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The Most Challenging Vehicles to Wrap

(July 2008) posted on Tue Jul 01, 2008

Tips on how to deal with those difficult vehicles.

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By Jared Smith

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 (, a leading provider of design and printing for use in vehicle, large-format, and environmental applications, in Tempe, Arizona.