Choosing the Right Material for the Job

Selecting the proper wrap film isn't as simple as you might think.

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Here we are in The Age of Wraps, where I believe we have nearly come full circle. If you’ve been in the business for a while, you remember when vehicle wraps were the newest and hippest thing in our industry-the rock-star of graphics.

Today wraps have become much more utilitarian. Advertisers know that wraps should be a part of every company’s marketing strategy due to the low cost per impression. However, with wraps being so much more popular than they were several years ago, you would think the material selection process for vehicle wraps would be easy, right? Um-not really.

There are more materials on the market today than ever before, and they seem to keep coming at you from every direction. Some come along with great support, some not so much.

Let’s look at the various types of film materials that you should be considering when wrapping vehicles, and we’ll get the perspectives of industry experts to help guide your decision-making process.

Choose Wisely
I have messed up a lot of material in my time, but fortunately it was other people’s money. I started working in a small sign company, then moved on to a large commercial shop. I eventually joined up with the vinyl film manufacturer Oracal.

This change of perspective has allowed me to learn exactly why I sometimes struggled with a particular film, or why a certain job failed prematurely. And looking back, the main reason was mostly because I simply chose the wrong material for the job. I learned that there is a very good reason why vinyl manufacturers use the terms like economyintermediate and high-performance to describe their product. When it comes to choosing vehicle wrap films, material composition is everything, and we’re about to get a crash course on why you must choose wisely.

Today the most prevalent films used in vehicle wrapping are PVC-based products with a pressure-sensitive adhesive. But the fact is that they are not all made the same. By this, I mean there are calendered and cast films that can be used as wrapping films. Cast film is usually thinner, more pliable and more-expensive than calendered film. The trick is to know which one can be used in a particular application.

Calendered Films
When choosing a calendered film for wrapping, you must always make sure that it is a polymeric film (also referred to as High Performance or Ultracalendered). Monomeric is the other type of calendered film, but is best used only on flat-surface applications.

Now, just because we can use a polymeric calendered film for vehicle wrapping doesn’t mean it can be used on any vehicle. In fact, this is where there I see a lot of confusion in the industry-installers trying to push the envelope of a material to conform to surfaces it simply wasn’t designed to fit.

To verify this, I “reached across the aisle” for some input from Tim Boxeth, the Commercial Graphics Business Manager for 3M. He agreed that the number one mistake made when selecting a film for wrapping is “choosing a film that is not conformable enough and does not offer the proper lifting resistance,” says Boxeth, who adds that the very first thing to look at when choosing a wrapping film is the shape of the thing you are wrapping.

“One needs to consider the object to be wrapped and its shape,” says Boexth. “A challenging shape requiring 150 percent stretch demands one kind of film; a shape requiring 130 percent stretch demands another kind; and a flat surface may demand another.”

Specific applications where polymeric calendered films can be used include the sides of a box truck, a semi-tractor trailer and certain step vans. For partial wraps, these films could be used on mildly contoured vehicles where excessive stretching is not needed-bumpers are certainly not recommended.

Cast Films
Cast wrapping films, because of their properties, offer a little more versatility when it comes to vehicle applications. The one significant difference between a calendered film and a cast film starts on the manufacturing line. Calendered films start out more like a thick, soft version of Play-Doh, which is extruded through a series of heated rollers until the appropriate mil thickness is obtained.

Conversely, cast films start out as a liquid that is poured onto a carrier sheet, milled to the correct thickness then instantly cured by baking them at a high temperature. This process almost eliminates the stress placed on the film and allows the material to be much more pliable. This gives an installer the ability to stretch the film around a fender or bumper and not have to worry about it pulling or “shrinking” back to its original shape (which is the problem with calendered films).

The types of vehicles that can be wrapped with cast films are almost limitless, and if you ever want a fail-safe selection process, you should always select cast films for all your wrap projects. The drawback of course is the fact that cast films are more expensive than calendered. And you just know that your competitor is quoting his job based on exactly what the vehicle type is and what films he can use to maximize his profit. Choosing the right film for the job is best.

Educate the Client
I want to touch on two things here that I feel are mutually beneficial to you and your client-the first thing is education. It is a good idea to have a couple different printed samples of the types of material you are proposing when you meet with your client to discuss their wrap.

Once the client can see and feel the material, then you can explain to them the differences and the value proposition of each and let them decide. Remember show and tell in grade school? In this situation you are creating a more educated buyer and giving them some decision-making power in the process as well.

Film vs. Liquid Laminates
The other thing that will serve you and protect your client is the importance of laminating your graphics. This can be achieved using either a cold (hard) film laminate, or by using a liquid laminate. For wrap applications, we always recommend using a cast film laminate (no matter if you are using polymeric calendered or cast printing film) because they offer more protection from abrasion and add more “body” to the wrap, which helps make the application easier.

I also reached out to Molly Waters, Technical Specialist at Avery Dennison, to get her perspective. “I’ve found that the chemical and abrasion resistance are better with hard film laminates versus liquid,” says Waters. “The hard laminate also provides a 1.3 mil to 2 mil added thickness to the printed media making it possible for the installer to apply without an application tape. If a liquid laminate is used, the overall construction is too thin to apply without an application tape.”

What’s Trending Now…
The last topic I want to address is the newer materials that are available today. What’s the hottest thing now and what do we see coming around the corner? Well, one of the fastest growing areas of vehicle wraps is solid colored vehicle wraps, sometimes called “paint wraps.”

Although these films have been out for several years, they have rapidly gained popularity due to the consumer market as a paint alternative and/or vehicle personalization.

At Oracal, we are constantly increasing our offering of film colors and textures to meet this demand-3M and Avery have also seen this as a growth segment for the industry and are expanding their offerings.

“The solid wraps are starting to increase the popularity of wraps in the consumer market,” says Waters. “I see this mainly with the matte black film and some of the new textured films. People are having their personal car wrapped to change the look.”

Doug Blackwell, 3M Commercial Graphics Business Development Manager, agrees. “Customization is key as customers want to be as distinctive as possible,” he says. “Colored wrap films bring users an even greater number of out-of-the-ordinary finishes, textures and color options to create customized vehicle wraps that stand out from the crowd.”

Educate Yourself
I know it’s a lot to digest in a short amount of reading, but I think we covered the most important points in regards to the right types of vinyl to use when wrapping vehicles. However, the most important thing you can do is to continue to educate yourself on the materials available to you. If you ever have questions regarding any material you are considering for an application, reach out to the manufacturer for their recommendations so you get your information directly from the source. Lastly, keep reading!

Craig Campbell

Craig Campbell is Business Manager at ORAFOL USA. He is an industry veteran with deep background in wrap films and applications.

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