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Go for the Chrome

Chrome wraps are equally stunning as they are difficult to install.

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Simply put, chrome wraps are stunning. They have a wow factor that no other paint wrap film can achieve. As beautiful as a chrome wrap is, it is as equally difficult to install because chrome film is not for the faint of heart. The learning curve on really knowing how to install chrome is steep and the price per square foot of chrome is quite expensive, so it often takes a serious leap of faith and money to get into the chrome wrap game. However, with the following tips and information, learning how to properly install chrome film will hopefully become more like mastering any other paint wrap film, and then its game on because chrome wrap film is one of the most exciting products around.

Some Background
When chrome wraps came on the scene in the not so distant past, the film was often sort of a hybrid. A production or installation company would take a single color film with air egress and repositionable features and adhere it to a chrome layer (often made out of polyester). Some companies or installers would even put a solid lamination layer or translucent color film on top to help minimize scratches. This made for a semi-workable repositionable chrome film but one that was thick and stiff. These early chrome wraps got the ball rolling, and today many manufacturers are getting in the game and producing their own versions of chrome film. The adhesive layer is now fused on at the factory and the chrome layer can now be made out of cast polyurethane PVC, making it a bit more flexible. However, because of the need to make a metallization layer, chrome film is still much thicker and less conformable than normal paint wrap film.

Due to this thickness and wanting to maintain the luster, many manufacturers do not add a lamination layer on top of the chrome. No lamination layer makes chrome film extremely prone to scratching, especially during the install. Also, due to the fact that chrome film is thick (generally 6mm compared to 3.5-4mm for standard paint wrap films) it bunches up easily on any moderate curve. This bunching often leads to wrinkles or lines on the film. Due to the nature of the chrome layer, these wrinkles or lines cannot be “self-healed”. If the film becomes too hot or overstretched, it will whiten. Once chrome becomes white, the panel is ruined and has to be replaced. In short, putting on a chrome panel is a one shot deal so it all comes down to perfect set up, mastering curves and due diligence (a prayer to the wrap god helps as well).

The Scoop on Chrome
Tools
-Only work with a heat gun, use a squeegee that works with soap and water (chamois or cotton) and use a knife with a plastic holder instead of metal (plastic helps eliminate possible scratches when cutting away the excess film).

Install Techniques-Here are some important tips on installing chrome films.

  • Cleaning is extremely important with chrome because of how thick it is. “A spec of dirt can look like a friggin’ mountain” (a quote from Sean Tomlin at Designer Wraps who wrapped a Lamborghini in green chrome). Take extra time cleaning the vehicle at the beginning of the job then wipe each section a second time right before the panel is to be installed.
  • Flat surfaces can be applied with the standard installation technique of using the hinge method for holding the panel on the vehicle and then squeegeeing side to side. Be sure to spray the surface area (not the adhesive side) with soap and water and use a wet app squeegee if possible.
  • For curved areas, the big key is to completely throw normal technique out the window. For example, on most installs a good installer works alone and conforms the film around curves or into recessed areas by using technique and the flexibility of the film, heating the film only when absolutely needed. With chrome film, it’s all about heating first and working with 2-3 installers per panel.
  • Here’s how it works: Two installers pull off the backing paper and hold the panel in front of but not on the section to be applied. The third installer heats up the panel (chrome whitens quicker when on the surface and being held with tension than when it’s not touching anything). The big trick is to make the film hotter than when heating up standard paint wrap film. This makes it supple and significantly reduces bunching on curves.
    With the panel properly softened by the heat, the two installers holding the panel then form the chrome onto the curved section while the third installer continues to heat the film. NOTE: Really understanding how to manage the film around a corner is extremely important. Starting 1/4 inch too low or high on the curve or not pulling at precisely the right angle will lead to the film bunching up and then it’s game over.
    Once the chrome is on the section, spray the surface area with the soapy solution and squeegee the film on firmly onto the application surface. This method is labor intensive but, if done correctly, the chrome goes on perfectly with no wrinkles or whitening. Also, once the team gets a good flow, the install time will significantly pick up.
  • On recessed areas, don’t squeegee the film in tight then form the film in. The wider the bridge the better. Be sure to heat the chrome film up more than normal then form the film to the recessed area using an application glove or squeegee with lots of soap and water. Note if the film is not hot enough, permanent lines from the application glove or squeegee can occur. The key is to keep up the heat gun warming the film throughout the application. A good tip is to practice on these recessed areas with scraps of chrome before doing an entire panel. It’s better to screw up an 8 inch piece then a 4ft. x 4ft. panel.

Post Wrap-Here are some things to do after the wrap is applied.

  • Wipe down the surface area with an isopropyl/water mix and a low-friction hand towel. Avoid using straight alcohol because it can dull the chrome finish and paper towels can scratch. To maintain the pristine surface area, be sure to apply a generous coating of a finishing product from companies like Croftgate, Maguiar’s or Swissvax. The wax coating will help minimize scratching and maintain the luster. Some installers use a spray clear coat afterward, which can be purchased at an auto part store. Be sure to test these types of products on a piece of chrome beforehand.
  • Be careful when post-heating chrome as it can whiten if heated too much when on the body of the vehicle. Experiment beforehand to find the temperature the chrome film can get before whitening then use this as a guide for the finished wrap. You have to post heat, especially with thick films, so be sure to do it safely to ensure a professional finish.

Costs-Two big factors when pricing out a chrome wrap:

  • The cost of the film. Chrome films are expensive.
  • The labor hours. If normally two installers can install a standard paint wrap film in an eight-hour work day, then it would be a safe bet to double that time and add a third installer to the mix. Once the installers get a good feel for chrome, wasted film will drop to normal levels so the profit margins should become very good in short order.

Other Chrome Options
That all said, one thing worth mentioning is that if installing a full wrap in chrome still seems daunting, try using it as accent pieces to spice up a normal paint wrap. Chrome can be used on side mirrors, the top and/or inside of door handles and as striping. Either way, whether its full wrap or accent pieces, it’s clear that wrapping with chrome is not for the faint of heart and requires some unusual techniques and due diligence. Yet, mastering chrome can definitely help create higher profits and is a great way for attracting new clients. If wrapping vehicles was the Olympics then chrome is the gold medal. What medal do you want?

* From the 2013 issue of WRAPS magazine.

Justin Pate

Justin Pate is a graphic installer/instructor with over 18 years of experience working both in the U.S. and Europe. Justin teaches workshops across the world most notably for Avery Dennison and Mutoh in North America. In 2014, he launched The Wrap Institute (www.wrapinstitute.com). Currently, The Wrap Institute is comprised of hundreds of HD streaming videos that cover all aspects of graphic installations. For more information on Justin check out @justinpatewrapper on Instagram.

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