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Tools of the Wrap Trade

A run-down of what a professional wrap installer needs to do his or her job efficiently.

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The emergence and growth of the wrap industry has created a need, and therefore a boom in trade-specific tool offerings for installers of all types of vinyls. Wrap installers no longer need to borrow tools from the sign industry or other businesses; there are plenty of wrap-specific tools readily available-from basics to high-end specialty tools.

Installation tools are now available for a range of installation jobs and vinyls-whether it is interior walls, exterior walls, floors, vehicle wraps, or other substrates. Tools regarded as staples-for example, squeegees-have even become highly specialized to fit particular needs and applications. Here is a look at some of the most popular tools on the market today, several of which are being manufactured in the U.S.

A World of Squeegees

The squeegee is the number one installation tool for all types of vinyl installations, and with the variety of choices, it benefits the installer to do some homework and testing to assure the proper squeegee for the job. In the end, it comes down to installer preference.

Pliable Soft Squeegees-Usually sold in gold, silver and blue in various materials. The four-inch standard size is the most preferred and readily available. A pliable squeegee works best when installing graphics with pre-mask over rivets as the squeegee is able to conform over each rivet using dragging strokes while initially laying down the vinyl. They are also used by installers that like the conformability on corrugations and complex curved surfaces for example.

Hard Card Squeegees-These include Teflon blend, nylon and stiff plastic squeegees which are rigid, strong and glide smoothly across vinyl. The hard squeegees can accommodate most jobs from cut lettering and pre-masked vinyl to wall graphics.

Soft Edge Squeegees-Developed for the vehicle wrap industry, these squeegees are by far the most popular for all types of installations. The advantage of using a squeegee with a soft edge is that it eliminates scratching and marring on the surface of the vinyl during installation. Available on both pliable and hard cards, the soft edge can be on one side or two sides of the squeegee.

The higher-end soft-edge vehicle wrap squeegees often have a micro-fiber edge that will vary in thickness depending on the style chosen. Best at eliminating scratches, most of the micro-fiber edge squeegees can be used either dry or by wetting the edge, helping to glide over the vinyl without wrinkling or scratching while at the same time reducing premature stretching and adhesion. The thicker soft edge, used wet, is the best method for installing preferred substrate wrap vinyls such as color change and chrome. Soft edge squeegees can be found in various sizes, from ½-inch detail squeegees up to a full 12 inches.

Soft Edge Curved Squeegees-A relatively new concept in a squeegee is this specially designed ultra custom wrap installation squeegee. The soft straight edge is used as a typical soft edge squeegee while the large curved soft edge allows the installer to develop sculpting finesse to master their own artistic style of egressing and exhausting the air from beneath the wrap, thus providing excellent air egress application. The curved edge can be used to hold and roll vinyl into severe crevices and groves, easily flattening the adhesive posts and collapsing the air channels of air-egress vinyls for permanent adhesion.

Comply Power Grip-Due to its large size and wrapped edge, the comply squeegee will effortlessly disperse air evenly making it easy to apply large areas on flat substrates with uniform distribution of pressure, assuring a bubble-free application.

Other choices include clean felt squeegees that will not scratch a printed surface and squeegees with embedded magnets that make it convenient to hold a knife, or even graphics. For an economical solution, there are stick-on edges for a favorite squeegee offered in micro-fiber, felt sleeves, glass tape and Velcro.

Wrap Magnets

Magnets can’t be beat for positioning printed graphics and color-change vinyls on a magnet-attracting metal substrate (such as a passenger car, truck or van). There are several on the market, some more powerful than others. Whether using a disc style or a leather-encased block style, magnets are a good tool for the installer doing graphic line-up and panel sizing. Trust them to be useful as another set of hands when needed and take advantage of their ability to hold other small metal tools, such as knives and certain squeegees, close at hand.

Tool Boxes, Pouches/Belts and Wrist Bands

There are a variety of wrap tool boxes available that can help you organize, store and tote tools to the job site when installing on location. Made in a variety of sizes and shapes, the tool transport boxes have various features such as sewn pockets, padded shoulder straps, assorted size pockets, metal plates for magnet storage and Velcro closures to name a few.

Created for the wrap professional, a high-end leather tool carry case fitting all necessary tools is available by special order. The case boasts a removable lid which contains several sewn-in magnets that will adhere to the vehicle surface holding attracted tools while working. The foldable custom body of the tool bag is designed to be use as a kneepad for kneeling or as a protective cover to avoid scratching the vehicle.

Along with boxes and cases, several tool pouches or belts have been fabricated and tailored to fit the most-used tools that wrap installers need to keep close at hand. Pouches are manufactured in a range of sizes and materials from canvas to leather, other options sometimes include capture cuffs for small hand tools and magnetic attachments for tethers and belts.

Wrist bands that secure tools while working are another answer to keeping necessary tools always within reach. Constructed with magnets and various size loops, an installer wrist band is able to hold small hand tools.

