Let’s Talk Shop: Wraps Tips & Tricks

Handy tips to save your wrap shop time and money.

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We do a lot of vehicle wrap work in our shop, and over the years we’ve discovered a lot of cool little tips and tricks that have improved the wrapping process in one way or another. From the design phase through installation-these will (hopefully) help your shop become more efficient and boost your profitability.

Design Tips

  • Invest in a good template program. The templates look professional, make marking measurements more accurate, are great for sketching design ideas and coverage with the customer and are also great for recording problem areas on the vehicle.
  • Learn to create your own template using scaled photos of the customer’s vehicle. It looks professional and ensures that you’re taking into account all obstacles and after-market parts.
  • Designers should understand the installation process. Plan your wrap design so that important information doesn’t fall in difficult-to-wrap areas of the vehicle, and make that sure small text and important details don’t fall on door handles, window trim or other areas that could be cut off.

Output Tips

  • Print off a color chart. We run a Roland SolJet Pro 4 XR-640; using Roland Color through our VersaWorks RIP software we printed a custom color chart for our machine. This gives us a handy color chart that our customer’s can choose from.
  • Use your RIP to profile media. Your media has to be properly profiled, but taking the time to set up your media profiles and utilizing tools within your RIP software simplifies and speeds up the output process. There is a Pantone library within our Roland VersaWorks RIP that automatically converts Pantone spot colors to a CMYK value. Check out the features available in your RIP software and put them to work for you.
  • Separate problem text. When setting up wraps I’ve found that if the background image is going to go over an area with major curves or tricky obstacles it’s best to separate out any text that will also go in those problem areas. This gives us more flexibility conforming the background while still adding text in these tight areas that will be perfectly straight. The separated text can either be cut in a premium vinyl (to avoid shrinking) or printed and contour-cut from the same wrap material we’re using on the job.
  • Print large background panels separately from contour cuts when you can. There are two good reasons for this:
    1) Your background panels will need to be laminated, cut down and installed first. Having to wait for those panels while the laminated vinyl is put back on the printer to be contour cut slows down the process a bit.
    2) Once in awhile you’ll have issues with the contour cuts aligning and cutting properly. If this happens, and the contour cut graphics are setup with a big section of printed panel, then you’ll have to set up your cut graphics again to better maximize the vinyl or reprint them (without the panel), and that wastes the extra material. Potential waste of time and material.
  • Plan your overlaps. For box trucks and large trailers plan your overlaps ahead of time. Add approx. 4″ to the height and width. If you added 4″ to the total width of the whole box then you know that your first panel will overlap the edge of the wrapped area by 2″ (leaving the other 2″ of overlap at the other end). Having the sizing prefigured allows you to start wrapping without taping up all the panels.

Production Tips

  • Use vinyl wall racks as drying racks for printed media. These store the rolls up and out of the way, and eliminates the potential for them to fall over and get dirty before lamination.
  • Allow enough dry time. Graphics generally need about 24 hours to fully dry. Seriously.
  • Group your film types for lamination. Seems like a no-brainer but plan your jobs and output so that all the same types of media are printed and then laminated in groups according to film types. This eliminates wasted time on media and lamination roll changes.
  • Create an efficient shop workflow. Store print media near your printer so that when prints come off your machine you can easily move them right to your dry racks (which should be somewhere near your laminator). Store laminating films near the laminator, and place your production table nearby so laminated output can easily be cut down.
  • Use lint-free cotton gloves when handling print media to avoid fingerprints and fingernail nicks.
  • Think before you roll. As you’re cutting down your wrap panels, roll them so that the tops of vertical panels are on the outside of the roll. This way you can simply tape the panel at the top and allow the rest to unroll and drop down.
  • Label finished panels in order of installation. Labeling finished panels in the same order that they will be installed gives the installer clear direction and ultimately makes his/her job easier. For example panel No. 1 would be a panel that goes toward the back of the vehicle (no matter which side you’re on); then panel No. 2, etc. We also print out a proof of the final layout shown on the vehicle with the panel breaks noted and numbered.

