Applying vehicle wraps can be relatively painless (see “Thick Skins: Wrap Installtion Tips” MyPRINTResource.com/1088799) , but taking them off – without damaging the surface underneath? That’s another story altogether. “Stripping vinyl is the ugly side of our work,” said David Wysong...
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Applying vehicle wraps can be relatively painless (see “Thick Skins: Wrap Installtion Tips” MyPRINTResource.com/1088799), but taking them off – without damaging the surface underneath? That’s another story altogether. “Stripping vinyl is the ugly side of our work,” said David Wysong, sales manager of Atlanta-based Adnormous Graphics. “A lot of sign makers would rather not do it.” Shad Interligi is in that camp. “I really dread removals and usually sub [sub-contact] them out,” admitted Interligi, owner of outdoor installation firm Real Hit Media, White Plains, NY.
There are, however, a variety of tools, techniques, and industry secrets that take away dread and add profits to the task of vinyl stripping. One stripping “don’t” involves abrasive solutions. Anything abrasive, experts agreed, could quickly damage the paint on an automobile. And using Exacto knives or razor blades on vinyl that has been applied to a vehicle is just plain foolish. It’s too easy to nick the paint and bring liability to the sign shop. “They can chip and scratch paint,” said Seattle wrap specialist Tim Cole of BIGink, which prefers rubber squeegees and plastic blades. Specialty removal tools, such as the Little Chiseler, also are available.
In an online blog, Sunrise Signs, a custom wraps and graphics shop in Gloucester City, NJ, offered reassuring advice: “As long as the vinyl hasn’t been left on for years past its original warranty (ours is five years) and it wasn’t applied directly after the vehicle was painted (always wait at least three weeks), your wrap can be removed without any damage to the paint job underneath.”
Rob Ivers of Rob Ivers, Inc., Raymore, MO, has been wrapping vehicles for 20 years and specializes in graphic installation training. He added his perspective. “Most of how it comes off depends on what it was applied to and how it was applied. Applying a wrap (or any vinyl) to a repainted vehicle may cause issues, especially during removal,” Ivers warned. “Any issues with paint and/or clear coat before installation will likely be made worse when removed.”
There’s also what seems like a no-brainer: Do not cut the paint when applying or removing. “Use heat to remove wraps,” Ivers added. “Most use a weed burner for quick, even heat. This is the ideal tool but caution must be used to not damage the vinyl or vehicle. Other heat devices are typically just too slow for efficient removal. And don’t go crazy with Primer 94 or similar during installation,” Ivers concluded. “Those areas will leave adhesive at the removal stage, making removal more time-consuming.”
Adam Blackman, a 3M preferred installer and owner of ThreeFour Wraps, agreed with that last point. “It’s my biggest pet peeve: previous installers who have ‘painted’ with Primer 94,” said Blackman, who has been designing and installing vehicle graphics for 14 years. He got his start applying vehicle markings for trucking companies and police departments as well as the Secret Service. Citing primer overload as “the absolute worst situation,” Blackman said he has seen “boats and vans where every edge and contour has been painted -- with rollers!” The removal task for such excess primer requires a trio of adhesive remover, squeegees, and pressure-washers.
“We do mostly heat-and-peel [removals], so being in a controlled area is preferred – indoors, not outside,” added Blackman, who started ThreeFour Wraps near Philadelphia in 2005 and has done instructional videos for the US Air Force. When using a heat gun or torch in an outdoor environment, “a wind coming from the wrong direction can bubble the paint off a rear door,” he explained. Exercise caution with chemicals that soften paint so as not to “cook” it. “Chemically removing vinyl is costly, time-consuming, and very messy,” Blackman cautioned.