Before he joined the band Survivor, classic rocker Jim Peterik wrote the 1970 hit “Vehicle” with the Ides of March. Amid brass riffs that shook woofer speakers back in the day, the Chicago west-sider sang, “I’m your vehicle, baby; I’ll take you anywhere you wanna go.” And where print firms always have wanted to go is to the Profit Promised Land. These days, all roads point to car wraps and vehicle graphics as a potential profit center for printers nationwide.
However, advertising on cars, SUVs, trucks, and buses is not a value-added area into which you can dive, headlong, without preparation. Technical tools are needed to enter the vehicle wrap, paint-protection, and tinting markets—along with about $30,000 if you don’t already have a wide-format digital print device (see below). Robust software programs are required, not to mention design and other basic application tools, such as squeegees, knives, air-release, and heat tools. One versatile installation tool is the Wraptor, a patent-pending device for applying adhesive backed vinyl media—both ready-to-apply and digital.
The Wraptor facilitates deployment and suspension of any graphic film to any surface. Its design features are flexible, based on configuration specifications, to allow for deployment of any image on vehicles, trailers, airplanes, walls, floors, ceilings, etc. The unique gimbal joint that joins the vertical expanding stanchion to the horizontal expanding stanchion allows for deployment to 360 degrees vertically and 360 degrees horizontally. And the Wraptor expands to 240 inches wide and vertically to 16 feet, said its manufacturer.
You’ll need media, too, of course. In early October, Oracal USA, an Orafol company, added 23 new colors and textures specially developed for interior design, automotive trim, and interior/exterior accent restyling. Series 975 Premium Structure Cast is 5- to 6-mil. film featuring a transparent, solvent-based, repositionable adhesive with dimensional stability and conformability over uneven, arched, curved and flat surfaces.
On the creative end, vehicle wrap templates make designing faster and easier. There are website resources for template programs, such as www.provehicleoutlines.com or www.thebadwrap.com. To design an appealing and effective wrap, an extensive library of backgrounds, fills, and vector elements also is required.
The keys to your $30,000 ‘vehicle’
Hardware, software, media: You’ll need it all to start up a wrap business. As an example of what print firm owners can expect to spend, Sign Warehouse of Denison, TX, offers Wrap EXPRESS equipment packages ranging between about $30,000 and $35,000. One starter package includes a 48-inch PrismJET VJ48 Plus eco-solvent printer (with firmware), an automated media take-up system, vinyl cutter, cold laminator, media and tools starter kits, ink, cleaning fluid, graphic design and RIP software, and training DVDs all for under $23,000.
To successfully get into the wrap business, you will need at least the basics of facility, tools, equipment, materials, and training, according to Fellers, which bills itself as the world’s largest wrap supply company. Ideally, an automotive wrap facility should be about 75 to 100 feet long with 14-foot entry doors to accommodate tractor-trailers, motor homes, and box trucks. A facility that's too small is often the very thing that keeps a wrap business from being able to stay busy, as installers cannot prep tomorrow’s job while they wrap today’s, advises Fellers.
The facility should be climate-controlled, too. If it’s too hot, wrap vinyl will be too soft. (Note that the installer's perspiration may even compromise the adhesive.) If it's too cold, the vinyl will be brittle and not behave in a cooperative manner, often "breaking" rather than stretching. Temperature and humidity fluctuations also can be the enemy of large-format printers and laminators. If the air is too dry, you can experience mass quantities of static electricity, dried-up print heads, and excess dust build-up in the shop. If the air is too moist, prints can take too long to dry.
For printed output, many shops opt for 60-inch-wide printers, laminators, and plotter/cutters that accept the widest wrap vinyls currently manufactured. The ability to print on wider vinyl helps to limit and even prevent seams, Fellers pointed out, and many vehicle hoods can only be seamlessly wrapped on one piece with five-foot-wide material. Purchasing a separate cutter/plotter is highly recommended. There are cheaper combo printer/cutter units available, but professional wrap shops cannot afford the time needed for these slower, lower quality machines. Combo printer/cutters also cannot print and cut at the same time, which impacts production times.
