’t hesitate to push the wrap envelope by trying the bright pink, the matte green, the silver metallic, the white carbon fiber, etc.

Just remember the buyer is as different as the tools and planning required when doing paint wraps. Good luck, go slow, plan ahead, and add this capability to your offerings and portfolio. Prospective customers love this stuff.

View more from this Big Picture issue