With the help of new products and technology, test-driving the vehicle wrap market can accelerate your business into the black.
By Sigrid Tornquist
When vehicle wraps exploded onto the market in the 1990s in all their mobile, colorful and visually enticing ways—we stood still. We stood and watched as advertisements rolled by us on street corners, highways and freeways. Those invested in the digital world wondered how they could catch a piece of this digitally printed mobile marketing, without breaking the bank. Now, as businesses struggle to emerge atop a sluggish economy, many are recognizing that as price points decline for digital printers, and with the development of new films and adhesives, vehicle wraps can be a real opportunity for growth.
“Look around,” says Rob Ivers, Rob Ivers Inc. in Raymore, Mo. “What percentage of vehicles are sporting graphics and wraps? Nearly every business that uses a vehicle can benefit from attractive, well-designed graphics.”
“As technology advances and materials become more cost effective, it is easier than ever to enter this market,” says Charity Jackson, president of Visual Horizons Custom Signs in Modesto, Calif. “If you train yourself and your staff in the design, selling and installation of wraps, you can definitely make money doing it.” But, she warns, it’s not something you can “dabble” in.
“If you’re going to make any money doing wraps, you need to be efficient and effective, and that means doing your homework,” Jackson says. She recommends reading trade magazines targeting the sign industry, attending sign industry trade shows to talk with suppliers and explore printer options, and attending wrap training classes.
“There is no other advertising medium that for the money can perform pound for pound, square inch for square inch, or can outperform any other form of advertising,” says Troy Downey of APE Wraps, Coronado, Calif. “However, the return depends upon the structure of the design. Is it clear and concise and appealing?”
Vehicle wrap experts agree. If the design isn’t well thought out with the installer in mind, the project will fail. Period. The three-dimensionality of vehicles, the curves and contours, complicate the design process.
“Make sure that any long lines of text or logos that must be perfectly straight are printed and applied separately,” says Ritchie Daize, international print media sales manager for California-based company Arlon Inc. “There’s no shame in that whatsoever. The wrap doesn’t need to go on in one piece. Then make sure that all of the transition zones, such as going from the side of the vehicle to the hood, are a neutral design.”
The other consideration, which often gets overlooked, is to be sure the intention of the customer gets translated into an effective design. “Nothing makes me crazier than seeing a vehicle wrap with photos and graphics, bright colors and tons of text, and I have no idea what the company is selling,” Jackson says. “The sign company that did that wrap wasted the customer’s money.”
The successful execution of an effective design means having a first-rate installer, which can be a challenge. “Don’t underestimate the difficulty of wrapping vehicles,” Ivers says. “Either get some excellent training and prepare yourself for the reality that it’s going to take some time to master, or hire a professional.”
“The installation can be the single most expensive part of the wrap,” says Randy Anderson, program manager for software, media and color for Mutoh America. Knowing how much time to budget for each project can mean the difference between making money on a project or not.
“If you can’t quote the job from the beginning and know how many hours it’s going to take, then you shouldn’t be quoting the job,” Daize says.
Among installation challenges is the fact that vinyl has a memory and wants to return to its original shape, and stretching can lead to lifting and failures. “Complex curves cannot be installed without stretching,” Ivers says. “So stretch the vinyl the absolute minimum, which will be dictated by the complexity of the shape.” Daize recommends heating the vinyl to about 125 degrees. “Never warm only the area you want to stretch,” he says. “You want to divide the stretch over the largest amount of area possible so you minimize degradation of the film.”
Because vehicle wrap installation is a complex process, it’s worth investing time and money in attending a training program. One such program is the Professional Decal Application Alliance (PDAA) Certification program, which Ivers created in 1999 with the help of other industry professionals. The program is now run by the Specialty Graphics Imaging Association (SGIA) and offers training for those looking to hone their graphics installation skills. For businesses that prefer to sub out the installation portion of a vehicle wrap project, the PDAA provides contact information on PDAA Master Certified Installers.
Mutoh America has a training program. Carwraps Business Builder by MUTOH is a teaching program geared toward companies and individuals interested in entering the vehicle graphics industry, as well as for experienced wrappers.
Once you’ve been trained, the conventional wisdom is to wrap your own vehicle first. “You don’t want your first wrap to be for a paying customer,” Jackson says. When wrapping for clients, Ivers recommends starting by wrapping vehicles, such as Ford and Chevrolet full-size vans, and gradually moving to more challenging vehicles.
Though the learning curve is steep, new developments in films and adhesives are improving and simplifying the installation process. Avery Dennison recently launched Avery MPI 1005 Supercast series, an upgrade of the top-quality cast films range. “Supercast is more conformableand will work better with vehicles and architectural applications that have compound curving,” says Molly Waters, strategic sales support manager for Avery Dennison. Supercast films build on Avery Dennison’s MPI 1005 Easy Apply RS, which combines air egress technology (allowing installers to smooth out air bubbles easily) with removability and slideability, making installations quick and easy. “This product is changing the way we do business by enabling installers—either amateur or professional—to successfully install wraps on more challenging vehicles,” Downey says.
On the marketing side of new media developments is Arlon’s new reflective vinyl film. Historically, standard reflective vinyls were too brittle and not repositionable. Arlon’s DPF 2400 is repositionable and flexible. “The product allows you to wrap the entire car in reflective vinyl so you get even more marketing value at night than during the day,” Daize says. However, since the product is not air egress, it’s slightly more challenging to install, Daize says.
Other media trends include metal flake laminates and solid matte colors for personal high-end vehicles, especially black matte, a look sports car enthusiasts refer to as “murdered.”
Partial wraps are gaining popularity, increasing the accessibility to the customer by bringing down the materials and installation cost.
For printers, the HP Designjet latex printer is the most recent development. According to Daize, not only are there the obvious environmental benefits of using latex inks as opposed to solvent, but there are benefits to the final product as well. “Latex printers use steam to deliver the ink to the vinyl,” Daize says. “The pigments in the ink then etch themselves into the vinyl and nothing gets past the face stock. So your vinyl looks just the way we made it when it goes on the vehicle.” Daize predicts that most sign shops will have a latex printer in five years or so. “But if you already have a solvent or UV printer, wait until latex printers become more affordable,” he advises.
Bring in the business
For sign companies, breaking into the vehicle wrap market is a logical business expansion, and comes with a built-in client base.
“If you have a share of a customer’s graphic production and a good sense of their goals and needs, then you’re in the perfect place to fulfill more of their needs, including wall murals, floor graphics and vehicle wraps,” Ivers says. “Your existing clients already know you and trust you and will be pleased to find they can turn to you when they need vehicle advertising.”
Don’t expect your clients to automatically ask about your other printing capabilities—even if you have listed them on your website and on the walls of your office.
“Any time a customer wants a sign made, any time they want a wrap done, you should ask them about the status of their fleet,” Daize says. “They may not think of you as a fleet company, but you are. So when someone comes in for an illuminated sign, ask them about their trucks. Make your customers understand that you can meet those needs.”
“We live in a fast-paced culture with everyone on the move, and are inundated constantly with strong visual messages,” Ivers says. “Vehicle wraps are right there with us—on the go—capturing our attention and delivering their message.”