People unfamiliar with the vehicle-wrap market might think designing, producing and installing a wrap is as simple as uploading customer-supplied graphics into Adobe® software, pushing a few buttons on a printer, collecting the output, slapping it on, cutting off the excess and bam, you’re done.
"Measure twice, cut once" applies to carefully managing many situations
Well, for some in the industry, unfortunately, it is that simple: the lowball, bottom-feeder shops that promise cheap jobs, and make good on their word – and give those of us serious about our work a bad name. Murphy’s Law applies to vehicle-wrap shops as much, if not more, than any other profession. If you don’t consistently monitor every phase of your wrap processes, anything that can go wrong, will.
Sales and estimating
The vehicle-wrap sales process is quite simple, really: Identify companies that use vehicles as part of their job – building contractors, plumbers, etc. – and market your services to them. Keep in touch with existing customers to see if opportunities exist to wrap a larger fleet. Consider how many work vans or box trucks are still decorated with deteriorating or sloppy, hand-cut vinyl. Each one represents an opportunity; jot down whatever contact information you can still read on the vehicle, and follow up.
Sales should be separated from design functions. Often, a salesperson will delve into the details of a wrap’s content or purpose, but not understand the design and production steps needed to make a wrap effective.
For instance, he may promise to fulfill the client’s wish for a text-heavy design that will create poor legibility. Disconnects like this create confusion and delay approvals.
A salesperson should enhance the project by providing an accurate quote and promptly collecting such assets as logos, vehicle photos and proper measurements for the creative team, which allows them to move efficiently. Also, a salesperson should manage expectations from the beginning about turnaround time, the approval process and ROI.
Estimating is complex; it should represent more than just a vehicle’s square footage as it appears on a screen or sheet of paper. Unless you’re wrapping the rear of a box truck, the vehicle wrap’s square footage will often vary by several feet. Account for mistakes in your estimates; build into the cost the chance that you’ll have to eat a panel or two, while taking the time to ensure a quality finished product.
Many shops estimate by simply multiplying the cost of goods sold. It sounds easy, but don’t do it. You have overhead, insurance, payroll and other expenses. Even if your competitor sells on a simple formula, such as $6 per sq. ft., it doesn’t mean he’s smart or making money. You know your needs; sell to be profitable based on them.
You can’t underestimate design’s importance. A creative person’s role is twofold: first, they need to design a wrap that is both functional and attractive. Second, they need to preflight the wrap (for newbies, that means verifying digital files are the correct format and size) to help installation and minimize waste. Some of this goes back to the measurements during the sales and estimation process. Too much or not enough bleed in the design can botch a body-panel overlap and waste hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
Verify measurements; account for curves and dips, as well as fender body-line points. Double-check your panel layouts when preflighting. Make sure you account for overlapping body panels along the doors and rear end. Trim your panels as closely as you can. Double-check your template, and cross-reference it to the vehicles. There could be aftermarket accessories or modifications added that, if you haven’t measured correctly, could lead to reprints.
A designer should spend a few days in the installation bay with a squeegee, working on installations – or, at least, watching veteran installers at work. They’ll better understand how their Adobe® Photoshop® creations translate from the screen to the vehicle. Verify screen templates with actual measurements. Measure twice, cut once, as they say.
Any large-format prints require attention to detail – good input and proper output. Poor color profiling or file quality almost guarantee problems and rework later. You must have standards and double-checking procedures. Read your printer and RIP tutorials, and contact your salesperson or technical representative to make sure you’re optimizing your printer.
In our shop, we love Caldera RIPs for two reasons. First, they allow us to create profiles that require no outgassing; our Mutoh ValueJet 1624 has been outgas-free for eight months. And, their software allows us to adjust profiles to both reduce ink costs and speed up production.
Using your RIP, build your color profiles to prevent oversaturation and increase speed. Standardize how file sizes and types progress through the machine. Set standards for rasterized, vectorized or cut-graphic files. Recalibrate your machine at least monthly; we do it weekly.
Use the appropriate-size roll of film to match the file. Many shops only stock 54-in.-wide media; to maximize your material, you should stock 48-, 54- and 60-in.-wide rolls. Use as much as you can from each roll before switching.
Before laminating the print, check carefully for head strikes, misprints, oversaturation and other problems. Invest in a quality laminator; we recommend the French-made Kala™. We’ve wrapped more than 200 cars using it, and have yet to encounter a lamination error.
Installers should have a badge that shows they’re part of a club; designers could represent a rival gang. Both are equally important to a wrap’s success, yet each claims to be the most essential. Both require skills that, in my opinion, surpass traditional signage. If either end of the equation fails, the result is a bad vehicle wrap. Here are key steps for successful installation.
Tell your client the car should be washed and wax-free when it arrives. Otherwise, they’re paying for us to clean it. We start with mineral spirits or other heavy chemicals to remove tar or Primer 94 residue from previous wrap installations. Then, we wipe down every inch, especially curves and crevices, with rubbing alcohol.
Next, always do a “dry run” and lay up your panels prior to installation. Show your design team where layout errors have occurred. Don’t make it a designer-versus-installer battle; just help them learn for next time.
Every shop needs to select its tools. We use neodymium magnets and wrap gloves, which we buy from Image 1 Impact. Use heat only when absolutely necessary, such as a torch when post-heating deep curves. Less is more; less adhesive compound, heat and stretching will help your wrap last longer.
Again, keeping waste to a minimum (less than 10%) should be a primary goal. How many feet of film are you going to toss in the can due to layout mistakes or oversized panels? Seamlessly wrapping a bumper will require more waste, but that’s otherwise a realistic goal.
Decide whether to produce seamless or paneled wraps. Seamless wraps will require more material than panels, but creating a flowing design with paneled wraps requires more careful design to keep consistency across seams. Make sure your designers know how to effectively create tiled patterns.
Always have someone double-check the vehicle carefully after you’re done. It’s better to catch it in the shop than have a complaint after the customer picks it up. You’ll have rework either way, but the customer’s confidence will erode if he’s the one to see it. After you’ve stared at a wrap for several hours, mistakes can be missed. Bring someone in with a fresh set of eyes.
Now, get out there and excel!