Thick Skins: Wrap Installation Tips

The average Jane can add bling to her car with personalized license plate frames, the email ad said. (Ladies, has pink rhinestone frames starting at $29.99. Stainless steel versions from start at $16.95.) However, most cars out on the street don’t get too customized beyond that and maybe some rims and wheels—unless, of course, you’re decking out a vehicle for promotional business purposes.

More businesses are seeing the value of this form of vibrant mobilized marketing, as evidenced by the growing number of wrapped cars and vans seen in highly populated, metropolitan areas these days—I see several daily cruising the streets of Chicago. As this large-format demand continues to grow, more print firms are branching out to fulfill the supply.

For this how-to piece, WFI asked a trio of wrap gurus to share their top tips for ensuring that vehicle graphics get applied correctly, every time. What follows is the benefit of their collective, real-world design and print experience.

Several sound pieces of advice came from Shad Interligi, owner of Real Hit Media, White Plains, NY. “All edges of the material must have very neat cut lines,” Interligi said. “This means that if a piece of material is at the edge of a door handle, or one piece of film overlaps onto another, you must be sure to make the edge of the material a smooth line. Clients do not like jagged cuts, and they should be avoided—always.”

Malcolm Hilcove, CEO of SmartWrap LLC in Phoenix, AZ, and Boise, ID, also chimed in: “Use expert installers. Hiring inexpensive and inexperienced installers can be false economy,” he warned. “Expert installers are the backbone of your business, so if you’re going to use less-experienced people, make sure they train under the watchful eye of an expert installer,” Hilcove added. “The mark of an expert installation is when you cannot tell if it has been painted or if it’s a wrap!” (Shops looking for more details on how to break into the wrap print and design biz can read My Print Resource’s “Your Vehicle to More Profits” article from last October.)

“Thorough cleaning and preparation of the vehicle” is paramount, according to Aaron Witt, operations manager at large-format print firm Graphic Application Systems, Jacksonville, FL. “If there is a contaminated area, the wrap will fail.” SmartWrap’s Hilcove agreed with Witt’s wisdom: “Install in the right environment. Is it clean, dust-free, and temperature controlled? Dust particles are easily noticeable under a wrap and can even cause a wrap to fail, while temperatures that are too high can cause the vinyl to stretch,” he added from the dry heat of the Arizona desert.

GAS’s Witt also encouraged to “lay out the wrap on the vehicle before application using masking tape or magnets. This will allow you to reposition the graphic to achieve the best look for your customer.” Also, post heating the wrap after installation ensures that the adhesive has flowed properly to gain maximum adhesion, he said.

Tools and Templates

Some tips are tool-related, such as using super-sharp knives and squeegees with smooth edges. “Lining the squeegee with nylon or glass tape provides a scratch-free installation,” Witt shared. And use a knife with a snap off blade. “Anytime you make a cut, snap the blade. This will ensure a smooth, jagged free cut.”

Hilcove’s next piece of advice may seem like a hardware no-brainer, but his point is to consider all options: “Use a high-quality printer and laminator. Do your homework and find a printer that fits your customer’s needs,” he suggested. “A large-format printer allows you to do ‘seamless’ installations, resulting in a more professional looking wrap. Latex ink printers save time by allowing you to laminate immediately, without having to wait 24 hours for ‘out-gassing.’” (See also “Latex Printing: Hope or Hype?”)

Then there is the accountability factor. “Check proofs, panels, and printing,” urged Hilcove. He cited four actions that the person responsible for printing should take:

Look at design proofs to ensure that panels created (“cut up”) by the designer, line up with each other.Match panels to film size to minimize waste.Make sure RIP, computer and printer are properly calibrated so that design color and print color matches.Trim panels to color (no white edges) so installers can easily match up and align according to designer’s proofs.

On the design side, “Use a premium vehicle template program to design your wrap,” said SmartWrap’s Hilcove, who also happens to own template supplier The Bad Wrap. “This avoids waste because your design is to scale and presents a professional image to your client.” He offered two additional design tips: “Design around the customer’s brand, the primary element of which is their logo. No amount of expert installation will compensate for a poorly designed logo.”