While a wrap business can start with one person, the ideal shop employs two or more people, notes Fellers. In addition to having employees on staff with the technical ability to operate wrap equipment, such as computers, printers and laminators, wrap shop personnel also should include people with experience in:
Art, design and/or sign makingOutside salesMechanical and carpentry skills for removal of automotive parts and removal of wall trim.Physical abilities needed to wrap, as wrapping can be physically demanding.Attention to detail for prepping and trimming.
Training and certification
Getting into the wrap business without knowledge of how to estimate and bid jobs, prep a vehicle, print and laminate, and properly install a vinyl wrap is a dangerous proposition that likely will cost your firm time and money. Training with a certified wrap provider is a great way to get started and is also an excellent forum for learning industry best practices. This is an opportunity to learn from folks who are working “in the trenches” every day.
Wide-format printer manufacturer Roland DGA Corp. hosts such courses. Led by some of the industry’s most knowledgeable and experienced professional vehicle wrappers, its “Born to Wrap” workshops go beyond classroom instruction. These comprehensive two-day events, held periodically at Roland DGA’s Irvine, CA headquarters, the Digital EFX facility in Louisville, KY, and the Richard Childress Racing Center in Welcome, NC., provide attendees with extensive hands-on training and real-world pointers for starting and running a successful wrap business. Cost is $549.
According to Matt Richart, “Born to Wrap” workshop instructor and owner of Digital EFX Wraps, Roland’s workshops prepare program participants to handle realistic vehicle wrap applications and situations. “Along with teaching them professional wrapping skills, we provide practical business tips – information they need to know to operate a successful shop, said Richart. “We’re talking everything from pricing jobs and handling finances to dealing with existing clients and attracting new customers. It took us many years to discover these things, mostly through the school of hard knocks, but through these workshops, attendees can benefit from our experience and learn the essentials in a couple of days.”
At a September “Born to Wrap” event, Richart shared his expertise and industry know-how with attendees from across the country, putting them on the road to vehicle-wrapping success. This latest event, like all “Born to Wrap” workshops, combined classroom instruction with practical, hands-on application. “After going over various wrap techniques and the use of Roland’s advanced printer/cutters, we like to head outside and let the students put what they’ve learned into practice, Richart explained. “We walk them through the entire process, and we go to great lengths to ensure that the simulated work environment and jobs mirror those of an actual shop.”
“Born to Wrap” attendees range from individuals that have never performed a vehicle wrap, to wrappers with a few years of experience under their belts. Blake Davignon, owner of Denver-based Dirt Candy and a late summer workshop participant, has been doing action sports wraps for a few years, but attends at least one course annually to learn more and hone his skills. “I’ve attended several courses offered by other printer and media manufacturers, but none included the kind of practical information, hands-on training and realistic applications that Roland’s ‘Born to Wrap’ workshop features,” said Davignon. “The other courses seemed self-promotional, and in each case, one of the manufacturer’s in-house staffers led the class. Roland’s workshop is dramatically different. The focus is on teaching real-world skills, and the instructor is an experienced and respected wrap business owner that has achieved significant success. Information and advice like that is priceless.”
Fellers also offers certification, as does media supplier Avery Dennison Graphics together with LF printer manufacturer Mutoh. The Avery Car Wrap Certification costs $299 and consists of a two part test system including both written and hands on portions. The written exam is a one-hour multiple choice test based on the information available in the study materials (available to participants after registration). The hands-on exam focuses on installation techniques as outlined in the Installation Exam Guide (also available after registration). Students are required to exhibit their installation skills by applying Avery’s MPI 1005 Supercast films on a variety of vehicles. Evaluation is based on cleaning, alignment of graphics, cutting edges, and finishing techniques.
