Zoom! Zoom!

Eight vehicle-graphics projects that are wrapped and ready to hit the road.

Whether you’re walking outside, watching TV, attending a concert, or even if you’ve ‘gone fishin’, chances are good that a vehicle wrap-be it on a bus, van, car, boat, airplane, you name it-will cross your path. It is evidence that over the last decade or so, vehicle wraps have established their position as important players in outdoor advertising. And while a majority of vehicle wraps are produced for businesses and corporations, individual consumers also are turning to vehicle wraps seeking a way to stand out from the pack.

As the need for vehicle graphics has grown, so has the number of shops producing them. What separates one shop from the next often has less to do with the technology it has to utilize, and more to do with the level of service it employs. Having a skilled design team, knowledgeable printer technicians, and trained installers is likely to be key for a profitable venture.

In sourcing print shops that have had success in vehicle-graphics production, we’ve tracked down eight projects-from tour buses to reflective graphics to a mini-dragster-to highlight the range of vehicle graphic applications available to businesses and consumers alike. Buckle up!


24 Hours of Le Mans (24 Heures du Mans) is arguably the world’s most well-known motorsport endurance race. With its famous location, storied history, huge spectator turnout, and, not to mention, 24 hours of racing, it has a certain je ne sais quoi that is hard to find elsewhere. For such a one-of-a-kind race, Krohn Racing turned to Coronado, CA-based APE Wraps to create a one of-a-kind wrap for a Ferrari F430 that would be taking to the track in Le Mans this June. But it would not be the first time APE Wraps tackled this Ferrari job for Krohn Racing-the actual car has been wrapped three times since February.

In creating the graphics for the initial wrap, APE Wraps based the design and color-a candy-apple green that is a close match to Krohn’s factory paint-on the racing team’s prototype car in the Le Mans Series. The files were generated in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. APE Wraps then mapped the F430 and the graphics were sized and paneled to fit the car. "After all the mapping was done," says Troy Downey, owner of APE Wraps, "this project was fairly straightforward as it was primarily a blackout application, with the exception of overlays and the blue style points."

For final output, APE Wraps alternated between using its Seiko ColorPainter 64 and its Hewlett-Packard Designjet 9000, depending on which printer was available at the time. For the most recent wrap done for Le Mans, this happened to be the HP Designjet 9000. Print time was an estimated 8 hours for each job. Each wrap was output onto Avery MPI 1005 EZ RS; totaling about 415 sq ft. The graphics were finished with Avery DOL 1000 laminate using an AGL laminator and were cut with a Summa D1600SL Cutter; finishing took 3 hours for each wrap. Installation took two APE Wraps employees 8 to 12 hours. "Installation [times for] these types of vehicles can vary depending on the state of body panels at race preparation time," says Downey.

In business since 2003, APE Wraps has six employees and utilizes an 8000-sq-ft facility. In that short time, the shop has established a name for itself as a leader in vehicle wraps and custom graphics and continues, with each new job, to race toward success.



While the argument can be made that the excitement of baseball’s Opening Day is rooted in a team and a city’s past traditions, there is also a thrill to be found in the start of a brand new season. Fresh paint, fresh Cracker Jacks perhaps, fresh starts, and-as was the case with the Pittsburgh Pirates this past April-fresh vehicle wraps.

Starting off this season away from home as guests of the Houston Astros, the Pirates showed off three vinyl-covered vehicles that were sure to make a statement amidst the Opening Day festivities at their opposing team’s ballpark, the largest being a 40-ft tour bus. Impressed with the 40,000 sq ft of graphics done by Pittsburgh-based print shop Palmer Products for the 2006 Major League Baseball All-Star game held in the Steel City, the Pirates enlisted the shop for this Opening Day job.

After receiving the graphics from the Pirates as TIFF files, Palmer Products made minor corrections in Photoshop and Illustrator to ensure the images fit the template they had created. Using its Seiko 100S printer, the shop then output cross sections of the graphic at full scale onto 3M Controltac Changeable Graphic Film 3552-10C and provided the Pirates with the laminated proofs for approval. "We usually laminate the proofs," says Wayne Palmer, owner of Palmer Products, "since this also affects color." With a window of only about 48 hours between the final art approval and when the bus needed to be completed, Palmer Products charged out of the bullpen, so to speak, and got to work.

