Let’s Talk Shop: Wrap vs. Frame

When a truckside frame system is the better choice

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We’ve seen the advertisements for truckside graphic framing systems for a number of years. Most systems employ some kind of adaptable extruded aluminum frame that is designed to hold flexible media in place. Many of the ads show that the same type of graphic frames can be used on either the sides of buildings or the sides of trucks. We never really thought about how these could be incorporated into our shop until we had the opportunity to quote on a project where this type of frame seemed to make the most sense.

We ended up working with Ackland Media Frames, a company offering a system that is lightweight, quick and easy to install, and the graphics can be changed out inside the reusable frame. For our customer-a housing developer looking to advertise multiple housing projects on 53′ trailers-this was the perfect solution.

Wrap vs Frame

The customer had acquired a fleet of trailers that were fairly run down and were only used for advertising. The developer parks the trailer out in a field and uses it to advertise the residential properties soon going up for sale. Since we specialize in vehicle wraps, we first intended to quote these trailer graphics as a full wrap.

When we’re wrapping a car, pickup or even most vans it makes sense for us to wrap the vehicle by applying graphics directly to the surface. We get a nice conformed look that turns the vehicle into a rolling advertisement for years.

When it comes to box trucks and even large trailers, as long as the surface is in good condition then we typically wrap these as well. Box trucks are easy to wrap since there are minimal obstacles to complicate the install.

There are times, though, that wrapping a trailer or box truck is not as cost effective, or as visually pleasing, as a frame system. Being able to offer the best solution to your customer should be a priority.


In this case, the customer purchased the trailers inexpensively because of the condition they were in. They were intended to be a billboard that they can place on different properties.

Once we took a closer look at the trailers we realized that the rough texture on the trailers (due to aluminum oxidation) and the excessive rivets (more than our typical trailers) made a vinyl wrap a less desirable option.

The customer would have had to spend a lot of money to prepare the surface of the trailer before we could apply the vinyl. With the frame system we attach the frame directly to the trailer side and the banner floats over the surface, eliminating the need to fix any existing damage.


The advertisements going into the frames are for a large housing developer that plans to change out the site banners as needed. Having a frame system in place makes it easy to change out the banner quickly. The initial cost for a frame system and banner for each side of the 53′ trailer may be close in price to wrapping the trailer with graphics, but the frame presents options that lower the cost on future ads.

The frame stays in place and the banners can be removed and replaced quickly. The costs on subsequent ads are just for the banner printing and labor to install it into the frame.

After we figured out what we were doing on the first banner, the second side of the trailer went much more quickly. Three guys were able to install an 8′ x 51′ banner in less than 30 minutes. I’m sure we’ll get quicker the more we do.


Within a couple weeks of installing the frames and banners on the first trailer, it was tagged with graffiti at a housing development site. Our customer was obviously upset and knows that we can’t be responsible for vandalism. We’re working to get them replacement banners at a discounted rate to keep them happy.

We’re in the process of designing the ads for five additional trailers so this incident brought up some new ideas for the next trailers. Since these trailers are parked in one place for a long time and are easy to access they will always be a target for graffiti.

On the future trailers we’re working with the customer on a design for splitting the frame system into three sections so if they’re tagged again we have the ability to just change out one section instead of the whole banner.

They plan to leave the center section with their logo on all advertisements so this also gives them options to just change out two smaller banners instead of one large banner in the future. The smaller size is a little more manageable as well and we can send out just two people instead of three on installs.

System Specs

The Ackland’s Media Frame system consists of a two-piece aluminum attachment system for displaying non-adhesive vinyl on any semi-flat surface-usually walls or trucks.

The frames are a standard 3″ wide and can be purchased in bulk 8′ or 12′ lengths that you cut or miter yourself. This is especially helpful when you’re working within tight measurements or are wanting to cut the pieces on-site so they fall around rivets or other obstacles. The bulk option is also great for keeping the product in stock for rush jobs or for quicker turnaround time.

Ackland also offers flex-face vinyl and vinyl banners at wholesale pricing so that you can purchase the entire frame and advertisement from one company. Besides vehicles, the frames also work great for walls, buildings, schools and lighted sign cabinets.

There is a wealth of information on Ackland’s website, with installation instructions, videos, downloadable product brochures and marketing tools. We also found the company to be very helpful over the phone as they assisted us in placing our initial order and with our follow up questions. The frames come in a standard silver anodized finish. Powder coating is also available at an extra cost and there are hundreds of colors available.


On our first trailer we ordered a custom frame and lucked out that it fell between rivets on the trailer. We did bring out a portable saw in case we needed to cut the frame to size on-site. On the next five trailers we’re working on they were all a little different so we took specific measurements to ensure the frame will fall in flat areas on the trailer for a faster, smoother install.

We used a 13 oz. full-color printed banner material for our ads. The banner has to be at least as big as the outside dimension of the frame, and it can always be cut down if it is slightly larger than the frame. This can be done after it’s hung and before the cover plate is installed.


The frame is a two-part system. The base plate is the first part and was attached directly to the trailer using self-tapping screws. The base plate has pre-drilled holes every 16″.

Once the base plate was installed all the way around the perimeter of the trailer it was time to hang the banner. The frame comes with a sticky double-sided tape that is used as an installation aid to help hold the banner in place until the top plate is installed.

We first peeled off the adhesive tape across the top of the frame and started applying the banner in the top left corner. Because our banner was 8′ tall and 51′ long, it was heavy and we wanted to pull tension as we installed it. We found it was helpful to screw the top corner of the banner into the frame to help hold it in place. This screw was removed prior to installing the top plate.

The tape is pulled across the top first, then across the bottom working from the center out in each direction. We then exposed the adhesive on each vertical side one at a time, pushing the banner down from the center moving up and down toward the corners. If the banner is larger than the frame, any extra vinyl needs to be trimmed from the edge before the top plate is installed.

The next step is to attach the top cover plate by hooking it over the base plate and banner. The outer lip of the cover plate locks over the edge of the base plate. The cover plate also has pre-drilled holes and as the screw goes through the vinyl it bores into a groove in the base plate. As the screws are tightened the frame layers pull together and stretch the banner taut.

This self-tensioning is important and as Ackland Media explains, it “pulls the vinyl from the perimeter with significant force in order to form a smooth, seamless, durable finish. This is important not only aesthetically, but also because trucks and trailers are notorious for coming into contact with tree branches and other protruding fixtures.”

On truck applications the last step is to seal the edges between the base plate and truck surface with caulking. The caulk helps protect against excess moisture and wind.

New Product

Adding graphic frame systems to the list of products you offer is great not only for truck and trailer jobs but for a host of other applications as well. Once you’re familiar with installing the product it can be just as easily offered to your customers for walls, parking structures, buildings and other areas where changeable, large-scale advertising is needed.

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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