A lot of time and energy go into designing the perfect vehicle wrap for clients whether it’s for a business or special event. What is not often addressed is how to remove the wraps once they are no longer needed. Our experts weigh in on tips for removing wraps.
According to Paul Roba, technical support manager, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions, an easy removal starts even before the wrap is installed. “The vehicle should be cleaned of all dirt, the paint should be in good condition, and the vehicle should be wiped down with isopropyl alcohol prior to the vinyl being applied. To ensure best removal, test the paint prior to application for sound adhesion to the vehicle. It helps to avoid problems down the road. Then, it’s important to post heat the film after it’s installed on the vehicle. Primer can cause problems in removing wraps if the instructions aren’t followed on the install of the graphics.
“Another key to a successful removal is proper care of the wrap during its installed life. Regular cleaning, and sealing of the material will keep the vinyl more supple, and make it easier to remove.”
The material itself is also key. “Use a removable material to begin with test compatibility of materials before installation,” said Jason Yard, Marketing Manager, MACtac Distributor Products. “In warm weather, place the vehicle outside for at least an hour in the sun before removal. If cold or indoor, use a heat gun or torch to heat large sections of the wrap. Pull back on the material at 180 degrees from itself to allow the adhesive to release easier.”
Holly Curtis, Director of Marketing Communications, Arlon Graphics added, “There are two important techniques that need to be mastered if you want every wrap removal to be quick and leave minimal adhesive residue: achieve the correct temperature consistently over the largest area possible and always pull at the correct angle.”
Soup to Nuts
When it comes to the removal of the wraps, Roba suggested products and techniques for easy removal.
“With a weed burner, heat entire decal by holding heat source approximately six to 12 inches (15 - 30cm) away from surface. After heating entire decal for approximately 30 to 60 seconds, loosen a corner of the decal, and pull marking back slowly. A slow, steady pulling and lifting action at less than 90° angle will usually prevent films from breaking and will remove most of the adhesive from the substrate. If the decal becomes hard to pull, stop, reheat the decal, and proceed with removal. Adhesive residue may be removed by wiping with a clean saturated rag of XXL1000 decal remover, heptane, Xylene, and/or mixture of 75 percent MEK and 25 percent Toluene or by using Rapid Tac Rapid Remover – Adhesive Remover Formula or Crystal Tec Vinyl Off & Adhesive Off.
“There are also several chemical removal products on the market, and they can be used as well. It’s important to follow the directions of the chemical manufacturer, and be sure to use protective equipment as the manufacturer advises.”
According to Mike Grillo, president, RoadRage Designs, the technique to removal of a wrap can be as different as the types of vehicle wrapped. “Each brand of material will have its own challenge. During the wrap process some brands require the use of primers. These primers will also have to be removed. The age of a wrap will also affect the removal as well as the demographics of where the vehicle wrap spent its life,” said Grillo.
“Start by lifting a corner or edge of the material and upward and outward away from the edge. Depending on the ambient temperature the wrap may remove in a very large piece or break into smaller pieces. If it breaks into smaller pieces a heat source to warm the material will be needed. Be careful to not over heat the material as this could cause the material to melt and become more difficult to remove. If removing from fiberglass found on some box trucks or boats it is recommended to do this indoors on cool and windy days. Fiberglas transfers heat faster than metal on cars or trucks. By the time you get fiberglass warm, the cool ambient temperature or wind will cool the surface down before you can even start removing. Once all the vinyl is removed there may be a residue of adhesive some areas. Especially in areas where a primer was used,” he instructed.
“At MACtac, we rely on a heat gun, torch, sun, and patience,” said Yard. “If any adhesive is left behind a remover will be necessary, such as isopropyl alcohol, xylene or adhesive off.”
Curtis offers a number of techniques for removal. “1)Temperature – There are many ways to apply heat when removing a wrap but you need to remember, unlike standard vinyl graphics, wraps completely cover the vehicle so the heat applied needs to cover a large area consistently. Torches and heat guns are very regional heat sources and will cost you a lot of extra time. These heat sources also create hot spots that can damage the bond of adhesive and facestock causing the adhesive to stay behind. The perfect temperature for a wrap removal is 120ºF which the sun can evenly supply on a clear 90ºF day. If you don’t have a sunny warm day, buy an IR heater. Image One Impact has a double rack IR heater perfect for wrap removals. Simply set the heater 36 inches away from the surface and in two minutes an entire quarter panel is evenly heated and ready to remove. As you remove that piece, you can be heating the next area…one person, two hands working. This is the fastest and cleanest method of wrap removal.