Again using its Seiko 100S, Palmer Products began printing the final graphics on the same 3M media, chosen because of the short amount of time that the graphic would be installed as well as the compound curves of the bus.

The shop printed the job in 52.5-in.-wide x 110-in.-long sections. The square footage of the job totaled 1050 sq ft, plus 240 sq ft of perforated window film printed on 3M Scotchcal 8171. Print time totaled 8 hours.

Using its GBC Falcon 64 laminator, Palmer Products finished the vehicle body graphics with 3M Scotchcal Luster Overlaminate 8519; the window graphics were finished with 3M Scotchcal Optically Clear Overlaminate 8914. Including laminating and trimming, finishing took approximately 2 hours. The installation was performed by Graphic Installation Services, also owned by Palmer, taking three installers 28 man hours to complete.

In business for 40 years, Palmer Products recently opened a new location in Philadelphia and has had success specializing in vehicle wraps and large, unusual graphics. Perhaps some of the company’s good fortune rubbed off on the Pirates as they began the season-they swept the Astros in the opening series.


Graphics On the Double

Figuring out the right design for the graphics of a vehicle wrap can sometimes be the most challenging part of a job. Julia Steffen of JaxWraps explains, "[Finding] a happy medium between what the client wants and what is possible and what will work best on the vehicle takes time."

The difficulty in designing a wrap was doubled when the Jacksonville, FL-based shop took on the challenge of designing a wrap to that would be on not just one vehicle, but two. The job was for State Farm insurance agent Ron McCann, who turned to JaxWraps to wrap two promotional vehicles-a PT Cruiser and a pick-up truck-advertising his services.

Designed by JaxWraps lead graphics designer Mike Franqui, the graphics were created in Adobe Illustrator and then color corrected and manipulated in Photoshop. But the up-front part of the process was quite challenging: "Because a truck and a PT Cruiser have different body types, it limits the amount of consistent space to work with, which is where the design challenge lies," says Franqui. "By simplifying the overall design, we can apply the same graphical elements to any vehicle, giving the impression of the same design."

A reduced-size proof as well as cross-sections of the wrap at full scale to check for color and resolution quality were sent to the client for approval. JaxWraps printed the proofs with its EFI Vutek 3360 EC and Triangle Solvent inks, imaging onto 3M Controltac IJ-180C film.

Once the proofs were approved, JaxWraps output the final graphics for both vehicles using the same printer and media. Additionally, the window graphics were printed on 3M 1212 Window Perf. The graphics were printed in sections ranging from 45-to 51-in. wide. Total square footage printed for the PT Cruiser was 150 sq ft; 200 sq ft of graphics were printed for the truck wrap. Total printing time: 3.5 hours. The prints were then laminated using a Seal 62-in. Pro. Two JaxWraps employees completed the installation of this job in one day.

JaxWraps, an offshoot of its Jacksonville-based parent company Digital Industries, has been in business since 2005. With a 14,000-sq-ft facility, the shop employs approximately 20 people and specializes in vehicle wraps and tradeshow displays. "JaxWraps Customers," says Steffen "are any small- to medium-sized companies looking for an effective way to grow their business." Maybe even double it.


Graphics in Tune

In the annals of rock-and-roll, many a Gibson guitar has been slung over the shoulder of a fledging musician as he or she is catapulted from obscurity to fame. And with that fame often comes a lucrative record deal, throngs of screaming fans, and of course, a plush tour bus. So to ensure that Gibson Guitar-endorsed artists feel like the proper stars they are, Gibson has created the Gibson bus: a decked-out tour bus fit for a king (or for Queen or Prince for that matter) to be used at artists’ various promotional events and as green rooms at outdoor concerts, plus for use at Gibson product introductions and promotions.

To wrap the exterior of one of its five Gibson buses as well as print interior graphics for the bus, Gibson Guitars turned to Precision Signworks. Images were provided by Gibson and given to Precision Signworks as TIFF files. Working in Adobe Photoshop, the shop made the necessary color corrections and manipulations. "Gibson spends a great deal of time and money in providing the best quality finish on all of their products. We had to make sure that our prints reflected and promoted the same look as their actual instruments, especially since these buses will be viewed by their current and future customers," says Mark Gray, president of Precision Signworks.

