Wrap Protection Technologies

Market expectations on a wrap's performance are driving innovation.

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The vehicle wrapping industry continues to grow year over year, as more and more businesses and individuals become educated on the value of wrapping. The value to the individual is typically a color change wrap or custom graphic wrap to exemplify their individuality. Businesses can identify with the advertising value of printed graphics (commercial wraps), and understand the effectiveness of utilizing solid-color films to compliment the printed images.

This growth has pushed manufacturers of adhesive backed film to innovate and engineer protective solutions for extending the performance/durability of products in all exposure conditions and UV angles. These solutions allow products to come closer to the high expectations for paint-like performance. Additionally, the growth has spurred manufacturers to create specialty effects for greater creativity and customization of vehicle wraps, adding another level of value for those wanting individual looks.

Historically the majority of wrap materials have been cast PVC or vinyl, but changes are underway as manufacturers look to gain an edge in performance and/or sustainability. PVC is still the material of choice, but alternatives are available and offer unique advantages.

Market Expectations

Although popular in Europe well in advance of North America or other markets, restyling (customization and color change) of vehicles has started to explode in other markets, especially in North America. Restyling was a logical progression from colored cut vinyl and/or digitally printed graphics into a full change of a vehicle’s color. The growth of restyling can be verified by the strength of manufacturers and resellers of the films demonstrating or presenting their products at tradeshows like SEMA (Specialty Equipment Marketing Association), the largest automotive-focused tradeshow.

Not to be left behind, the graphics wrap market has continued its growth as well, directly attributable to the digital printer and self-adhesive vinyl manufacturers. Both segment providers have improved quality, ease of use, and performance of their products, to meet the expectations of the printer, converter, installer, and the ultimate end users.

Although the foundations for installation of both types of wrap are the same, the color-change market has required the elevation of the installers’ techniques and skills to address deep recesses, door jambs, crevices, handles, etc. In addition, the expectations on performance of the products have also been raised by the end user.

Performance Expectations

Both segments of the wrap market expect that the installed product will not lift, separate, discolor, fade, scratch, or deteriorate based on the durability statement of the manufacturer. Each manufacturer has determined the performance of their specific products based on their formulation, manufacture, and testing protocols.

When reviewing the durability statements of manufacturers, it becomes apparent that most will provide a “vertical” performance statement. This had been the industry standard, because until the advent and growth of full wrap products, few users installed graphics, or films on a vehicle hood, roof, or trunk. The newer exposure angles of commercial and graphic wraps have made it necessary to expand exposure angles, therefore designations of “non-vertical” and “horizontal” have been added, and are shown in the exposure summary chart. Some manufacturers have eliminated “non-vertical” exposures, including those exposures under the horizontal definition. This combination simplifies the exposure conditions, making it easier to understand and interpret performance expectations.

Horizontal installations have more direct continuous exposure to:

-Harsh ultra-violet energy of the sun, and

-The accumulation of contaminants, pollution, acid rain, and moisture commonly known as fall out.

The combination of these two factors causes premature fading, and browning or discoloration of products. Therefore, these applications require products that have performance enhancements that are able to meet expectations.

Expectations in the market have risen through the adoption period of full wraps. The end user expects the films to provide paint-like performance and maintain the original look of the installed materials for extended periods.

Super Vinyl

All vinyl manufacturers are looking to extend the durability of their digital vinyl products and qualified inks by modifying their formulations of the PVC overlaminates they make. Digital wraps are usually printed on a 2-mil white cast PVC, and then protected with a 1.5-mil to 2.0-mil overlaminate. These modifications add UV stabilizers and absorbers, heat stabilizers, and other components to maintain and improve the durability of the products.

One of the first products on the market to provide a horizontal durability is a cast PVC film from 3M (Scotchcal Overlaminate 8528). This 2-mil overlaminate was formulated to provide protection to digital images in all exposure angles, and to eliminate the browning issues seen in many PVC overlaminates with high exposer rates.

In the early days of the restyling world, installers or printers would apply the clear digital overlaminate film to the pigmented PVC. However, film manufacturers quickly learned new manufacturing and design techniques that would provide an out-of-the box solution where the wrap media is like a pre-laminated film.

In addition, the original color-change films were identified as needing horizontal durability, and were therefore formulated accordingly. These products offer multi-layer cast constructions which marry the protective laminate to the pigmented vinyl.

