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Wrappers Ed. 2014

Budget note for 2014: Print firm owners should not sign up employees for vehicle graphics training unless they want their company to be in the installation business, advised Rob Ivers of Rob Ivers, Inc., Raymore, MO. Ivers has been wrapping vehicles for more than 20 years and specializes in graphic installation training. “There are resources for outsourcing installation, such as PDAA [the Professional Decal Application Alliance], which could allow them to stay focused on sales and production,” he said.

However, if installation is a core service offering, “almost every installer can benefit from quality, hands-on training,” Ivers explained. Luis Tirado of WBC Graphics in Central Florida summed it up using a military analogy: “Do we train our soldier before they deploy?” rhetorically asked Tirado, who is 3M Preferred Certified Graphics Installer. “Hands-on training increases confidence and minimizes failures,” he said. “Practice makes perfect, so the more hands on, the better for less mistakes … and more profits.”

Josh Palmer, another former 3M student, added: “I think it’s a great idea for any print company in the wide-format and solvent jet printing industry to sign up employees for installation training,” said Palmer, the owner of Vital Sign & Design in Webster, NY. “This is not only beneficial from the standpoint of being a more self-sufficient company, but also from the standpoint of just having a basic understanding of the install process. Knowledge of the whole process can only serve to make the business more dynamic.

“The hands-on training we received from 3M was imperative to the growth of our business,” Palmer continued. “They answered nearly every question we had on the process.” He and his colleagues had already been installing for several years before the training and had always felt that they were falling short on some key techniques, Palmer explained. “After the three-day training course and subsequent testing, we left there fully confident that we could take on any installation job.”

Classes Vary

Not all classes and instructors are created equal, Ivers noted. “Some are geared toward general, introductory skills; some are for the price-conscious; and some are very expensive,” the trainer said. If you are considering investing in training next year, here are three important questions to ask, according to Ivers:

  • Is the curriculum what you really need?
  • What is the ratio of students to instructors?
  • How much actual hands-on time is included?

Installer Ken Forner of PROmotion Graphics, Carver, MN, found a car-wrap workshop he likes and said he will be registering for another session in 2014. “Since your workshop, wrapping has become more fun and less hard work,” Forner wrote to independent wrap guru Justin Pate in an email. Pate is an Avery Dennison and 3M-certified instructor and installer with more than 17 years of experience working in the United States and Europe. In his email, Forner attached a photo of police vehicle door wraps he installed since learning some of Pate’s methods. In a competitive business where time can mean money, “I cut my install time by two-thirds and have a better quality job,” he reported.

Media supplier Avery Dennison partnered with printer hardware manufacturer Mutoh to offer wrap sessions with Pate two years ago. The educational training program since has been expanded to include color change films as well. “Justin is very popular,” noted Paul Roba, Avery Dennison’s North American technical manager. “He is very good at simplifying applications.” With an average class size of 17 people, the setting is relatively intimate, Roba said, “giving students time with Justin and time on the vehicles we provide.” He pointed out that people come to learn, first and foremost, but they also come to earn certification credentials. “SGIA/PDAA Master Certified installers are listed on a consumer website,” he added:

Edmund Karam, president of Lucent Wraps, Costa Mesa, CA, is a fan, too. “The techniques I learned at the Avery Dennison seminar have drastically improved our quality, and our business has taken off,” Karam praised. “We’re building an excellent reputation for the best quality wraps in the Orange County area.”

In Sherman, TX, Scott Bechtel, owner of Car Wrap City, near Dallas/Fort Worth, added his kudos as well: “As a growing wrap company, I first owe my success to Justin Pate, who has turned wrapping vehicles into a true art, taking pride in every wrap as if it would be on display in the Guggenheim,” wrote Bechtel, whose firm has six climate-controlled installation suites – four in Texas, including Plano and Houston locations, one in New Orleans, and another in Charlotte, NC. “Secondly, Avery Dennison MPI 1005 film is another reason for my success. Justin showed me the difference in the … material, and I have become a believer and now only buy MPI 1005. This is a dream to print and apply, giving us another step up in giving the customer the best wrap possible.”

Smaller Scale

Lowen Certified prefers an even smaller audience, where an “average class size of only four students assures good training,” notes master trainer Ray Carlson. “It’s highly personalized.” Carlson works for the training arm of Lowen Color Graphics, the world’s largest fleet graphics specialists. The 63-year-old firm, based in Hutchinson KS, executes high-profile work seen on trucks moving across the country for clients including FedEx, Frito Lay, and the US Postal Service.

Lowen’s media of choice is 3M high-premium film, which Carlson said is “very forgiving.” In addition to a close working relationship with 3M, Lowen Certified also partners with the United Application Standards Group. A dues-based organization, “UASG certifies entire companies as opposed to individuals,” Carlson explained, adding that Lowen’s smaller-scale operation trains an average of eight to 10 students per month. Lowen Certified training classes also have the unusual distinction of being college accredited through Hutchinson (KS) Community College. “Two days of design and installation training equates to two credit hours,” Carlson said.

3 Common Mistakes

Why do so many wrap customers request certified or vendor-preferred installers? “It becomes a trust issue,” said Carlson. “The risks are too great, especially if someone is spending $100,000 to wrap 50 buses.”

