The Art and Design of Vehicle Wraps

The installation of vehicle wraps is certainly an art form in itself. Before the graphics are installed, however, the designer must ensure that the graphics are printed correctly to the vehicle specifications. There are many software programs on the market, so the question is which program is the best? Our experts explain the ups and downs of designing for vehicle wraps.


Accuracy is Key

The biggest issue being faced today when it comes to designing vehicle wraps is calculating the exact proportions of the vehicle to be wrapped. This may seem like a simple task; however, there are many factors involved that are commonly overlooked, particularly by those new to the industry.

Christian Van Schepen, manager of CADlink’s SignLab, says, “When you’re setting up bitmaps on an actual vehicle template the important thing is to have everything inside of the perimeter of the template be accurate.”

Van Schepen explains the best way to achieve accuracy. “When you’re setting up your vehicle wrap, you’re generally going to add two or three inches of bleed overage on the background of the print—not the whole print—but the background of the print. Make sure that your content stays within boundaries—you want to stay away from windows or door handles, that kind of thing. If you’re looking at the side of a car you’ll note that the window looks flat, but they’re not; they slope away from you at about a 10 degree angle and they add about an inch and half worth of height to that window.”

While a 10 degree angle or slight curvature may not seem like a vast difference, the distortion can create a great number of problems from estimating the job to ordering the right amount of vinyl. Installers and designers alike recommend taking additional measurements of a vehicle to ensure accuracy.

Van Schepen adds, “No matter what you’re doing, if you’re a smart sign maker, you’re going to take some measurements from the vehicle, regardless of how good that template is.”

Larry Lopez, owner of Art Station Vehicle Templates, explains the general method by which many designers and estimators calculate the finished size of a template. Like Van Schepen, Lopez claims that many mistakes can be made using this process.

“The way people get the square footage is that they take the template and enlarge it 2,000 percent to create the scale,” says Lopez. “They enlarge it 2,000 percent and then it’s the actual size. They make the template a little bit bigger, the boxes a little bit bigger to get it close to how much vinyl they’re going to need for that vehicle, then they give a quote to their customers after they get the numbers.”

John Falsetto, senior product manager for CorelDRAW, concurs. “Because vehicle wraps are required to contour around the vehicle when being applied (around curved edges), designers have to allow for this when creating their design in a 2D environment, to ensure that the output matches the design vision.”


The Role of Software

Strangely enough, shop owners and designers agree that the software used for creating vehicle wraps is not nearly as important as one might think. While designers have their preferences, many say that most software programs that accept vector and raster images will work when creating a wrap. Preferred software includes Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, as well as CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X5.

John Hall, Jr., president of Action Graphics & Signs, Inc., says his shop leans toward Photoshop and Illustrator.

“The program we most use is Photoshop,” says Hall. “We use that program because there’s not many limitations as far as what type of images you can use in that particular program. When it comes to design there are two different styles of graphics one of which is vector-based, which is basically line art which we use a program like Adobe Illustrator for. And then there’s Photoshop, which is raster-based. You can also use vector elements in Photoshop, which is why we use that program, so that we can use both styles.”

“We prefer vector because it’s clean,” adds Hall. “You’re going to get crisp, clean lines all the time. If we’re getting it from a customer, we prefer the vector. Whereas, if we’re creating it in house, we prefer raster because we know the resolution and quality that it needs to be printed at [because] you get a lot more detail in raster graphics in relation to pictures and that sort of thing.”

Falsetto states that designers have an all-inclusive solution with the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X5, which makes designing vehicle wraps a less daunting project.

“CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X5 offers a great design environment for designers wishing to design vehicle wraps, as well as over 2,000 vehicle templates to really make it easy. CorelDRAW allows users to do the entire design to scale from within the product interface,” Falsetto says. “They typically would use RIP software to interface with the output device and to optimize the use of media.”

Lopez leans toward using a combination of Photoshop and Illustrator. Lopez uses photographs of the vehicle as a base and then takes the drawing and alters it to the actual size.


Using Templates

Perhaps even more important than the choice of software is the choice of template that will be used to create the vehicle wrap.

Falsetto says, “Vehicle templates, which make it much easier for users to lay out their design based on the scale of the target vehicle, are an important element in the design process.”

Van Schepen says, “Templates are idiosyncratic. No template will give you the exact perfect layout.”

When choosing a catalog of templates, the experts suggest that shop owners and designers do their homework and make their choices based on individual needs.

Van Schepen says, “The difference between us and everyone else is that we not only have the widest range of vehicles—our vehicles start from ’93—but we not only have all the commercial vehicles in that time frame, but we carry extra things like aircraft, boats, buses, jet skis, trailers, motorcycles, race cars; that kind of thing.”

Lopez wrote his book, “Wrap Dimensions” after receiving six phone calls from customers over the period of a year asking for square footage for a particular vehicle. Lopez prides himself on providing a large number of accurate templates for a wide range of vehicles. Lopez says that his books focus on issues that had not been previously addressed. A 2012 version of “Wrap Dimensions” was released in January.

Hall says, “If you’re starting out, do a lot of practice before you actually start offering it as a service. Make sure all your shop vehicles are wrapped before you try to solicit it and sell those types of products. Practice makes perfect. Build a good arsenal of royalty free clipart. Stuff like that allows for faster, more creative design.”

Van Schepen stresses that customers need to decide what they actually need before buying templates.

“My view point is that I am completely committed to do whatever it takes to get my customers the template they need. My customers know that. Otherwise there’s no point in being in business, in my opinion.”