Editor’s Note: Paint protection film, though similar to wrap film, is a different beast, being a thermoplastic urethane film rather than PVC-based. It is designed to act as a sort of laminate to cover and protect a vehicle’s paint finish from stone chips, debris, scratches etc. Vehicle wrap shops, especially those who have relationships with auto dealerships, should consider exploring this area as a new profit center.
Over the past 10 years I have trained hundreds in the art of applying paint protection film (PPF). My experience also has included seeing these films improve allowing for better applications with better materials.
Teaching individuals how to apply paint protection film is a skill unto itself. Building the basic skills required to become a successful craftsman takes focus, discipline and commitment. And it can be challenging.
I have refined my ability throughout the 18 years that I have been in the film and adhesive business. My objective with students is to help them build a strong foundation of skills so that they can adapt PPF application to any design. This skill-based flexibility is critical because of all the unique designs that are presented to the student. I make every effort to see this learning experience through the eyes of the student and want them to become masters at completing a finished product that is the work of a real artist. This can take a tremendous amount of patience and refinement of teaching skills, but the reward is always there when you see the breakthrough achievement.
A Comfortable, Clean Workspace
Our business is much like most in that it is important how you present your product. Having a brick-and-mortar store allows you to control your environment and show your customers that you are serious about your business. Having a nice showroom with free Wi-Fi Internet access, conference room, drink and snack items and cable television are a few amenities that we find our customers appreciate.
Our films application area is particularly highlighted with a tremendous amount of lighting including natural skylights. We want to see as much detail as possible during the application process. We also use a four-post lift to place the vehicle at eye level, which gives the ability to see areas that would otherwise be difficult – and, this will save on a lot of back pain.
Our facility is professionally cleaned three times each week. We run the floor scrubber daily to keep the dirt to a minimum. Customers cannot help but notice that our facility is maintained well, and that reflects on the care we have for their vehicle.
It is necessary to ensure that the work areas where film is applied are free of dust or dirt. Any foreign particle could affect the durability of the installed product as well as the aesthetic appeal. We equip our application area with an air filtration system to help purify the air to control airborne contaminants. From an application standpoint, all of this helps to control and keep dirt, dust and debris to a minimum which correlates into cleaner applications.
Advanced training is for those individuals who have spent some time installing PPF and are looking to take their application skills to the next level and become more efficient overall. Time is money, and an installer working on commission knows that the quicker you can finish an application while still achieving that desired appearance correlates to more work you can complete in a day which means more money in your pocket.
Make a Game Plan
We like to focus our training on an actual vehicle and present real-world scenarios an installer will experience during his or her day-to-day workload. Your new trainee must have good hand and finger dexterity. Attention to the least detail is critical. Part of my training involves having them handle the film. Learn the “feel” of the film. Learn how the film can be manipulated. Stretch it. Cut it. Learn how the film responds to adapting to different surfaces. The film becomes the installer’s key component to accomplishing the task. It has pliability that is learned only by handling it. The trainee needs to know it even better than the other tools of the trade. Make sure there is a lot of time early in the training to learn the product well.
We stress the importance of notating alignment points on the vehicle before we begin the application, so a game plan is put into place. Having a plan is important to avoid wasting product and developing frustration.
It’s important go over how to properly determine the year/make/model/submodel of the vehicle and then how to search for the parts in a manufacturers database such as proformdesign.com or xpel.com to ensure the correct part is cut that we will then apply.
Locating the vehicle identification badge/tag/plate generally located on the B pillar will help to determine the year the vehicle was manufactured along with other information. You also can see the rear portion of the vehicle to determine the make and model of the vehicle, as well. One extra step is to use your smartphone or camera and snap a photo of the front end of the vehicle and then compare it to the parts you have pulled up on the computer to ensure all of the line drawings correspond accordingly. Having the proper vehicle information is a must to search for the correct part that will then be cut from a plotter.
Prepping the application surfaces of the vehicle properly is key to a dirt-free installation.
After the vehicle has been washed and dried we like to use a clay bar on the surface of the paint if it is not smooth to the touch or if there are surface contaminants that did not clean with a wash mitt. Using a simple spray wax as a final wipe down helps to allow the installer to see any areas he/she has missed during the cleaning process.
Before we roll the product onto the surface we spray the area with our soap/water solution and squeegee the area with a “California squeegee” or similar soft blade car squeegee designed to remove water from the surface that will not scratch the paint but removes any fine lint that may have fallen on the surface or that our microfiber cloths might have left behind.
Getting the Film onto the Surface
We teach a back-rolling technique that is designed to get the film transferred from the liner onto the surface. We’ve found this eliminates the amount of time the product’s adhesive side is exposed to elements that could be in the air, and also can be used by one person without the need of further tools/equipment such as a stand to clip the film to and pulling the film off the liner.
Here is where we are able to hone in on where the individual is skill-wise to see how basic or how advanced we need to get with each trainee during the application process.
Most manufacturers rate the difficulty of a pre-cut kit application using a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being easiest and 5 for experts). We generally start with a Level 4 application to see where the trainees’ skill level truly lies. During the application process we pay close attention to how they install the product, correcting mistakes where needed. For example: Hand placement when stretching the film is critical to ensure that an even stretch throughout the material occurs to align the edge of the film properly to the edge of the vehicle part. An uneven stretch in the film could result in a pre-cut kit not aligning properly. Too much pressure from your hand on the product can result in premature adhesion, which does not allow the material to stretch at all and leads to leaving distortions in the adhesive.
Most paint protection films use a PSA (pressure sensitive adhesive) backing, so you must learn to use your hand to “grip” the surface of the film to stretch the material into place without applying too much pressure, which could result in the film wanting to adhere to the surface while you are attempting to stretch the product. These are a few of the many key points we address with the individual during the training course.
Our objective is to challenge the individual and focus on what areas need improvement. Some have admitted that they should have taken the basic course instead of the advanced as they did not have enough ‘squeegee time’ under their belt for some of the application scenarios we put in front of them. Others find the advanced course to be a perfect fit for where they were in their application field. Regardless of where they are in their career we work with each person to ensure their time spent with us is maximized and packed with plenty for them to learn during their stay.
PPF Install Tips and tricks
- Using a clay bar to clean the surface of the paint can help with better adhesion.
- Using a good sealant/wax on the surface of the paint prior to application can aid in the application and also if you encounter a future removal of the product.
- During the summer months, use cold water in your spray bottles to minimize adhesive stretch marks during the application.
- More humid areas generally require less soap in your soap solution while drier climates generally require more soap in your soap solution.
* From the 2013 issue of WRAPS magazine