Not only do many customers request certified installers but some customers demand it, Vital Sign & Design’s Palmer pointed out. “There are some larger national fleet and retail graphics companies that simply will not use anyone but a 3M certified company or 3M preferred installer. They know that they can put their full confidence in any installer who has achieved these accreditations. It is the benchmark for this industry.”

Ivers added, “I have trained and tested hundreds of people, and some are very, very good. The majority, while good, don’t realize how many things they don’t know. And these things, when learned and mastered, could make them much better and often faster as well.”

Tim Boxeth, marketing manager for 3M Commercial Graphics, agreed. “Installation is part science and part art,” Boxeth said. “One really needs to spend time developing their skills with hands-on training either on their own or with some guidance. Inevitably, challenges arise and it’s very helpful to have a trainer there to assist/teach.

“Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know,” he added. “So our attendees generally pick up on something new. With good installers, the business will obviously benefit from good-looking wraps that last. There are cost savings and happier customers. Good installers can also provide great direction on materials selection and design to produce a better wrap.”

Lowen’s Carlson added that three mistakes are commonly made by lesser qualified installers:

  • Improper surface preparation: Despite aggressive adhesives, surfaces still must be chemically prepped – not just cleaned with a soapy rag. At a minimum, isopropyl alcohol is required to remove polish.
  • Proper post-heating at several hundred degrees: Heat guns or propane torches are necessary equipment to activate adhesives and bring them up to the surface.
  • Knowing how to deal with compound curves: When applying wraps on bumpers and fenders, over-stretching can lead to unsightly wrinkles in the media.

“Hands-on education is the only way to go,” said Tonya Kimbrell of Finish Line Graphics & Signs, Dobson, NC, another former 3M student. “These instructors share … tried-and-true tricks. Seeing how the film behaves with just the right amount of heat and the way special tools work allow for ease and speed in graphics installations,” Kimbrell continued. “Students then mimic these methods, with the instructor by their side to guide, step by step, until the student is confident they can repeat the process on their own. If students choose to stay for the testing to become 3M preferred installers, they have the opportunity to prove they can use these methods and provide a quality install job.”

Wrap training workshops can help employees make less mistakes and better choices-- both in prep, install and post work, according to Pate. It also reduces stress which, “for me, is one of the biggest aspects of efficiency,” he noted. “I think another, less obvious benefit … is confidence. If the employees really like graphics, they get excited about the opportunity to learn more. They also feel like the owner is willing to invest in them, which, in turn, makes them work harder and smarter.”

Finally, installers who take the time and money to pass a certification show that they are responsible and professional which, in turn, makes customers seek them out over installers who are not. “To get certified, installers are essentially betting on themselves,” Pate believes, “and you don’t win big if you don’t bet big.”

And what about those print firms who want to stay focused on sales and production but avoid installation? “The network of 3M preferred installers allows print shop owners to take jobs outside their area and still have the confidence the job will be performed to their expectations,” Kimbrell pointed out.

Boxeth reported that 3M and its authorized partners offer training and testing options every month around the country. “There is a minimum of one class per month, dependent on demand. If there is an increase in demand, more classes can be scheduled,” he explained. “Classes are focused on vehicles, trailers, rough walls, smooth walls, floors, and boats. The classes are good preparation for one of the 3M tests.”

In 2013 Avery offered between 10 and 27 different classes, all of which sold out, according to Roba. “Classes are reasonably priced,” he contended, “and the cost is offset by the sample rolls of media and tools that students get to take with them. There are two dozen more [classes] slated for next year,” Roba added. “People are already asking if we’ll be offering training [next fall] at the SGIA specialty imaging expo and SEMA show [for automotive specialty products].”

2014 Class Schedules

PDDA and Rob Ivers Classes

PDAA has asked Ivers to offer some training classes geared towards gaining the proficiency for master certification. “And not just that,” he said, “but [also] classes that cover a broad spectrum of skills and techniques to help both the beginner and the experienced installer. I am in the process of putting together a new series of classes that will be held at Image1 Impact in Southern California beginning in March 2014. The schedule should be completed soon and will be available on both my website and PDAA’s: and"

Avery Dennison/Mutoh Resources

3M Resources

Justin Pate’s 2014 Workshop Schedule

“2013 was a banner year in terms of workshops,” Pate reported. In 2012, he taught 15 workshops for Avery Dennison in North America; 10 of those were the Avery/Mutoh School of Wrap. In 2013, he taught 32 workshops for Avery Dennison worldwide  – “and they all sold out months in advance,” he said.

Pate also sells instructional DVDs at and has a new streaming video platform at

“I think videos, either streaming or DVDs, can only go so far in terms of teaching,” Pate concluded. “There is something about seeing demonstrations live that makes a big difference in the learning process: Questions can be answered immediately or techniques put into practice right away.

“Many of the students who take the workshops I teach have watched my videos. They all say that, as informative as the videos are, seeing the techniques live enabled them to grasp the overall process better and quicker. There is almost a magic quality about a workshop in that regard -- the hands-on teaching and feeling the light bulbs go off. This makes investing in a hands-on workshop a very worthwhile investment for a wrap business because the payoff is tangible the next day. There is a bigger jump in efficiency, quality, and durability from a good hands-on workshop than any other type of educational platform.”