Cutting Tools

A razor knife with snap-off changeable blades is crucial in any installers’ tool box. Various razor knives will hold the same blades and adjust with sliders or fine adjustment knobs. The blades themselves can be a 30-degree pointed blade (similar to the X-acto knife) or a standard 59-degree blade. Stainless steel blades are generally preferred, but carbide blades which will remain sharper longer are an option if the installer is aware that the blade can cut glass-for instance, when trimming window perf-and uses it with caution. There are also vinyl back-slitters with blades designed specifically to cut the backing of the vinyl (usually used primarily for air egress wrap vinyl) for a crack-and-peel-type back cut allowing large pieces to be cut across the middle for a middle-out installation.

Heat Tools

Ultimately, while the choice between an electric heat gun and a propane torch is the installers’ preference, there are times when each is more appropriate. An electric heat gun will perform best when installing vehicle wraps, especially on complex areas. The overall slow-controlled heat will warm an entire area evenly without exceeding post-heat temperatures, allowing the vinyl to heat to conform.

Also, the heat guns are a more practical option when working indoors in a climate controlled area with ambient temperatures in the mid-70s Fahrenheit. Heat guns can be found in all price ranges and it is best to find one that allows different temperature settings. The higher-end guns can have a digital temperature read out and may incorporate an IR gun temperature reader for the surface of the vinyl.

A hand-held torch on the other hand may be more practical to use when installing outside or on a job site where electricity may be scarce. One instance where a torch could be a better solution is when installing air-egress vinyl over rivets. The quick high heat allows the vinyl to conform easier to the rivet and will re-memorize the vinyl so it stays down and doesn’t release from the rivets.

It is always a good idea as a professional installer to familiarize yourself with both heat sources so as to be able to accomplish the installation regardless of the type of heat used.

Rollers and Rivet Tools

As the industry grows, more opportunities become available for installers and companies to increase their square footage sales of media by taking advantage of walls and building sides. These substrates can be interior walls and/or outside walls including bricks, stones, stuccos, etc. and there are various roller tools made to tackle the large installations with speed and expert results.

Outside textured concrete walls require a high heat setting to install the vinyl properly. Roller tools with attached heat sources will heat the vinyl sufficiently while rolling, resulting in an efficient, properly installed job. In addition, there are several hand-held rollers that can be used in conjunction with a heat source, some of which are larger rollers, making the job go faster.

When covering rivets on trailers, the tools used will depend on the type of vinyl. The best solution to installing rivets when using a vinyl with pre-mask, such as pre-spaced, cut vinyl designs or lettering, or non-laminated vinyls with pre-mask, are rivet brushes. While it takes time to address each rivet, the results are professional. When installing air-egress wrap vinyl in sheets, a small rivet roller tool and heat are key.

Wrap Gloves

Wrap gloves have developed into an essential tool that most installers keep in their tool boxes. The hand can be the most useful tool in the arsenal and by wearing a wrap glove at appropriate times, this method can aid in all types of complex area installs and various types of vinyls. The gloves, sewn from a lint-free conformable material, can be used dry or damp with either water or wrap juice, depending on the application at hand.

Emblem Removal Tools

Emblem removal tools are available that can make the job of removing manufacturers badges for clean installs an easy task. Most have a filament of some type that is used with a sawing motion to cut through the thick double-sided tape holding the emblem to the surface of the car without damaging the emblem itself. The badges can then be placed over the finished wrap, or stored and re-applied when the wrap has been removed.

Consumables

Knifeless Tape-Faster, easier and safer than traditional trimming, Knifeless Tape mostly replaces the use of a knife when detailing a wrap which, in turn, eliminates the possibility of cutting into a vehicle’s paint. There are also application tools for the Knifeless tape including a Start stick and a Knife tape wheel that can be used alone or attached to a wrist band.

Edge Sealers-Edge Seal Tape can be used on any gloss vinyl wrap edge that needs to be sealed and when used with perforated window films will protect the graphic from elements such as dust, water and dirt that may collect in the perforated areas of the window film.

Liquid Edge Sealer can be applied to all exposed edges of vinyl to help prevent lifting due to environmental exposure or cleaning and is especially useful for marine applications-i.e., boat wraps.

Vinyl Adhesive Primers-Primers for vinyl installations are used to improve vinyl adhesion where vinyl will be heated and stretched to increase adhesion, they are applied directly to the substrate prior to installing the vinyl.

Look Online

The variety of tools on the market may seem overwhelming at first glance, especially to individuals and companies new to the business, but most tool manufacturers post videos of their products, both on their websites and internet video channels such as YouTube. The videos are sometimes short clips, but can also be in-depth training videos. Considering the advancements in wrap tools and the many choices already on the market, a little research will ensure installers find the perfect tool for their job.

A wide range of wrap tools can be purchased from your supplier and frequently can be ordered direct from the manufacturer.

Kathy Calman

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