Restyling products have balanced the flexibility of standard cast films with the feel of laminated digital products, and now have a variety of finishes and textures to increase the creative expressions of the users. Restyling films offer horizontal durability warranty statements compared to standard PVC films.

Alternatives to Vinyl

Manufacturers have developed new non-PVC based films for commercial graphic wraps. These products are typically thermoplastic urethanes (TPU) and have similar converting and application properties to PVC, and offer published horizontal durability. Most manufacturers today-including 3M, Avery Dennison, Arlon, ORAFOL, Ritrama, Hexis, KPMF and Mactac-offer at minimum TPU overlaminates, and most have paired these with TPU print media as well.

The overlaminates are more sustainable since they do not use PVC, are phthalate-free, use less solvent, have no chlorine or halogens, and some even use bio-based materials. Even with these greener formulations, the overlaminates offer from 2-5 years of durability on horizontal surfaces, unlike most PVC products.

Another option for extended durability of commercial graphic wraps, are screen-printed clears. These products are designed to seal the images below a thin coat of a clear liquid and then, typically, they are cured using a UV reactor. Historically, these clears were only available for use on solvent inkjet graphics, and were supplied by Nazdar, Fuji-Sericol, and 3M.

Recently, next-generation products have been introduced for use on latex-printed films, allowing the extension of clear-coated graphics in the latex-converting space, with up to a five-year vertical durability. Although more economical than overlaminates, clearcoats require special equipment and skills to apply, and are typically more difficult to install and remove than conventional films with laminates.

Creative New Vinyl Overlaminates

Adding to the available repertoire for customization and durability, manufacturers are adding new finishes and formulations to their offerings. These products stay the course of added durability, and continue the manufacturers’ dedication to providing customization and meeting the performance needs of the end users.

3M recently added textured overlaminates with the new 8900 series carbon fiber and brushed finished products. These clear PVC products can be applied over other pigmented films to create a unique one-of-a-kind look.

Additionally, Avery Dennison has added DOL6040 Clear Sparkle Laminate. This laminate makes any wrap shimmer with hints of a metallic look. Both types of products are inspired by the desire for combining design, customization, and durability in new products.

Care and Maintenance

The final option available to the commercial or restyling wrap user for extended durability is care and maintenance. All manufacturers suggest the proper after-care of their products and may suggest specific products to help protect and extend the life of materials.

There are no definitive performance or durability extensions provided by manufacturers from using these products, but the use is recommended for best overall performance, and to ensure the products perform to their published durability. Always read and follow the complete instructions when using any recommended products.

Some manufacturers have gone so far as to formulate their own care and protection solutions for their specific materials. For example, Avery Dennison recently introduced their line of Supreme Wrap Care products. The line includes a deep cleaner, a standard cleaner and a sealant.

ORAFOL offers two care kits, one for matte finishes, and the other for gloss products. These kits are designed for specific finishes and contain specially formulated soap, deep cleaner, fast agent (rejuvenates material), and sealer.

3M recommends various detergents for general cleaning including 3M Car Wash Soap 39000, Meguiar’s NXT Generation Car Wash or Deep Crystal Car Wash. If deeper cleaning is required, Meguiar’s Gold Class Bug and Tar Remover or 3M Citrus Base Cleaner is recommended. Finally, as a protectant step for gloss finishes, 3M now recommends using non-petroleum distillate waxes like Carnuba wax.

Looking Ahead

The future of commercial graphic and restyling wrap products has even greater extended durability on the horizon, as manufacturers of PVC and TPU film continue their R&D efforts into new formulas and products. Additionally, new and creative ways of protecting products from acid rain, bird droppings, and UV exposure will grow, as end users look to drive the market to achieve more paint-like performance out of the suppliers.

As always, caveat emptor (buyer beware) when reviewing the durability of restyling and commercial wraps supply materials. Be sure to read all data sheets, care guidelines, and warranty statements from suppliers. The details are critical to understand in order to ensure you and your customer understand the limitations of the products, and expectations are known up front. Following all manufacturers guidelines and instructions are critical, and in some cases the manufacturers require registration of any job to even be considered for warranty regarding product performance and durability. 

Paul Roba

Paul Roba

Paul Roba is a project consultant for graphics businesses with over 20 years of experience in the graphics industry. He held various positions at Avery Dennison over his 14+ year tenure, including technical support representative, account executive, technical manager, and EOM relationship manager for its graphics solutions division. His expertise is in market intelligence, product design, video content, troubleshooting, problem-solving, digital printing, and general technical support for pressure-sensitive adhesive-backed materials.

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