Successfully passing the Avery Car Wrap Certification Exam provides you and your company with a free listing at Avery Dennison's Carwraps.net car wrap directory, where hundreds of businesses and individuals visit every day to find reputable companies and installers. Avery Car Wrap Certification training is open to any professional car wrap installer looking to add a recognized industry leader’s certification program to their credentials. While students interested in taking the certification exam do not have to participate in the two-day car wrap training session, it is strongly recommended. (Total cost is $699.) This year, master installer Justin Pate was joined by wrap industry veteran Todd LaBrie who covered vehicle wrap design, layout, and customer service. Avery/Mutoh Car Wrap Training classes are sold out through end of the year, so check for 2013 availability in a city near you. Class sizes are maintained at a maximum of 17 students to allow for more one-on-one teaching.
“Thanks so much for an incredible class,” praised one recent student participant. “You're a great teacher and have created such a valuable program. It was fun, informative, and the value is phenomenal. Even though I'm not quite at the level I'd like to be, it’s nice to feel so much more confident … I have no doubt, with the new information gained in the class and with your DVDs, I'll get there soon.”
Participants of the class also receive:
- NT Cutter A-551P knife
- Avery Dennison Toolkit (includes tool belt, blue squeegee, red squeegee, felt squeegee, snitty, 3" rivet brush, retractable knife & magnets)
- 25 yard kit of Avery MPI 1005 Supercast Easy Apply RS and 1360 DOL or SW 900 Supreme Wrapping film
- Martor safety box
Hardware, software investments
Don't expect an old, cheap computer to do the job when getting into the wrap business. Due to the immense computer processing task presented by large files when creating wrap designs, having the right computer hardware is critical. Many wrap shops have two computers: one for design and one for a RIP station.
You might be able to get away with using an older computer for your RIP station, but design is typically the bottle neck at most established wrap companies. The design station computer should be fast, powerful, and geared towards processing massively large files. That means a minimum of 2 GB of RAM. Remember, the more RAM it has, the more efficient the computer will be. When in doubt, buy a computer with twice the processing power that you think you need for your design station.
If you have a great designer on staff, he or she will be able to create awesome wrap designs with the help of Adobe Photoshop. However, even great designers become faster and more efficient with additional Photoshop plug-ins, graphic fills, and vehicle template design programs. If you are new to wrap design, it will be critical to purchase plenty of design software and to learn Photoshop skills. Check out www.auroragraphics.net and www.wrapexperts.com for some great wrap designs. Also, at its online blog, print firm ImageSmith Communications, Arden, NC, provides 10 tips for designing vehicle wraps with Adobe Illustrator: http://blog.imagesmith.com/index.php/2012/01/24/designing-vehicle-wrap-adobe-illustrator/
Franchising is another option to consider. Franchisor Wrap It Up! offers these top 10 reasons for starting up a vehicle wrap franchise from scratch:
- Low overhead
- Established website, artwork, legal contracts
- Network of national dealers
- Low buy-in costs
- Proven system
- “We design and print it, you sell and install it”
- No graphic designer neededNo expensive printer, ink, rolls of vinyl and lamination to buy
- Establish your own wrap community to work as a team
- Corporate backing and training
Printers are not the only businesses grabbing for shares of the wrap pie. This past spring, marketing tech firm SproutLoud unveiled the first online ordering platform for vehicle wraps in distributed marketing. The release expands its array of media options and services, which include email, social media, web pages and microsites, direct mail, outdoor, online store, commercial print and premium items, said the Sunrise, FL-based firm. The company’s platform helps brands manage and execute marketing activities with the local companies that sell their products and services.
“We constantly strive to stay on top of the latest media trends that meet our clients’ needs and marketing objectives,” said Gary Ritkes, managing partner in charge of sales at SproutLoud. “We’re very excited to increase their media choices with vehicle wraps as part of our corporate strategy of being the most comprehensive distributed marketing platform on the market.”
