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Rough and Tough, Part Two

Rob reviews media that conform to complex surfaces.



Last month, Rob discussed the proper application of films designed for rough, textured surfaces.

When talking tough about vinyl, I’m referring to challenging shapes, primarily vehicles’ channels and indentations, or trailer and bus corrugations. Failures are so common: Dodge Sprinter vans are a common culprit, and even the smaller indentations on Fords and Chevrolets can prove challenging.

Honestly, I’m surprised clients still allow us to wrap them. Why do these shapes fail? Several key reasons include overstretching, using the wrong material, inexperienced installers and adhesive weakened by solvent-ink retention.

Tough customers
Improved tools, equipment and materials have created more opportunities for many vinyl-graphic providers. But, I think it’s necessary to debunk a few myths.

Myth #1: A good installer should be able to wrap any vehicle (or other surface, for that matter) with no seams, make it look perfect, and have it last without any lifting.

Can a bowling ball (imagine no holes were drilled) be wrapped with one piece of vinyl, with no seams, wrinkles or flaws? Of course not! I’ve never heard anyone disagree.


Vinyl has limits. The client who wanted the 10-ft.-diameter golf ball wrapped notwithstanding, most clients accept these limits. I believe our job as professional installers is to determine, through practice and experience, what exceeds sensible limits, and turn those jobs down … for our sake, and our customers’.

When I say “wrong” material, I mean a material not intended for a given application. I formerly said shops should never use calendared films for vehicle wraps. Today, MACtac offers a fine, vehicle-wrap material, JT5529 BFD. When printed and cured properly, and laminated with MACtac’s LF3648 Rayzor, a 1.5-mil, optically clear, cast laminate, it performs like a quality cast media.

However, not all calendared materials are intended for wraps. But, neither are all cast films. Choose products designed for wraps and complex curves. Test them. Evaluate their performance, print quality, and installation properties to determine what’s best for you, your staff and your clients. Be warned: The best option may not be the least expensive.


Myth #2: Anyone can learn to wrap cars in two or three days in a $900 workshop.
Suppose a person who knew nothing about martial arts took lessons for three days from the world’s best karate instructor. Would it be possible for them to earn a black belt after those first three days? Of course not. Car wrapping is to vinyl installation as a black belt is to karate. Vehicle-graphic installation is a craft that utilizes skill, patience and hand-eye coordination.

Like most crafts, wrapping skills develop over time. The more time and effort devoted to them, the better they become. There’s always room for improvement; I’m still getting better, and I’ve been installing since 1978.


If you’re not currently good enough, admit it. Don’t take on jobs for which you’re unqualified and would perform so poorly that you’d give the rest of us a bad name. Practice on easier installs first, and gradually work your way up to the more challenging ones. Or get some quality, in-depth training that will shave years off the learning curve. But, remember, the curve is still there.

I own a T-shirt I bought at NYC’s Carnegie Hall. It says, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” on the front. On the back? “ Practice, practice, practice.” Amen.


Myth #3: Any solvent-ink print can cure in one day.

The character, Jack Bauer, from the TV show, 24, who fights crime in hour-long, real-time episodes, makes for great TV. But, 24 hours isn’t nearly enough time to cure most solvent prints; 24 days would be better. Or, you can buy or build a drying device and cure most jobs well overnight.

My friend Shane, who prints the vinyl-graphic jobs I install, and I have been evaluating a new dryer, the SOL-Vent, from Tm Trading, a Belgian company. It’s really improved our production. I’m pursuing the possibility of becoming its exclusive U.S. distributor. By the time you read this, I’ll know more. Stay tuned.


My last bit of advice follows my mantra for the last 17 years (when the “ban” on curved-surface application lifted): Stretch the vinyl the absolute minimum possible for the shape, and don’t wrap bowling balls or any other spherical shapes!

Notes from the SGIA show floor
At SGIA, which took place October 13-15 in Las Vegas, I observed several new products, learned a few tricks and connected with old friends while making new ones. Attendance was the best I’ve seen in years. I’d describe the mood as cautiously optimistic.

Those who are successful today have learned to do more with less. People were surprised by the sudden downturn two years ago, and it caused many shop owners to retreat and wait out the storm. Now, they’re tired of waiting for things to improve. They’re taking a proactive approach; the survival of their businesses depends on it.

The Professional Decal Application Alliance’s (PDAA) Graphics Application Zone provided a perfect example of likeminded interests joining for mutual benefit. The Zone resulted from a cooperative effort between the PDAA, vinyl manufacturers and installers.

3M, Avery, Clear Focus Imaging, FLEXcon, HP and MACtac sponsored the event and donated time, money and materials. Installers from PDAA-member companies performed the applications. Floors, walls, brick surfaces, mailboxes, motorcycle tanks, two Camaros and an RV provided installation surfaces.

What was new this year? FLEXcon’s Taffeta wall-decoration fabric adorned several surfaces. Clear Focus Imaging and FLEXcon products were used to create several second-surface, perforated window graphics. 3M used matte and gloss versions of its 1080 paint-replacement media to create a black-and-white Camaro wrap. This approximately 3-mil, solid-color, air-egress film is installed without premask or laminate.

Avery supplied its MPI 6121 Street Graphics rough-surface film, which is engineered for when an authentic, paint-like finish is desired. Its unique, “micro-fracture” technology enables the film to fit the contours of rough surfaces. All graphics HP furnished were printed with its latex inks on HP vinyl. This was the first time latex-ink-printed graphics were used at a PDAA event.

MACtac also made a splash with an awesome wall graphic that depicts a 30-ft.-wide, Grand Canyon scene. The graphic featured MACtac’s Permacolor Enhancers sparkle-laden laminates. I’d seen them used on vehicle, but never on a wall; the effect dazzling.

I left Las Vegas inspired.

Next, I traveled to Milan to serve as a judge for this year’s European Wrap Star car-wrap competition. This was my second trip to Europe this year and the third contest I’ve judged. As always, I learned even more tricks and techniques from the competitors.

The past year, in which I went to industry events in Orlando, Las Vegas, Munich and Milan, provided ample learning and camaraderie. If you share my passion for vinyl applications, attend one of these events in 2011: the FESPA Wrap Cup Master Series, in Orlando, February 24-26; American Wrap Star, at ISA in Las Vegas, April 28-30; and the PDAA Graphics Application Zone, October 19-21 in New Orleans.

Rob Ivers owns Rob Ivers Inc. (Raymore, MO), a vehicle-graphics and installation company. He’s installed vinyl since 1978 and taught vinyl-graphics installation since 1993. For more information, visit





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