Automotive restyling. Vehicle color-change. Paint replacement. You probably know the popular car-wrapping trend by one name or another, but do you know about the vinyl technology that supports it?
The quickly growing business of installing colored vinyl film onto brand new vehicles has inspired Arlon and other vinyl manufacturers to push the limit on the types of products we make. Manufacturers have been driven to create distinct colors, unique finishes and more stringent performance criteria that is greatly different than our traditional products.
The restyling phenomena has evolved from the commercial wraps market. These wraps have been very popular for the last decade. Commercial graphics are essentially large moving signs. To meet market expectations, wrap media must print well, install easily and offer good durability. The most difficult part of making a good commercial print media is to make it work consistently on a wide range of printing technologies.
Experienced commercial wrap shops take pride in doing single-panel wraps that “skin” a vehicle in very short order. Some shops have installation teams consisting of three to four applicators and are focused on completing large commercial fleet projects that have many vehicles.
The restyling market is much more of a one-off business that commands higher prices, but the lucrative market also comes with raised expectations for the final look of installed films.
The ideal wrap film must be easy to work with, but cannot show air egress channel patterns. It must stay down on every portion of a car without the use of primer or adhesive promoters. The reason for this is that a successful automotive restyling project demands creating a finish that looks equal to paint, a finish that removes easily (even when done by non-professionals), and a finish that completely covers all painted surfaces. This includes door jams and inside of crevices created by door handles, lights, etc.
The time and attention to detail that is taken during a restyling wrap is completely different than more traditional wraps. Many restyling shops break down vehicles by removing handles, side mirrors and lights. Then, at the time of install, they go beyond wrapping the outward facing painted surfaces and completely wrap under and around every individual panel.
The effect that restyling shops are striving to achieve is to have each body part look as if it has been dipped in the color of the vinyl. Instead of starting with one panel, wrappers divide each job into individual body sections. For instance, a door, a bumper, a fender, a rocker panel, and a mirror would all be their own individual panels which would be wrapped with separate pieces of vinyl.
Because of the extremely high expectations, restyling vinyl must work differently than traditional wrap media. It must elongate more than 50 percent, stay down in extreme curves (without the aid of chemicals) and must maintain color consistency throughout the entire application.
How has vinyl been reinvented to meet the strenuous needs of this application? Vinyl film manufacturers have responded with improved films offering a range of enhanced properties. For example, Arlon has redesigned its wrap vinyl from the ground up and created unique formulas, alternative thicknesses and advanced casting technologies to create products that exceed market needs. Some films have built-in additional protective layers, bonding layers and other proprietary steps that make the film look and act better than paint.
Normally, cast vinyl is thought of as two mils thick, and is usually installed with the addition of application tape or a two-mil laminate. Restyling is different; thinner doesn’t necessarily mean better. Creating the right balance between “boardyness,” conformability and ability to stretch is at the crux of designing the perfect film.
Often, the thicker the film is, the easier it is to lay down. However, thick film is often harder to keep in place. With newly designed formulas, this is no longer the case. For example, Arlon’s restyling films range from three- to five mils in thickness, but maintain consistent performance. Each of these cast films are able to conform to the most difficult curves.
Wide Range of Finishes
Manufacturers have developed a wide range of finishes to cater to this color trending market. For instance, manufacturers such as 3M, Avery, Hexis, Kay Automotive and Orafol offer new finishes including chrome and various metallic finishes, textured films such as carbon fiber and alligator, and even color-change wrap films.
Arlon is about to launch its fastest-growing restyling wrap film product to the United States. Ultimate PremiumPlus restyling film has been sold in Europe since 2011 and boasts a wide array of finishes such as matte effects, pearlescent, candy gloss and the more standard gloss or matte. Finishes like this were never available or demanded in the traditional graphics business. They were also not possible until multi-layer casting processes were created.
Vinyl Now Preferred
For most of our lives, paint has been the only method of automotive decoration. Now, vinyl is quickly becoming a preferred method. With the advances in casting technology, personal and commercial vehicle restyling through the use of vinyl wraps is a reality. Auto manufacturers, dealerships and customization shops are all adopting some type of wraps into their business models. There is no doubt that this new world for vinyl will keep pushing advances in how we manufacture and use films.
* From the 2014 issue of WRAPS magazine.