“I think too many people rely too much on the templates and photographs, and those techniques do save time. But you can’t make a template absolutely perfectly configure to the vehicle. To achieve that result, you have to actually get off your butt and do a little measuring to make sure the other things are right.”
Another wrap specialist who hasn’t overlooked measuring is Eric Goodwin, president and CEO of Garage Graphics in Huntington Beach, CA. The 14-year-old company specializes in signs, stickers, banners, and car wraps.
“We’ll take a photo of the customer’s car, mock up the wrap on that photo, and transfer it to the template,” he says. “In the meantime, we’ve already measured several key parts of the car, like the wheelbases and certain other points, to make sure the templates we create are accurate.”
Prepare the Vehicle
To achieve best results, the vehicle to be wrapped has to be carefully prepared, experts say. That involves more than cleaning. “It requires taking off the hardware if it needs to be removed, and emblems as well,” Ivers says. “You are going to get a much better job if you take them off and leave them off.”
Many beginning installers can’t wait to get started with the wrapping part of the job, but neglect other preliminary steps. That’s a mistake because one of the places vinyl may come loose is those hard to reach spots, and they must be pristinely clean when the wrap is installed. “People getting into wraps may skimp on the vehicle preparation,” says Sean Tomlin, owner of Designer Wraps, a Millville, NJ, business established in 2006 to provide vehicle and wall wraps.
“That’s the most important part of the wrap. I’m talking about [cleaning] all the nooks and crannies: door jambs, corners, around door handles, wheel wells.”
Ivers notes it’s easy to clean the main part of a vehicle, “But you have to pay attention to getting the edges as super clean as possible, so you don’t wind up trying to get vinyl to adhere to places where there is contamination.”
Sino Tour, operations manager for Icon Image, a five-year-old Signal Hill, CA-based provider of wraps for windows, pillars, floors, and vehicles, is also fanatical about preparation. Tour informs owners they should wash the car prior to the wrap, but ensure it’s not waxed, which can compromise results.
Once the vehicle has been delivered to the installers, it’s essential they take great care with the cleaning of the vehicle’s surface. “It has to be very clean, very free of debris, because any contamination can compromise longevity of the wrap,” Tour says. “We use isopropyl alcohol to clean the surface all over. It helps to take off some of the wax and dirt that might be on the vehicle.”
During the Installation
Several key considerations can help ensure the actual installation is as flawless as possible, Ivers says. First, be careful not to overstretch the vinyl, because stretching can lead to lifting, he reports. Second, on convex surfaces like bumpers and mirrors, use a technique called pre-stretching.
“The vinyl is stretched before we need it, so it will shrink back when heated and fit tighter,” he says. “The vinyl will return to its original thickness and provide better adhesion.”
Next, trim well, avoid letting paint show, and use a knifeless system “that allows you to cut from the inside out, so you’re not damaging paint,” he says.
For Tour, the most important application rules begin with applying enough pressure to the vinyl to ensure it adheres well to the surface. “Also, make sure that around the seams your cuts are all well rounded,” he advises.
Rounding off edges helps ensure air moves more smoothly over them, he says. It is the same basic principle seen in floor graphics, where corners are rounded to make them less susceptible than right angles to the lifting that could occur when trampled upon through days or weeks of foot traffic.
“We deal with a lot of fleet wraps, and the vinyl will come in a kit with a pre-mask to it,” Tour says. “The overall goal is to make sure once you pull the pre-mask off, you squeegee a second time really quickly around door handles and seams, to make sure everything stays tucked in.”
Post-heat around door handles, around seams, around complex curves, and around recessed areas, Tour urges. “Vinyl has memory,” he says.