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The wrap race: Vinyl films on the transportation fast track

Feature, Graphics, Markets | June 1, 2012 | By:

Vinyl films help vehicles—trucks, boats, planes, trains and automobiles—meet at the “finish” line, and the consumer market is on the inside track.

A connoisseur of Armani and custom shirts, Greg Purdy may seem like a fish out of water driving a pinkish-purple Scion with bright yellow letters on the front fender exclaiming “Wow!”

But the media relations manager is just doing his job: promoting The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies wherever he goes. The Follies’ three company vehicles—all wrapped in graphics with quotes from NBC’s Today show (the “Wow!”) and People magazine—log 50,000 to 60,000 miles a year in California, Nevada and Arizona.

Intrigued by the flashy design, valets have asked about the stage show and then asked for brochures to hand out, Purdy says.

Moving targets

According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, marketing media targeting vehicle drivers and passengers reach more than 95 percent of Americans, and one vehicle wrap can generate between 30,000 to 70,000 impressions daily.

“I’m in a city of 250,000. They say in our market a $4,000 vehicle wrap is equal to $85,000 in television ads,” says Jed McDonough, owner of Image Monster, a large-format print shop in Wilmington, N.C., that has been wrapping vehicles since 2001. “Clients call and say, ‘This is the most amazing marketing I have ever done.’”

“Historically, large brand owners—Coca-Cola, UPS—understood the value of using their vehicles as media assets,” says Tim Boxeth, business development manager of 3M, St. Paul, Minn., which makes wrap films, adhesives and laminates. “Over the last six years, the small- to medium-business owner—the electrician, the plumber—has come to understand the value of their van, or five vans, as a media asset.”

Rod Voegele, president of GatorWraps in Ontario, Calif., can attest to that value firsthand. His own wrapped Cadillac Escalade had been spotted more than once in Newport Beach, where he lives, by fellow resident Chris Welsh. “He said, ‘I saw your car driving around and took the number down, because we are considering wrapping our sub.’ He never mentioned initially what it was. He said, ‘Here’s what you need to know, and here’s what I need to know from you.’” The man turned out to be co-founder (with Richard Branson) of Virgin Oceanic, and the project was their deep-sea explorer sub and its docking station, a 125-foot catamaran. “When the catamaran and sub were unveiled [in April 2011], there was media from around the world,” Voegele says.

Wayne Boydstun, COO of Fusion Imaging Inc. in Kaysville, Utah, was among the earliest vehicle wrappers in 1995 (Fusion Imaging was a beta site for wrap material suppliers). He has wrapped planes, trains and automobiles—and boats.

“It used to be Fox and Nike,” he says, referring to his early clients and the once-high cost of wraps. “Now landscapers and other small companies have been able to get into this.”

Lasting (but flexible) impressions

A car wrap, particularly on horizontal surfaces, may not last as long in the deserts of the Southwest as it would in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Pennsylvania. Warranties vary (even for different surfaces), but film manufacturers and installers mention a general five-year life span for vehicle wraps. In the harsh Palm Springs sun, the Follies’ wraps last only two years, but the show’s producers find the return on investment worth it: they’ve rewrapped their cars three times.

“I have in the local market 500 to 600 trucks that have been out there seven-plus years,” Boydstun says.

The longevity of boat wraps. which require a sealer to prevent water from seeping under the graphics, also depends on environmental factors (including how often a craft bumps into docks), but Boxeth says they generally last two to four years.

Of course, even paint fades and chips, and it’s easier to change the color or design of a car or boat with a wrap than with paint. In fact, wraps beat paint for that very reason: they are less permanent. Look at the racing industry, which has been wrapping cars for the past five years. As Sal Sigala Jr. notes on, race teams previously experimented with colors to get the right shades for sponsor logos and then had to go through a tortuous approval process involving company representatives, lawyers and NASCAR officials. Wraps have not only sped up that process, but also give race teams the advantages of a lighter car (paint is heavier) and the flexibility to add and remove sponsorship logos.

Technology in adhesives allows repositioning of graphics during installation, something you can’t do with paint. Another benefit of wraps, which come off cleanly, is that they protect the original finish.

Riding a trend

Voegele started GatorWraps in 2007 and has since wrapped motorcycles, cars (including racing cars), trucks (including food trucks) and vans, trailers (including concession stands), ORVs and RVs, big rigs, buses and boats. “We do anything from personalization of off-road toys and cars and one-owner shops up to national fleets,” says Voegele, noting his largest project encompassed 62 box trucks, which he rewrapped when the client ended a sponsorship. Though he’s still serving the commercial market with moving advertising and brand awareness, he notes “a huge uptick” in the personalization market in the last six to eight months.

“Our suppliers are coming out with pigmented vinyl in basic colors and metallic,” he says. “The new market is people who don’t want colorful graphics; they want a solid color.”

Doug Blackwell, 3M business development manager, says matte black base films with cut letters or logos on a reflective film for contrast, and films with the look of carbon fiber and brushed steel, are catching attention not only in the commercial market but also in the consumer market.

“The newest products in the vehicle wrap world are preprinted textures like carbon fiber and ostrich skin and alligator skin that feel and look real,” says McDonough, reporting on what he saw at the International Sign Expo in Orlando in March. “The companies that produce the products we print on are producing more and more, and their technologies are getting better and better.”

“Over the last couple of years, 3M has improved a lot on lifting in deep curves. 3M put new technology in films that really helped with conformability and more textures and colors,” Boxeth says. Blackwell adds that advances also have been made in inks that stretch into deep channels.

“Perhaps the newest and most exciting new products being developed for the wrap industry are the color-change or paint-replacement films,” says Ritchie Daize, international digital sales manager for Arlon Graphics, a film manufacturer in Santa Ana, Calif. “This trend began two years ago in Europe and the Middle East when exotic car owners began styling their cars by fully wrapping them to change their color. Rapidly, vehicle wrap vinyl suppliers began developing films that can perform well under the harsh demands of full paint-replacement car wraps. This is perhaps the fastest-growing segment in the global vehicle wrap market.”

Todd Hain, marketing communications manager for Avery Dennison Corp., a film manufacturer headquartered in Pasadena, Calif., says the number of shops around the country that offer wraps has grown exponentially. “I think part of the growth, at least in the last year or so and going forward, is changing the color and accents on your car as much as doing business wraps advertising something.” Avery Dennison’s Supreme Wrapping Film for paint replacement comes in 33 colors and finishes.

“The market for vehicle wraps, while it has been around 20 to 30 years, has shown good growth,” says Boxeth, noting that every year for the past six (with the exception of 2009, in the midst of the recession), the wrap market has seen double-digit growth. “We’re probably still in the early stages of growth,” he says. “There’s still a lot of opportunity for graphics manufacturers to ride this trend.”

Janice Kleinschmidt is a freelance writer and editor based in Palm Springs, Calif.

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