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Let’s Talk Shop: Wrap Design Strategies

Design tips from bumper-to-bumper

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Vehicle wraps are an excellent way for commercial wrap clients to promote their business, brand their image and to identify their companies when on job sites. We strive to help the customer maximize this advertising potential from bumper-to-bumper-all while staying on budget.

Effectiveness

Commercial vehicle wraps are intended to be an effective form of advertising. Depending on the customer and how they are trying to brand their business this may be anything from a subtle advertisement to an over-the-top wild attention-getting design.

The whole idea in designing for wraps is to plan for effectiveness. What does the customer want to stand out? What is their overall branding goal or intention, and how does the wrap effectively tie into this?

When looking at a few of our fleet accounts recently, I noticed how each client has a different purpose for their wraps. As long as we effectively communicate this intention then we’re doing our job.

Design Styles

We have a local gate and door installer that we’ve wrapped about six or seven vehicles for. He wants his trucks to be bright and eye-catching with his ‘gator skin to be a big part of his brand. The company name is “Gate-or-Door” thus the ‘gator skin. These trucks get a bumper-to-bumper gator skin wrap with a cartoon alligator logo and bright lettering.

Another fleet account we have is for a local propane company. They use three different propane company names depending on the region. For this company they wanted a more conservative design that professionally ties in all three names. For this client we use the same blue and gray color scheme and graphics; just the company logos changing out depending on where the vehicle is going. We use all vector art for this fleet account and include no photos.

One of our first big repeating fleet accounts is for a large local wine company. These vehicles are easy to wrap and are literally a rolling billboard. The company delivers wine to their distributors using these vehicles and the wraps highlight a specific wine brand. For these wraps we work with the wine company’s art department to use consistent artwork for a wine label and then design it to fit the vehicle. For these wraps we use photos, wine labels, logos and colors that relay a specific brand, which is key to consistency and effectiveness.

So, with one company a bright pattern that matches all their other advertising was key; and with another, we use colors to tie together a fleet; and with the wine company it’s all about a specific product. One other wrap design type that we often get is for companies that are trying to relay a service.

We have quite a few fleet accounts that aren’t necessarily pushing a product, but rather a service. For these types of accounts, name and logo recognition is important to convey, but we may also highlight a particular service they offer as well. This can be done through photos or just text, but we try to be consistent with the artwork and colors.

Front End

So we have the whole vehicle to work with, but some parts of the vehicle are more effective to use than others, depending on the customer’s budget and intentions. Starting at the front end of the vehicle let’s break down some of the pros and cons of specific vehicle areas.

Typically, the front end of the vehicle is the last part of the vehicle we consider unless the customer knows up front that they want a full wrap and it’s within their budget. The hood and front bumper, and maybe the side fenders, is what I’m thinking about here. There is minimal visible spacing for advertising and these areas are trickier and more time consuming to wrap, so the installation costs go up. One option on a partial wrap is to tie in the front end with a logo on the hood and design elements from the sides extending around the front as easier-to-install contour-cut graphics.

Doors

Coming around the side to the doors we start getting into the most wrapped areas of the vehicle. The doors provide a good flat area for large logos and text. The vehicle type, and wrap coverage, will often dictate how we incorporate the doors.

On full wraps or on smaller vehicles we will use the side doors to place the main logo and information. On vans and box trucks we typically design the partial wrap on the flat, large areas toward the rear of the vehicle and use the doors as a tie in. Typically, a smaller logo or secondary information is then placed on the door using consistent colors to tie it in to the rest of the wrap.

Sides

The sides of the vehicle provide the largest relatively flat areas. On pickups this of course includes the sides of the bed and usually the doors. We plan a majority of our wrap designs on these spaces and if we’re working within a budget we spend most of it in these areas.

Part of being a good wrap designer is taking into account any obstacles and learning to design around these elements using the computer. The sides have door handles, window trim, side trim pieces, mirrors and lights; be sure to plan smaller text and key elements around all of these.

You can get creative with partial wraps on vehicle sides by extending the design down from the top, designing within a swoosh or contour cutting the graphics to a shape. Avoid boxing off the wrap or abruptly ending the design at a door. Plan to fade the design to the vehicle color or use a shape to finish it off.

The side windows are also another great opportunity to extend the wrap and maximize the advertising space available by using printable window perf. This allows the customer to maintain visibility, or you can cover the windows with the same wrap film as the rest of the vehicle if the customer wants to create extra security by blocking out visibility into the vehicle-but before blocking a vehicle’s rear window, be sure to check your local ordinances.

Rear

The rear of the vehicle offers additional, valuable advertising space. Here the the vehicle offers more viewing time for people driving directly behind the vehicle-more time to take in the message. For this reason, we’ll often place secondary information on the rear of the vehicle. This may be a list of services or just a repetition of the side information.

We try to continue the wrap design from the sides to the back for a cohesive look. Some of our fleets incorporate a swish design that we simply extend from the sides, around the corners to the back. Spot graphics tie the wrap together.

If the vehicle has a rear window, we’ll often incorporate view thru as well to extend the advertising space. This is a great area to place the company logo or important information.

On box trucks and large vans, the rear of the vehicle provides nearly as much advertising space as the sides. When we work with a budget we’ll plan a partial wrap for a large portion of both the rear and sides to maximize the effectiveness of the wrap.

Tips and Tricks

Here are some random tips and tricks that have helped us with our wrap designs along the way. Use them in good health.

  • Start with the Basics-Always include The Big Three: who they are, what they do, how to contact them.
  • Be Creative-If you have a busy background, and a full wrap, be creative in how you wrap each side together. For our Gate-or-Door customer we fade the edges of the hood to black so there isn’t a weird transition in the background design from the horizontal to vertical planes.
  • Be Consistent-Use the same colors, fonts and other design elements on all vehicles within a fleet. The coverage or layout may change across vehicle types but if the other elements are the same you’ll maintain consistency.
  • Take Notes-Write down measurements on a template or photo printout of the vehicle so that your graphics placement remains consistent across the fleet.
  • When Including Photos-If you’re going to include a photo in your wrap design be sure it’s high quality and that it adds to the design rather than detracts from it. Also, one large photo is more effective than a bunch of smaller ones.
  • Color Play-Play with colors other than red, blue and black. It’s easy to get stuck in a color rut but mix it up by being creative with the color pallet, mainly drawing from the colors the customer may be already using in their logo.
  • Use Photos to Design-Get good at designing your wrap on a photo printout of the customer’s vehicle. While we use templates a lot for measuring, note taking and spot graphics, we prefer to design larger wraps ‘on’ the actual vehicle.
  • Shoot for Seamless-Go for a seamless wrap as much as you can. Of course, on large vans and box trucks overlapping panels will be the best approach, but on trucks and cars plan your panels out in the computer for a clean install.
  • Use B&W Prints-Print out your proposed design in black and white and review. Sounds weird, but your important information (company name, what they do, contact info) should still be the first thing you notice, before the secondary info, photos or other graphics. If your eye isn’t drawn to that info first in a B&W printout then make some adjustments to your size and/or contrast to make them pop better.
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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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