Hilcove’s final design tidbit it to “keep it simple. Good design communicates who you are, what you do and how you can be contacted (in that order) in five seconds or less,” he insisted, elaborating:

Who are you? A well-designed logo is critical. It not only helps people remember who the customer is, but also enhances their reputation.What do you do? A memorable tagline is more effective than simply stating what the customer does. Brian Till and Donna Heckler say that powerful taglines should embody three characteristics. They should be meaningful, motivating, and memorable.How can you be contacted? These days a web address is usually sufficient, but a phone number can also be added if necessary.

“You don’t need anything more than this,” stressed Hilcove. “Bullet lists of all your customer’s features, benefits, or services will not be remembered—there’s just not enough time. A vehicle wrap is in effect a moving billboard.” Remember, too, to allow enough “bleed” in the design to give installers room to work, he added.

Films Yield Vibrancy

High-quality media helps wrap a car right, too. At last fall’s Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas, Avery Dennison highlighted 13 new wrapping film matte and brushed metallic colors, along with digitally printable wrap materials and paint protection. These films are used by re-stylers, wrap installers, and the graphics community to customize, personalize, and protect vehicle exteriors. The new films are part of the Supreme portfolio, which are available in 46 colors and used to customize cars and trucks by changing the exterior color of a vehicle while providing a finish similar to paint.

Avery Dennison also featured Nano-Fusion technology PPF, a more conformable, longer-lasting paint protection film designed to eliminate yellowing, cracking, bubbling, and peeling due to UV exposure. A patented process infuses protection deep into the urethane film, allowing it to retain its flexibility, improving conformability, and making the film easier to install. Conventional PPFs feature a stiff topcoat laminated to a pliable urethane film substrate, making them time-consuming and difficult to install—and more prone to cracking and yellowing over time. The manufacturer backs the product with a lifetime warranty.

On the show floor, these products were demonstrated on a 2013 Ford Mustang by renowned wrapping expert Justin Pate. The Mustang debuted at SEMA wrapped in a “Track Fighter” theme created by Pictographics with Avery Dennison Supreme Wrapping Film white pearlescent, grass green, black metallic, and dark yellow films. The wrap was designed in homage to P-51 Mustang fighters, which were part of the World War II D-day invasion.

“Avery Dennison Supreme Wrapping Films are the key to easily customizing a car in a new color and can be more cost effective than paint,” said Todd Hain, marketing program manager at Avery Dennison Graphic Solutions. “We’ve had an overwhelming response to the new matte and brushed metallic colors and Conform Chrome from expert vehicle wrap installers across the country.”

The firm’s proprietary Conform Chrome, a vehicle accent film for gas caps, side-view mirrors, stripes, and door handles, was introduced at the 2011 SEMA show. In addition to the Supreme Wrapping Film line, Avery Dennison’s MPI 1005 Supercast Easy Apply RS is a digitally printable film that is repositionable and slideable. Colors pop on the digital films to create dynamic personalized designs, noted Hain.

Avery Dennison educates consumers and small businesses about color change and wrap films and connecting them with car wrap installers through, a website that locates local pre-screened and certified installers so a vehicle wrap quote can be requested.

Top 10 Wrap Tips

“A good design is only as good as the installation,” advised Shad Interligi, owner of Real Hit Media, White Plains, NY, which has more than 4,200 fans on Facebook. “You are only as good as your last wrap” is another Interligi pearl of wisdom. The wrap veteran has compiled 89 such points into what he calls a “Vehicle Wrapper Manifesto,” a creed of sound bites into which he has “poured 10 years” and had copyrighted in 2012. (See the whole manifesto at

So, with this his help and apologies to late-night talk show host David Letterman (and CBS), here is WFI’s tongue-in-cheek top 10 list:

Top Ten Tips for an Awesome Looking Vehicle Wrap

10. Clean seams.

9. Never scratch the surface.

8. Measure it. Then remeasure it.

7. No bubbles, no troubles.

6. Don’t fight the vinyl: It will always win.

5. Clean, clean, clean.

4. Jagged cuts make people nuts.

3. Don’t blame the printer!

2. No, it’s not paint.

And the number one tip for an awesome-looking vehicle wrap:

Triangulate*. Read the vinyl: It wants to get laid.

*To triangulate the vinyl refers to applying the tension to the material differently for vehicles. “In many cases (walls and windows), the tension is dispersed horizontally or vertically,” explained Interligi, “but when working with compound shapes, such as on vehicles, that tension is sometimes best directed in a triangular direction as opposed to a linear one.”