Your Guide to Bus Wraps

Know these key tips and tricks for bus wraps

Commercial vehicle wraps are an excellent form of mobile advertising. When you add in large, flat sides and an often highly mobile schedule, bus wraps take that advertising a step further.

While many types of businesses use box trucks and vans, the companies that use buses are often a more specific field. But like any other industry, knowing who to target is key to advertising your services. Using the correct media for the application and smart layout allows your company to be competitive on price and effective on the design.


For nearly 15 years we’ve been working with an advertising firm that sells bus ads, billboards, and other forms of advertising. Over that time, we’ve done many different types of ads on both shuttle-style buses and large city buses.

A majority of the graphics we do for our city transit buses are smaller, with standard ads on the two sides and the rear. Once in a while though, they will have a special ad that will wrap the entire side of the bus.

Although these are large wraps, they are still considered temporary, so we use a transit media for easy removability. Depending on availability, we use either General Formulations MetroMark transit vinyl or FLEXcon BUSmark 5800 transit media. Both of the vinyls have a temporary adhesive, making removal within the recommended six to 12 months a breeze.


For longer-term applications, we use a cast wrap film. These wraps are meant to be on for at least three years, so we use a premium vinyl and overlaminate that will last long-term. Since bus panels are generally flat, with minimal obstacles and rivets, 3M IJ180cV3, Arlon 6100XLP, Avery MPI1000 series and many other cast vinyls are great options.

I spoke with Jenn Ewing, owner of Ewing Graphics in Farmington, New York, about some of the bus projects they’ve worked on. With a bus manufacturer located nearby, their shop is kept busy handling all of the bus graphics for them. Ewing Graphics uses Arlon 6100 vinyl with an Arlon 3220 overlaminate on most of their buses since they are intended to be applied for long-term use. For projects that include graphics over the windows, they prefer Clear Focus perforated films with a 60/40 CurvaLam overlaminate.


In addition to our city transit buses, much of our bus work is for retirement communities, schools and churches. Ewing Graphics echoes this as many of the bus wraps they do are for college shuttles, local transit and the medical field.

All of these business types are a great place to start marketing your wrap services. The large panels allow for excellent advertising or company branding.

A full wrap isn’t necessary for effective advertising if it’s not within your customer’s budget. By offering a range of coverage and pricing, you will be able to communicate options that may fit their budget, whether they need one bus, or an entire fleet wrapped.


While we do many changeable ads on our local transit buses, the bus itself already has graphics on it branding the local transit service. Large blocks of solid color are common on bus branding. For Rochester Regional Transit Services (RTS), Ewing Graphics used 3M Intense Blue 180c, 3M Apple Green 180c and 3M 180Cv3 with an 8519 overlaminate to brand a fleet of over 200 buses.

For another local transit service, Schuylkill Transportation System, Ewing Graphics used 3M Vivid Blue 180c and 3M Tomato Red 180c. Using a large block of color and minimal lettering they were able to effectively brand this fleet.


Buses generally have large flat panels, but they do have their share of obstacles that can slow down the installation or cause issues, depending on the material you are using. One of the most time-consuming parts of installing bus wraps is properly trimming the graphics around the windows. The graphics will not stick long term to the rubber trim around the windows, so these areas need to be cleanly cut around and removed.

On our local transit buses, there are multiple rubber and metal trim pieces surrounding the windows. When we wrap the windows with perforated view-thru vinyl, we take this out to the edge of the window trim, removing vinyl off the rubber areas but leaving it on the metal trim for the best look.

Transit buses have federal and state regulations regarding emergency exits. The windows must be opened easily in the case of an emergency, so it’s very important that all graphics are properly and completely trimmed.

Other obstacles like vents, trim panels, lights, rub rails and handles are easier to wrap when we’re using a cast film on long-term applications. The flexibility of the film allows us to stretch or conform the graphics over and around these obstacles.

Since most of our transit advertising uses a short-term transit media, the film is a bit stiffer and less compliant. In these cases, we make clean relief cuts to lay the film as flat and smooth as possible in an efficient manner.

For the rear, Supertail ads that we do for our transit advertisements there are handles that stick out on most of the buses. To speed up the installation process, we’ve created a template to pre-cut these handles prior to installing these graphics. Since we do all of our transit installs after hours, it’s often darker out so any little tricks to make the install faster and cleaner help our bottom line.


We approach the design process for bus wraps in the same way we do all of our other vehicle wraps. Starting with straight-on photos of all sides and accurate measurements, we scale the images and lay out our graphics on these photos in the computer.

So that there are no surprises for the customer, we show the window trim, body trim pieces and all other obstacles as unwrapped areas. This allows the customer to see how the wrap will look with these areas exposed, and it also helps us with proper placement.

By working with photos of the actual bus, and its inherent obstacles, we can make sure that important information doesn’t fall across these areas. Small details, phone numbers, regulatory numbers and images should be placed away from obstacles for the best results.

The transit buses we wrap have many smaller panels along the bottom of the bus. Each of these panels have to be trimmed out, which may leave a strip of the bus color that may be visible on the final wrap. Pointing out these areas, or showing them on the proof, may be wise, so the customer knows exactly what to expect.

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Mike Clark

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