Using its Oce Arizona 600 and 3M 5500 Series Solvent ink, the shop produced proofs for the exterior wrap at 1/10 the size of the actual graphic on 3M Controltac IJ180-10. After receiving approval on the proofs, the shop used the same printer and media for the final output. The exterior wrap was approximately 1443 sq ft. The graphics were finished with MacTac RayZor overlaminate using a Seal Image 6500 laminator. The shop also printed 300 sq ft of interior graphics for the bus, utilizing its HP Designjet 5000 and Oce T200UV flatbed. Installation took 8 installers 6.5 hours for the exterior and 2 hours for the interior.

In business for 14 years, Precision Signworks operates out of a 23,000-sq-ft facility and has 26 employees. Based in Nashville, TN, the shop is not located too far from its client for this job, as Gibson Guitars also makes its home in Music City. Says Gray, "The most rewarding part of the job was helping to promote an industry leader that is based in our hometown."


Ringing in New Business

With the constant buzz surrounding the growing number of cell-phone companies, service providers, and coverage plans, how does one cell-phone retail store make itself heard through all the noise? The owner of a Cricket retail store in New Albany, IN thought a vehicle wrap might get his message across loud and clear. He called on Louisville, KY-based Digital EFX to create a race-car-themed wrap for a BMW promoting his Cricket store.

Digital EFX created and manipulated the graphics in Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and SAi FlexiSign, designing the graphics according to official Cricket colors and design parameters. Citing design as the most time-consuming part of the job, Matt Richart of Digital EFX explains, "We want our graphics to have great resolution, clean lines, and we want the finished job to look like paint."

The lettering and "green swooshes," says Richart, are vector art, and they used fills from Aurora Graphics for the stone background. Digital EFX came up with three different designs and sent those digital proofs to the client. Once the final design had been selected, Digital EFX printed a section of the graphics at full size on Roland SCM-PGVP using its Roland SC-540 Pro II and eco-solvent Roland inks.

Using the same printer and media, the shop output the final graphics in five sections of various sizes-one section for each part of the car. The graphics were finished with Roland OLPG cast laminate, which took 3 hours. The graphics totaled 227 sq ft; printing time was 5 hours. Installation of the wrap, including the trimming and application of the graphics took two installers 9 hours.

In business since 2004, Digital EFX operates out of a 2750-sq-ft facility and has six employees. Digital EFX’s owners have established a profitable shop by specializing in vehicle graphics and wraps, as further evidenced by the success of the Cricket wrap. The wrap, as it turns out, received a welcome reception by those searching for cell-phone reception-soon after the vehicle hit the streets, the Cricket shop owner quickly drummed up enough business to pay for the wrap.


Glowing Digital

It would seem likely that the window of time in which vehicle wraps get the most attention is from sunup to sundown. The flashy and eye-catching qualities of vehicle graphics aren’t so flashy and eye-catching, of course, if they can’t be seen. With reflective vinyl wraps, however, the opportunity to grab the attention of passersby never fades-even late into the night.

Next Day Moulding, an interior decorative molding installer, realized the potential impact that reflective graphics could have on customers and contacted Clackamas, OR-based Higgins Signs & Digital Printing to output a reflective vehicle wrap for a company van.

Using images generated from the corporate logo and photographs of the interior of a house supplied by Next Day Moulding, Higgins Signs created TIFF files of the graphics and manipulated those files using SAi Flexi 8. Reduced-size proofs were printed on 3M Scotchlite Removable Reflective Graphic Film with Comply Adhesive IJ680CR-10 using a Roland SolJet Pro II with Eco-Sol Max ink.

After receiving approval from the client, the final graphics were output in two 48-in. sections using the same printer, media, and inks; final printing time took 1.5 hours. In addition to the printed graphics, cut vinyl also was incorporated into the vehicle design. The media used in printing totaled 100 sq ft; 130 sq ft of cut vinyl was used. The printed graphics were finished with 3M Scotchcal Gloss Overlaminate 8518 using a GBC laminator; finishing took 1 hour. The printed and cut graphics were installed in 4 hours by two Higgins Signs employees.

Higgins Signs, in business for 28 years, ventured into digital printing 9 years ago and specializes in reflective graphics-an application that shop owner John Higgins thought would be profitable based on his market research and good instincts. While reflective vinyl is more difficult to work with than cast vinyl, the effort pays off, says Tricia Crivaro of Higgins Signs, when you can provide customers with signage that is effective both day and night.