Vehicle Prep Tips

  • Clean the vehicle very thoroughly. Having to stop to clean while installing or trying to clean an area after you’ve trimmed a panel and are trying to tuck it in can cause a lot of needless problems that really slow down installation.
  • Use a primer on deep curves. We use 3M Tape Primer on deep concave areas and along areas that are more susceptible to lifting-like around wheel wells and under the vehicle. This ensures proper adhesion and avoids lifting in many cases.
  • Make sure your installation space is always stocked and ready. Our graphics are produced in the shop and then carried out to the back shop for installation. We have two large rolling tables for laying our graphics on as well as a rolling cart with all of our installation tools stocked on. We also keep a few rolling seats with storage underneath in the installation area. Tools used in daily production are stocked separately from the tools in our installation area.

Installation Tips

  • Teach one-man installs. While it’s helpful to have two people working together on an install, for a small, busy shop like ours it’s not always practical. We might have two people working on one vehicle but usually on separate sides. Learning how to install by yourself makes you an efficient installer and keeps wraps on track even when you can’t have more than one person on a vehicle.
  • Masking tape and strong magnets are a great way to control your graphics panels during installation. Using a tape hinge we install our vertical panels with a small top piece installed then the rest of the graphics are applied down the panel in approximately three inch-high sections.
  • Mark your panels. Place grease pencil marks or small pieces of tape along the outer edge of your panel prior to starting installation. This helps ensure that your panels go on straight.
  • Don’t rule out horizontal panels. We typically do vertical panels, but sometimes a horizontal panel just works better-especially along a truck bed for example. Again, I could have someone hold the excess roll as I install the graphics, but if we’re doing a one-man install we’ll roll up the excess graphics into a neat controlled roll and apply a 2′-3′ section at a time.
    The downside to this approach is that sometimes the graphics like to slide out of that neat roll I’m holding in one hand while squeegeeing with the other-easy fix: clip a rubber-covered chip clip at the top and bottom of the roll to keep the graphics from sliding out. Takes a couple seconds to clip on and off as you’re unrolling the graphics but saves you lots of headache.
  • Transfer tape trick. When installing long rolls of graphics in our California heat sometimes the edge of the graphic will start to curl over on itself and makes it a nightmare to keep the graphics from sticking to itself. Easy trick is to take a thin roll of transfer tape (we keep 1.5″ tape on hand to roll up media, printed and laminated rolls, etc.) and tape it just along the top edge of the graphic. This keeps the graphics from rolling over while you’re squeegeeing the rest of the graphics in place.
  • Become friends with knifeless tape. We use Knifeless Finish Line Tape. Being able to quickly cut nice clean lines of vinyl without having to use a blade on the vehicle is always the way to go.
  • The foam paint roller rivet trick. This is one of my new favorite tricks and apparently Justin Pate put this one out a couple years ago. I discovered this in the middle of wrapping five 52′ trailers. I just wish I had heard about it sooner. I highly recommend going to www.sdgmag.com and searching for “Heat and Roll Rivets.” Watch the video and then give it a try. Trust me, you’ll want to hug Justin Pate at the next convention. Seriously.

Trimming Tips

  • Trim carefully. The finish work on the wrap is one of the most important steps. I’ve seen decent wrap installs with horrible trim work. Those little slices and patches might look okay while still in your shop but once a little dust settles on the edge or they start to lift then the whole wrap looks as sloppy as the trim work is. Easy does it.
  • Low blade profile. Use a sharp snap-off blade knife with the blade sticking out just a little bit (this helps prevent cuts to the vehicle itself beyond the edge you’re trimming).
  • Keep cuts straight. If you have to create a relief cut be sure that your cuts are straight and that you allow enough overlap where the panels will not separate and lift.
  • Avoid patches whenever possible. They will not look good or last long-term.
  • Be neat, even in unseen areas. Make sure you don’t get sloppy when trimming areas you don’t think will be seen. Trimming the graphics nice and straight under the car will help the graphics stay in place long term. Sloppy cuts will bunch and lift and will be an early point of failure.
  • Post heat. We use a propane torch on most installs but keep a good quality heat gun on hand for use on specialty vinyl and to post heat with more control at the higher temperatures.

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 website at www.vhsigns.com.

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