SproutLoud supports vehicle wraps through its vendor network that includes a state of the art 150,000-square-foot production facility and a North American network of 3,500 certified technicians for local installation.
Founder and CEO Jared Shusterman added, “Vehicle wraps are an attention-grabbing, high-impact medium, but it’s extremely important for us to be not only to provide the breadth of services that meet each client’s unique needs, but to ensure our software makes it easy for local marketers to order and use them. Our vehicle wraps module is designed to do just that.”
At the SGIA expo in mid-October, Seiko Infotech teamed up with Motorz, the popular automotive improvement series seen on satellite TV and the Internet. Performing the wrap was San Diego-based APE Wraps, a digital graphics and wraps firm known for its ability to simulate paint on high-performance vinyl. The Motorz crew was on site at the Las Vegas tradeshow to help transform a stock 2010 Ford Mustang GT by assisting APE with the application of full-body graphics using the latest materials and printing technology from Seiko. (In addition, installation of new Mickey Thompson Street Comp UHP street tires, new wheels, and an array of appearance products came courtesy of AmericanMuscle.com.)
“Our goal is to show the endlessly creative applications for the printing technology used for automotive wraps in a setting where people can see each stage in the process,” said Troy Downey, owner of APE Wraps.
“Just as we do on Motorz, we work with Troy’s team to show exactly how each stage in the vehicle modification process is completed,” added Chris Duke, host of the show, whose crew was filming for an upcoming episode as they transformed the Mustang “from ‘drab to fab’ in one afternoon.”
Design Tips for Car Wraps
In the truly mobile marketing space, good design is critical to clarity. We all have seen vehicle wraps that are a jumble of too much information and too many graphics to get their messages across. Wrap specialist Robby Burnett of Dallas-based Wrap Experts, a network with members in more than 120 countries worldwide, shared a handful of tips for designing an effective vehicle wrap with 3M Graphic Solutions:
- Work with your customer to capture the message
What is your customer's goal for their vehicle wrap? Do they want more visits to their website, or more foot traffic in their store? Talk to your customers about their key messages -- and the importance of narrowing it down to just one or two. Whatever the customer's goal, use that information to prioritize the design of the wrap and place the most important elements prominently.
- Don't overlook corporate guidelines
Many companies have strict brand standards or corporate guidelines regarding the colors, fonts, and imagery that can be used in their materials. Be sure to ask your customer if there are policies you should follow. These guidelines will often dictate the proper placement of logos and other design elements. It is also important to make sure that any messages and images you use do not infringe on anyone else's copyrights.
- Keep your design clean, and remember the five-second rule
Most people viewing your wrap will not give it more than a few seconds of attention. Additionally, a vehicle traveling on the highway may have even less time than that. The more information you put on a vehicle wrap, the longer it takes to get its message across, so keep the design clean and – as mentioned in Tip #1 – focus on one or two messages. For an edge in creating vehicle wrap designs that quickly deliver a message, check out the 3M Visual Attention Service (VAS). This online scanning tool analyzes the graphic and text elements of a design and identifies where the typical human is most likely to look in the first three to five seconds of viewing. VAS analysis can help you revise a design until it performs exactly the way you want it to.
- Use a template AND take measurements
Vehicle templates are readily available to help you begin your design, but it's also important to take your own measurements and evaluate the surface of the vehicle in 3D. It's not uncommon for angular distortion in a template to have an impact on the final result, so be sure to study the lines of the vehicle in person.
- Make overlays work for you
In many cases logos and other graphic elements can be printed as overlays, allowing you to move the logos or graphics to flat parts of the vehicle easily. This can help prevent installation hassles and the need to rewrap the entire vehicle if a logo doesn't look right. It also allows your customers the flexibility to change select parts of their wrap as needed if the correct product is chosen.