Graphic, colorful wide-format print rages on urban and suburban streets and highways, screaming past at 35, 45, 55+ miles per hour. You can pimp your ride and have your rims, but what your customers' commercial passenger vehicles really may need is some vinyl—of the vibrantly printed variety. If...
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"There are two big [vehicle wrap] competitors in the Phoenix area," Fry acknowledged, adding that they both do a great job at what they do. But the Fry Media team is gearing up to target higher-end customers this summer with a full-scale marketing push. Taking a cue from his beverage customers, who know that samples sell, Fry has customized a 2008 Ford van with rims, a lift kit, and 3M Carbon Fiber flexible wrap. "It looks like a combination of an urban assault vehicle and a tank," he said. "We wanted to have fun with it and show people the layers of stickers they can use. We have two amazing graphic and industrial designers on staff. It's exciting!
"We're going after the companies who are big on image and people who want to change the color of their Ferraris without repainting them," he continued. "3M has 27 colors of wraps you can do that with." Avery, too, has a new opaque-film product line available in 33 colors that provides a finish similar to paint. Its dual-layer Supreme Wrapping Film gloss, matte, and metallic textures were first shown at last fall's SGIA show in New Orleans. Avery's Roba perhaps summed it up best for wrap printers and their customers, when he said, "You have to promote your business to grow your business."
3M's Boxeth added that there are numerous product advancements and improvements that make installation and the "personalization of vehicles" easier. "Water and dirt collection posed challenges for perforated window films," Boxeth noted, "but now full-adhesion contact is a reality." He also cited the example of 3M's patented film technology, which includes a bubble-free air release system as well as improved slidability and repositionability. "The media floats on the vehicle's surface," Boxeth explained. "Adhesion doesn't take place until a squeegee is [firmly] pressed on to it." Plus, it "snaps up" for easy movement.
Fry Fabrications may add a flatbed printer within the next year or so. "It would cut down on installation time in our retail division because we could print directly on metal substrates," Fry said.
Paul Roba, North American technical manager for Avery Dennison Graphics' reflective solutions, offered this advice for print firms thinking about adding vehicle graphics to their service menu: "You need a sales person to sell the program," Roba said. "You also need a designer to create wrap designs that make sense and space for installation." And, of course, you need to be able to print and laminate in wide formats. But hardware and consumables aside, installation expertise is what you really need to play in this game.
Independent contractor arrangements seem to work best for most vehicle graphics printers. You might be based in Ohio, for example, but you landed a wrap job in California ... "If you wrap more than five cars a month, you may want to consider bringing an installer on board full-time, someone who also can work on architecture or POP work," Roba suggested.
Watching the best of the best compete at trade shows can be fun. Most recently, some of the world's leading installers raced against each other at the Graphics of the Americas/FESPA show in March, where the Vehicle Wrap Center was sponsored by Arlon and Mutoh. At last year's ISA Sign Expo, I interviewed Mingo Richter after his precise and speedy victory at the ISA Sign Expo's American Wrap Star Competition. The cool part is, you can hire guys like these as independent sub-contractors. Individuals and companies can locate Avery Dennison Car Wrap Certified installers around the US at www.carwraps.net. PDAA (Professional Decal Application Association) certified installers can be found through SGIA: www.sgia.org/PDAA.
How It's Done
Form-fitting templates are used to design car/bus/truck wraps, shaping them around the entire vehicle. A wrap often needs to be divided into a number of smaller pieces to appropriately cover any movable panels on the vehicle, such as doors, fuel tank cover and trunk openings. The finishing side of the fleet graphics process is tightly integrated to the creative and printing processes. These usually are electronically linked and, when possible, drive digital cutters to slice precisely tailored components for vehicle wraps from the printed material. The process typically begins with a digital template. The Digital Auto Library in Greely, Ontario, stores more than 40,000 such templates for just about every car sold in North America. Once the job is printed and laminated, a companion file can drive a digital trimming device to create the component elements for a wrap, although not all projects go this route. Regardless, some parts of the application will require hand cutting—a task relegated to an installer.