Wrap Design, Software, and "The Death of Cool"

When it comes to helping companies build their brands, the tools—software, printers, media, and the like—are well known and well utilized in the industry. And while they can be used to do a lot, sometimes understatement is the best way to get the point across.

All too often, businesses are on a misguided quest to seek out designs that look “cool”.

“’The cool factor sometimes creeps up in conversation, but cool is subjective. You have to worry about concepts that aren’t legible or are too abstract,” cautions veteran designer and wrap installer Manuel Velazquez, art director at Humble Sign Company, based near Houston in Humble, TX.

In fact, when it comes to having special effects and gimmicky designs, pursuing a cool-looking design can end up leaving customers’ marketing efforts out in the cold.

“Just because you have bells and whistles, doesn’t mean you have to use them,” opines another long-time wrap specialist, Dan Antonelli.

While Antonelli is just as frosty as Velazquez on the “cool” concept, he’s passionate about marketing; he’s working on his third book about branding and logo design for small businesses. His company, Washington, NJ-based Graphic D-Signs, often gets business from new customers who are unhappy with previous, more elaborate—and less effective—wraps done elsewhere.


Reinforce the Brand

Antonelli credits his origins as a sign painter in the 1980s as a key point of his approach to design and believes, “A vehicle wrap should serve one purpose: reinforce the brand.”

And while software tools can run the gamut in terms of capabilities, the mantra of reinforcing a brand has led Antonelli to do nearly all of his designs as vector art, using Adobe Illustrator.

“Most companies use Photoshop. We do all Illustrator,” says Antonelli of his vector-centric design style. “Out of the last 60 wraps we’ve done, we had photographs in one.”

Part of the reason the approach works is because vehicle wrap work increasingly comes from small businesses—firms whose owners might not be overly invested in a bad brand strategy and are open to some consultation and education about what works best.

“I like educating my customers,” says Humble Sign’s Velazquez. “Because if you talk to a small business owner, they may have a way of doing business, but not necessarily a away of communicating that message to the marketplace.”

Designs, he adds, should never get in the way of a making sure a customer’s phone number and logo are visible and easy to read. That means limiting the amount of copy that appears on a wrap.

As far as software goes, Velazquez also relies heavily on Illustrator and does a good amount of vector work. He also uses FlexiSIGN, and CorelDRAW is another tool he commonly uses for vector work.

While CorelDRAW has been a mainstay product in the wrap industry, many long-time users might not know there are some key tips and tricks to make using the software faster. According to Gérard Métrailler, senior director, Product Management, Graphics at Corel, designers can save processing times by using 150 dpi-images instead of 300 dpi, using a single color space and by flattening effects using transparency. (See sidebar.)


Template for Success

But, before wrap pros get to the point of flattening a design, before a single pixel is imaged, there’s a design to create, and getting the right template is key.

Humble Signs’ Velazquez relies on Conroe, TX-based Art Station Vehicle Templates, the brainchild of Larry Lopez, a one-time wrap artist who now minds the minutiae of the fender and windshield measurements to create a series of templates for designers.

When working with a template, Lopez says, there are the obvious things to remember: keep important elements of design a safe distance from door handles and wheel wells. And, if you are creating a template yourself, get the opportunity, whenever possible to view the actual vehicle.

“There are 16 versions of the Sprinter van,” Lopez explains by way of example. “You can imagine the types of mistakes that happen when a job is designed for the wrong type of vehicle.”

Keep in mind additional, bothersome auto elements, he cautions, like the large, obtrusive “VW” badge on the back on Volkswagen Beetles commonly used in fleets.

Lopez sells Velazquez and many other customers templates for wraps. A little over a year ago, he also released a PDF book that shops can use to get accurate estimates of the square footage needed to wrap different model vehicles. The book, says Lopez, ensures that installers are competitive in their quotes.

“Let’s say you produce an estimate and you are off by a square foot,” says Lopez. “The problem is, if you overestimate the amount of media you need, you’ll guess too high on your estimate and you’ll lose the job.”

Careful estimating and design placement are just two key things to consider. For those who venture to create their own templates, there’s another overlooked problem to look out for.


A Problem of Perspective

Designers, of course, often take photographs of vehicles to get a good, close look at the body design. But, oddly enough, sometimes the best thing to do is to put a little distance between you and your work.

“Most people don’t recognize the problem with photographs of a vehicle when it comes to creating an accurate design template,” says Lopez.

The curvature of the camera lens, he explains, makes a few of the dimensions installers need difficult to measure.

“People are usually standing too close to the vehicle. You should stand 50 feet away and zoom in,” says Lopez. “You’ll lose the curvature distortion from the camera lens because the image on the lens is smaller.”

“It is one of the things,” he adds with a chuckle, “that I learned the hard way.”