Shades of Gray

While vehicle wraps on the track at a motorsports event have becomes as commonplace as checkered flags and trophies, vinyl-covered support vehicles-such as trailers and tour buses-are also popping up off the track at race venues as well. A print shop with firsthand knowledge of this is Culver City, CA-based ProLabdigital Imaging (PDI), which wrapped three custom-built trailers for Toyota for a Toyota-sponsored motocross event.

Designed by a third-party ad agency, the graphics for the three trailers combine black-and-white photographs of motocross riders-in-action with vector images and corporate logos. Since the trailers-measuring 25, 20, and 12 ft-were still being custom built while the graphics were being designed, explains Scott Kurosaki of PDI, the shop could only give rough estimates of the dimensions of the trailer to the ad agency. Because of that, "When the final [trailers] were delivered to us, a couple measurements were askew so we had to do some tweaking once we got the files."

Several rounds of physical and digital proofing were necessary to get the color and scale of the graphics correct. "Getting a real neutral gray tone with the black-and-white images" and keeping the color consistent between the photographs was a challenge, says Kurosaki. Cross sections of the graphics printed at 2- to 3-ft. wide x 6-ft. high with an 8-color HP Scitex XL on Oracal Orajet 3551 PVC film were given to the client for approval.

For final output, PDI used the same printer and media to execute the graphics for each of the trailers in 48-in. wide sections. The window graphics were printed on Oracal Orajet window perforated film with laminate. Total output for all three trailers was approximately 2000 sq ft; printing took 4 to 6 hours for each. The graphics were finished with an Oracal Oraguard 290 Premium Cast PVC laminating film. Before installation of the graphics, PDI painted the areas of the trailer that would not be covered by printed graphics black so that none of the original white paint would show. It took three PDI employees 1.5 days to paint the trailer and to complete the install.

Originally a photo lab, PDI has been in business since 1989 and has 35 employees. In 1993, the shop got into digital and in 2000, the shop’s first Scitex was purchased, followed up with the purchase of the 16-ft. HP Scitex XLjet5 a few years later. While acknowledging that smaller machines can achieve a higher resolution, Kurosaki points out that sometimes the decision of which printer to use is, well, black-and white: "Resolution is important," he says, "but when you’re doing volume and need things done fast, a larger machine is the way to go."


A Teen Dragster

While some girls at age 13 spend their time picking out clothes and jewelry or which new CD they want or which Harry Potter book to read (again), 13-year-old Katie Dill was picking out the design for her dragster. Katie and her sister Kelly, age 12, comprise the "Brat Pack Racing Team," and have been racing for 6 years, currently under the sponsorship of their dad’s motorcoach business. This past March, Katie and her dad enlisted the help of Road Rage Designs in Spring Grove, IL to wrap her 2005 Motivational Tubing Dragster.

Katie provided Road Rage with the idea for the design of the wrap: a rusted-out dragster-in shades of pink, of course-adorned with the image of a skull and cross bones on the side of the vehicle.

"[Katie] knew exactly what she wanted, so we had to make our layout match her imagination," says Kris Harris, of Road Rage Designs. Using Katie’s idea, the shop found a high-resolution image of rust and Mike Grillo, president of Road Rage, drew the other graphics. A few adjustments had to be made to the image says Harris. "The photo of rust was not the correct size for the dragster, so we had to tile the photo right to left and top to bottom."

Using its Mimaki JV3-160 SP Ultra with Mimaki SS2 ink, the shop output a reduced-size proof onto Avery MPI EZ RS. After receiving the go-ahead from Katie, Road Rage output the final graphics using the same printer and media. The image was produced in one piece, totaling 51 sq ft. Printing time took approximately 20 min. The graphics were then laminated with Avery DOL 1000 using the shop’s GBC Artic Titan 165, taking about 5 min. The installation was completed in 3 hours by one person.

In addition to the Spring Grove shop, Road Rage Designs also has locations in Wisconsin and Indiana. In business since 1999, the shop specializes in vehicle wraps, says Harris, citing that 90% of business is corporate accounts and fleets while the other 10% is racers and private individuals-although, presumably, the majority of those clients aren’t still in junior high.