Very Fleet Graphics

As we all know, fleet-footed is an expression used to describe someone who runs quickly. But shouldn’t there also be a term called “fleet-fleeted”?

The expression would describe those companies whose vehicle wraps are handled by providers that have found the right mix of materials, manpower and methodology to produce vehicle fleet graphics in a highly expeditious fashion.

In fact, such providers do exist, and we tracked down several for this look at vehicle graphics. Here they share their thoughts on their own tested installation techniques and technologies, along with insights into how they work with clients during the design stage, and how they effectively market their work.

According to Todd LaBrie, president of Carwraps Inc. in Los Angeles, the biggest thing to happen to vehicle wraps since the invention of control-tack vinyl are the new stretch vinyl product offerings from Avery and 3M.

“It is really, really stretchy vinyl,” he added. “In Europe, they do a lot of vinyl paint replacement. It has to conform perfectly, and it has to be seamless. So a new kind of vinyl was developed, and it was just brought to this country a few years ago. A lot of installers don’t know how to use it, because it stretches so much that if they do too much, they run the risk of damaging the print job.

“But if they know how to do it, it makes wrapping complex vehicles and compound curves much easier, cleaner and more efficient.”

The other new development is the advent of what LaBrie calls “band-free printing.” A new method has been developed in which print head nozzles fire intermittently, so banding—if it exists—is hidden within the pixels and is impossible to be seen by the naked eye. “You wind up with band-free printing,” he said. “Banded printing has been a plague of the industry for years. You had to profile or linearize the machine to try to minimize that as much as possible. As far as technology goes, this anti-banding technology is a huge breakthrough.”

When it comes to developments that have transformed this segment of the wide-format industry, however, few are bigger than the arrival of ecosolvent inks, LaBrie said. They allow for print jobs to be run in small spaces, without risking exposure to dangerous VOCs. “That’s huge, and it’s why so many wrap companies have sprung up,” he said. “You can run these in your garage.”

Economies of scale in printer manufacturing have also had a significant impact, he added. Ten years ago, large-format inkjet printers ran up to a quarter million dollars. Even five years ago, they set shops back $30,000 to $50,000, he estimates. But now they can be purchased for $8,000 to $20,000. “The barriers to entry have been lowered tremendously,” he added. “We went from a handful of wrap-specific companies a decade ago to literally thousands today.”

Other veteran vehicle graphics providers report streamlining installation is very much a matter of choosing the right materials for your business, and making sure installers are well trained. Many of them assert their best move is staying with proven, well-known materials. At Garage Graphics, a Huntington Beach, CA-based printer established 12 years ago in a Downey, CA garage, president and CEO Eric Goodwin says he has lots of people telling him to economize.

“Everyone says, ‘Oh, you can save money.’ Realistically, you’re saving $40 a roll, but you’re winding up spending more time installing the product...I install a lot of stuff, and I prefer 3M. You know what you‘re getting.”

Rod Voegele, CEO of, a four-year-old company with shops in Las Vegas, NV, and Ontario, CA, noted, “It’s really about the material. Use the latest and greatest material. That will make your installs go as fast as they can. Speed is based on experience of the installer, combined with the proper material, which allows you to squeegee the bubbles for a nice, clean install.”

There are many suppliers of vinyl materials attempting to win business away from the long-time industry leaders, he added.

“I get salespeople calling several times a month to introduce a new company or product. I talk to them to see where the industry is headed and what kind of technology is available. But it’s our philosophy to go with proven companies, which we consider to be Avery and 3M. Having two companies is great for the industry. Having two strong companies keeps the prices competitive, and keeps them advancing technology in this industry. They both have advantages. The winners are the wrap shops and their customers.”

Troy Downey, heading APE Wraps in San Diego, said material selection is the key to speedy installs. “Speed can be a double-edge sword,” he added. “But it’s only double-edged if you select a material that is initially too aggressive.”