2) Angle – Always pull the vinyl at less than a 90º angle and always pull up and away toward yourself. This puts the least amount of stress on the bond of adhesive to face stock resulting in a clean removal. I prefer pulling at a 30 - 45º angle.
“Products: If there is residue left behind, there are many adhesive cleaning chemicals
Available but my personal favorite is made by ZEP and is called Orange Gel. Unlike most degreasers, this is a gel so it doesn’t run off the vehicle but rather clings to the area working deeper into the adhesive for a quicker removal and using much less product. Orange Gel is water soluble so simply apply it, let it sit five minutes (at 70ºF) and power wash both the adhesive and degreaser completely. Finally, wipe down with IPA and the surface is ready for the next wrap!”
Before You Begin…
Roba suggests that before beginning any removal you need to have all the tools and products needed to remove the wrap together in one place. “This can help save time and make the removal go faster.”
Grillo added, “Warm a vehicle up inside a building on cold days. We wash a vehicle if heavily soiled prior to removal.”
Yard warned against using unnecessary chemicals. “We recommend that you do not use primer 94 or other adhesive promoters unless absolutely necessary. If the correct material is used and installed properly, a promoter is rarely needed for removal. Always thoroughly clean the vehicle with soap and water or xylene and lastly IPA.”
Curtis reiterated that installers need to be educated about proper installation which helps removing a wrap much easier.
“First tip is for the installers! Over post-heating in channels and edges will result in adhesive residue! If the wrap was done with less than premium wrap material the bond may be too strong to remove a large area at once. Very very lightly score the surface of the laminate only—do not cut through—in long lines about 12 inches apart. Thin strips will remove easier but this must be done with extreme care so that the paint is not scratched beneath the vinyl. If there is no laminate and the wrap is coming of in dime sized pieces, apply the Orange Gel lightly with a cloth and let stand for only three minutes then heat and remove immediately. The Orange Gel will soften the surface making the media lift much easier without breaking into small pieces.”
When it comes to new techniques or trends when removing wraps, Roba noted, “There do appear to be more chemical methods being promoted, as they are designed to revitalize the vinyl to make removal easier. By revitalizing the vinyl, it softens on the substrate and helps prevent the material from snapping during removal.”
“If a wrap is created with a quality cast material and brand it should remove fairly easy within four to five years of the installation and the demographics of where the vehicle was. I am speaking primarily for the Midwest,” said Grillo.
Most vinyl manufacturers have premium product lines that are clean removing which typically means they guarantee no more than 25 percent of the adhesive will be left behind during removal,” said Curtis. “This has been the standard for many years.”
Film Removal Tips from 3M Commercial Graphics Solutions
Consider a graphic film’s efficiency beyond just installation
When you’re estimating how much time you’ll spend on a graphic film project, you likely think about the installation characteristics of the film and the size of the area to be covered. But many times, your job doesn’t end there. What happens at the end of the film’s life, when your customer is ready to change it? Consider these tips to make the graphic removal process smoother and more efficient:
- Your choice of film will have the biggest impact on the ease of removal after use. Films are available with changeable, removable or permanent adhesives to fit the needs of your project. Work closely with your customer to identify their needs and which film will best meet them.
- The condition of the substrate also plays a big role in the removal process. When applying graphic film over a painted surface, remember that the more oxidized the paint is, the more film will adhere to it. Sometimes, old paint can make removal more difficult than usual.
- The thickness of your graphic has an important effect on removal as well. For greater ease in removal, opt for thicker materials like overlaminate films instead of clear coats. With thicker construction, films don't tear as easily upon removal.
- The age of the graphic at removal can make a difference in how easily it peels away. As materials age, they break down and become more difficult to remove. Keep in touch with customers to help them remember when the graphic’s recommended lifespan is up.
- Heat is your friend in the removal of many films. If you’re removing film from a vehicle, take the work outside and let the sun be your assistant. For indoor installations, heating the graphic with a heat source – such as a weed burner, torch, heat gun or steamer – will aid in easier film removal. Remember that films can become brittle in cold weather, so try to avoid removal when temperatures are below 40° F.
- Follow the manufacturer’s recommended angle of removal. Some films require a high pull-off angle, meaning you pull the film back onto itself for removal. For other films a low angle works better. Using the correct pull-off angle can reduce the amount of adhesive residue left behind, saving you valuable time.
For more in-depth information from 3M about efficient removal of graphic films, check out Faster Removal – Increased Productivity.