Let’s Talk Shop: Material Options for Short-Term Wraps

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When you step back from the vehicle wrap process and think about how much goes into wrapping a vehicle, it’s hard to imagine why someone might want the wrap on the vehicle for a short amount of time. From the design process, time spent working with the customer, fitting graphics to the vehicle and actual installation, you still have to charge for all of that time.

So if customers need the graphics on the vehicle only for a short while, the most effective way to cut costs for them is with the material itself. Fortunately, there are quite a few products on the market that are appropriate for short-term wraps, and they have features that you’ll want to compare.


We’ve been doing partial to full wraps on a fleet of buses in our city for more than 10 years now. Partial wraps is the area where we most commonly see requests for short-term wrap applications.

The same inexpensive calendered films that we use for our transit projects also work well for short-term wraps-as long the area you’re wrapping is a fairly flat, smooth surface. Tailgates and smooth vehicle sides are a great place for wrapping with transit media.

The advertisements we install on local buses are usually contracted for six months to one year. And if the customer extends their advertising contract beyond one year, we replace the graphics.

Advertising an event such as a carnival, festival, music album release, store sale or any other event with a specific time-frame endpoint is a great market for short-term advertising. The customer still gets the mobile advertising they desire with the lower cost of the transit media itself.


Since the material will need to come off the vehicle in a relatively short amount of time, look for the term “removable” when choosing a material for short-term use. To continue keeping costs down for the customer, you want that material to come off the vehicle quickly and cleanly.

You’ll also see the term “opaque” on many of the transit media as some of the films are designed to be stacked. This means that as long as the graphic, on the bus for example, is smooth and flat you can apply another graphic right over the top, typically up to three ads maximum. Because the film is opaque it completely blocks out the ad beneath the new graphic.

Our city does not allow stacked graphics so be sure to check the local ordinance if you do transit graphics in your area. Because we remove every old graphic before installing a new one, the removable properties are very important to us.


Over the last decade we’ve primarily used two different kinds of transit vinyl. We find that both products work very similarly and are very easy to apply. We pair them with a pressure sensitive, calendared overlaminate for protection.

The laminate also provides a little extra thickness that makes both installation and removal much easier. On large national accounts, like fast-food restaurant advertisements, we will receive a roll of ads that we install. Unfortunately one of the ways these national accounts keep costs down is by providing us with the same transit media but with a thin (less expensive) liquid laminate rather than a thicker film laminate. Liquid laminate is effective for protecting the print, but in our experience-because film with a liquid laminate lacks body-it is trickier to install, take longer to apply and usually ends up with more flaws. They also take longer to remove.

We currently use MetroMark Transit vinyl from General Formulations. It’s a flexible, matte vinyl that is opaque and has a nice removable adhesive. We’re happy with the color output and ease of installation.

In the past we’ve also used FLEXcon’s Busmark 5800 film. It’s also an opaque, smooth white vinyl, with removable adhesive.

Avery Dennison also offers a temporary transit media. MPI2121 is a flexible calendared film that has been designed for the transit market. I would recommend checking out the spec bulletins for the media you’re considering. Look at the suggested applications, the adhesive and durability.

3M IJ 36-20 film is intended for transit applications and short-term flat applications like box trucks. Like the other transit media, it’s a matte white film with removable adhesive.


I found the pricing very comparable between all the transit media I mentioned. So in that regard, choosing a transit media that works for short-term applications may simply come down to personal preference and how easy it is to get from your supplier.

Compare the pricing for available media and also look at shipping costs if they apply. We had to request our suppliers stock transit media for us, since it’s not as common of an item, so we didn’t have to wait for it to be shipped from the manufacturer.

Another film from 3M is IJ3552, which offers changeable features and is intended for use on flat surfaces, with or without rivets, and simple curves. In my price comparing, it does cost about twice as much as the transit media but is less than other permanent wrap vinyls we use, like 3M IJ180Cv3-10.

Although this intermediate film is a little more expensive than most transit media, it also provides repositionability, air release and slideability, which make for easier installations. Like transit media, it also removes easily without heat.

Changeable intermediate films like this one might be a good option for something between transit media and a full-featured cast wrap film. You need to compare specific application requirements to determine which film will best meet those needs-even if it’s only a short-term application.

Most manufacturers offer a comparison chart of the media they offer. Look at descriptions of the film to see if it will work on your project. You’ll also want to look at the durability, warranties and applications.

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Charity Jackson

Charity Jackson is owner of Visual Horizons Custom signs, a full-service commercial sign company based in Modesto, Calif.  She has been in business since 1995 and specializes in vehicle wraps, design and project management and workflow. You can visit her Web site at www.vhsigns.com.

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