Kris Harris, vice-president and co-owner of Spring Grove, IL-based Road Rage Designs, is among those who believe installer training is the best way to ensure quick, efficient installs. Road Rage Designs has certifications from both 3M and PDAA, both of which have codes of conduct and installation guidelines.

“All my guys are certified, and that helps streamline the installation,” she said. “It also gives them a sense of pride. Not everyone can pass the certification process, and if you get past that not everyone passes the test.”

Still other purveyors argue the way the installation process is designed holds the key to efficiency. One such observer is Jared Smith, president of bluemedia, a Tempe, AZ company specializing in environmental graphics and vehicle wraps. “One of the big differentiators for us is our scheduling of the steps in the streamlining of the work flow,” he said.

“One person installing on the vehicle, and ten people installing, are not the fastest ways. Somewhere in the middle is the ideal amount of manpower.”


The Design Phase

While some commonalities exist, vehicle graphics providers all tend to take different approaches to the design phase. Harris of Road Rage Designs said some clients like to come in and see her vehicle wrap operation, but in most cases she and her colleagues will start with a visit to a client site.

“It’s very, very important we get an understanding of what the client is doing,” Harris pointed out. “Every business has its own distinct personality, and it’s our job to accurately portray that on their advertising.”

After brainstorming with the client, Harris and colleague Amy Pease, go to work on design creation. Following in-house tweaking, the design is emailed to the client for review. After approval, Harris creates test prints the client will look over to ensure color and design are as desired. “After that, we get the vehicle in and do the wrap,” Harris said. “If they know what they want, it can take a couple of weeks. But some clients we started with a year ago we’re now just finishing.”

As might be expected, client desires during the design stage can be as varied as the products and services their own companies offer. Voegele of reports his company fields a broad array of requests.

Some clients have very specific preferences regarding their firm logos and colors, for instance. At the opposite extreme, he says, is the client “who doesn’t have that vision, and as a result gives us full autonomy to create their brand.”

Considerable schooling of clients must take place as well, says Downey of APEwraps. Noting he and his co-workers could “write a novel” about dealing with clients during the design period, he said too many clients “don’t understand the life-size world we, the large- and grand-format converters, live in.”

For that reason, APEwraps staff must educate clients there’s far more involved than simply pushing a button and having the client’s graphic suddenly “spit from the machine and jump onto their desired surface,” Downey said. “We’ll be dealing with this lack of understanding for a long time.”


Marketing Vehicle Wraps

Marketing tools being as vastly numbered as they are, vehicle wrap providers again tend to hold varied preferences in how to market their wares. But one strategy all seem to embrace is wrapping their own vehicles in their promotional messages. Said Voegele: “Everything I own with wheels is wrapped. That includes my motor home, my trailer, my ‘59 Jaguar, my custom-built chopper. Our company vans, and several employees’ cars, are wrapped.”

Road Rage Designs’ Harris reported her own fleet’s vehicle wraps are not just rolling billboards, but testaments to the quality of the work generated by her company. “All our vehicles are wrapped,” she said. “It’s great to have your vehicle at a client location, so they can walk out and look it over.”

As well, Road Rage Designs sends out direct mail promos and appears at many trade shows. But ultimately, promoting effectively is all about benefiting from the word of mouth that comes from professionalism, Harris said.

“We are professionals; this is what we do for a living,” she observed. “When we show up on the job site, our guys are dressed appropriately and professionally. I won’t tolerate any of that, ‘Dude, I’m cooler than you are.’ Everybody wants to jump into this business because they think it gives them a chance to be cool. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about quality.”



In addition to Wide-Format Imaging, Jeffrey Steele’sarticles have appeared more than 2,000 times in such publications as the Baltimore Sun, Barron’s, Boston Globe, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Columbus Dispatch, Dayton Daily News, Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Harford Courant, Indianapolis Monthly, Los Angeles Times, Modern Luxury, New York Daily News, Omaha World-Herald, OrlandoSentinel, Press-Enterprise of Southern California and Consumer’s Digest’s Your Money magazine.