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Three Vehicle-Wrap Shops Talk Best Practices

Industry Graphics, PG NOLA and PDX Wraps Offer Insights

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Last month, 360 Wraps’ (Dallas) Tommy Strader, Palmer Signs’ (Roseville, CA) Tony Palmer and Wicked Wrapz’ (Mukilteo, WA) Katherine Becher discussed their material and equipment choices, as well as vehicle-wrap trends they’ve observed while working in their shops.

Pete Scholl, Industry Graphics
Auburn, WA

Do you typically do from-scratch designs for your customers, or do you work with existing logos or graphics? In what formats do your customers generally submit artwork? What do you prefer? What tools do you use to “res up” low-res artwork?
We have two designers in-house who create from scratch. We’re also provided art from design agencies, graphic designers, marketing departments and sometimes directly from the client. We prefer art in Adobe Illustrator® or Photoshop® software formats, .AI, PDFs, .EPS, .PSD, .TIFF or .JPEG. We use Photoshop or Alien Skin Blowup software to increase resolution if needed.
What vehicle-wrap film do you most commonly use? Brand, cast or calendered, and how thick? What factors influence the choice?
We use Arlon DPF 6000XRP, Avery Dennison Graphic Solutions MPI 1005 Supercast Easy Apply and 3M Controltac IJ180-10C air-release media. The type of material depends on the type of graphic, the intricacy of the install and the budget. We use only cast film with a matching cast laminate.
What model printer and ink system do you use? Why do you prefer this printing system? At what resolution and pass mode do you print?
We use 4 HP Latex printers for vehicle wraps. We have used Epson and Mutoh eco-solvent printers in the past, but have found that latex inks have some advantages over solvent, mainly dry time. Most jobs come in with a tight turn due to client deadlines, and, if we aren’t able to verify dimensions in the field, we do the verification when the vehicle is dropped off, so we need to move quickly from print to lamination, and latex give us that flexibility. We print in 12-pass mode at 600 x 600 dpi.
Thinking about the entire wrap-production process, what would you say is the most common mistake you’ve seen in the wrap process? How can it be prevented or fixed?
Mistakes can happen in various stages of the process. First, we need to make sure the vehicle is ready for graphics…no rust or oxidation, and, if there is, we need a signoff to protect us from adhesion issues. We also need to know if the vehicle was recently painted or repaired. Then, when we’re designing, we need to make sure text is readable when going over compound curves, door handles, molding, etc. And make sure the design flows around the vehicle and doesn’t break when going from the front to side to the back, for example. Then making sure the installers have an accurate, up-to-date proof to work from in case there are issues that can be addressed before the actual install occurs.

Ty Hanlon, PDX Wraps
Sherwood, OR
How long has your shop wrapped cars? How have your materials, equipment and tools changed over that time?

We started wrapping cars in 2006. We’ve used many different brands of vinyl, but have emphasized 3M Controltac with Comply air-release media for most jobs. The tools have stayed relatively the same; in fact, Casey still has the same X-Acto® blade holder he started with almost 10 years ago.
Squeegees have changed somewhat. Now, almost every squeegee has felt on one side, which mitigates scratches Velcro® material created. Now, we use knifeless tape, which eliminates the fear of cutting on vehicles, and allows us to work on clean lines and contours faster.
How do you get most of your customers? Word of mouth, referrals, social media/web, or other ways?
In the early days, (owner) Casey (Folk) was a one-man show, and handled the customer wire-to-wire. We are a family business, and have witnessed how small jobs can lead to big jobs and lifelong clients. If people think you do cool stuff, they will recommend you. We try to keep our social platforms like an extension of our business — professional and relatable.
What model printer and ink system do you use? Why do you prefer this printing system?
We’re currently using a Roland SolJet Pro III XJ-640. It has a life expectancy of 72 billion shots through its printheads; ours has 159 billion, and it is still cranking out banners to this day.
How much of your business involves non-printed wraps (carbon-fiber, textured film, other solid-color wraps)?
Approximately 25% of our business is non-printed, vehicle restyling. This area of our business has seen huge growth over the years. The biggest hurdle is informing the target market about what can be done with vinyl; plenty of people don’t understand how vehicle wraps work. To this day we still have people ask us if we’re a sandwich shop!
Do you use a torch or heat gun to smooth film into place? What are the most important things to remember about thermal management when installing wraps?

We use shrink-wrap heads on our torches for installation. After that, we go over the problem areas with a heat gun to ensure they stay down. Thermal management is extremely important on matte, laminated films; if you get the material too hot, you run the risk of glossing it or overstretching and losing color. We always let the material cool for a few seconds before we start laying it down, to prevent overstretching and color loss.

Kevin Kempf, PG NOLA
New Orleans

In what formats do your customers generally submit artwork? What do you prefer? What tools do you use to “res up” low-res artwork?
We can design from scratch, but we usually sit and talk with our clients to get an idea for direction. Time is money, and just guessing what someone may like takes too much time. If the client has any existing graphics or logos, yes, we do work from that. Formats can range from Vector EPS files to high-res TIFF files. We always prefer to get any artwork or logos in a true vector .EPS or .Ai file format. When we have an image we need to enlarge, we do use Perfect Resize 9.
What design software do you use to produce wrap graphics? What are the best attributes of this software? Do you start with hand-rendered graphics very often? Do you tile your designs? How does that help?
We use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. They both work together great and give all the options we need to produce an incredible wrap. We don’t hand draw or sketch anything. We try not to tile designs, and work as seamlessly as possible. A trailer is usually the only time we tile panels on an install. Everything else will be done to use natural seams/jambs to hide seams. Minimizing seams gives the project a much better, clean look — not overlaps everywhere.
How much of your business involves non-printed wraps (carbon-fiber, textured film, etc.)? Has this been a big growth market? What materials do you use for these kinds of wraps?
We specialize in color-change wraps. We would say 80% color change, 20% commercial graphics at this point. Yes, the market for color-change wraps has grown greatly. It doubles, if not triples, in size each year; we were early adopters, and have witnessed how well it’s grown. We use Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions, Arlon, KPMF, Hexis and 3M material. Color change wraps never have seams, unless we’re using a film like chrome, which isn’t available in larger sizes. And, it’s less stretchy than other films, so it usually requires seaming.
 

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