Wrapping the Weird Stuff

You can wrap just about anything, given the proper materials and a good graphic idea.

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Vehicle wraps are big business and they are no longer restricted to commercial vehicles. Many people are wrapping their personal cars as well to get a unique custom ride. But it doesn’t end there. Almost anything can be wrapped these days, and that opens up a lot of opportunities.

For example, everyone has a smartphone these days, but how many people are wrapping them? The market is wide open, from large corporations wanting branded phones for their staff to individuals seeking personalization.

Garage Door Wraps
To some, it’s just a garage door, but to others it’s a giant blank canvas waiting for an artist. A lot of people would enjoy livening up their house, but are unaware of the possibilities. A good way to approach this would be prepare some graphic concepts that convey humor (a lion for a guard dog or an army tank) or fantasy wishes (a garage full of exotic cars or airplanes). Then market them in the local community. Local success leads to regional success and so on.

Interactive Exhibits
Exhibit items also are a great wrapping market. Whether it’s a trade show or a museum display, it usually involves custom fabrication. And being able to professionally wrap all of these custom shapes is very important. Creating an industry reputation as a go-to company for unusual wrap jobs can lead to a whole new career.

Musical instruments are becoming another growth area for wrapping-especially for guitars and drums. Musicians like to change their look regularly, but don’t necessarily want to give up their favorite axe. Vinyl graphics offer an easy, inexpensive way to change appearance without damaging the often valuable instruments.

The variety of wrapping ideas is endless. Cars, snowmobiles, motorcycles, motorhomes, buses, trucks, laptops, elevator doors, house doors, office buildings and millions of other things are all eminently wrappable.

Planning is Key
The key to wrapping unusually shaped objects is planning. Flat surfaces are predictable and even vehicles are often roughly rectangular. One always understands exactly where all of the graphics will end up being located on the final object when it has a regular shape. But complex compound curve objects have no such comfort zone. A graphic that starts off going in one direction can end up heading directly perpendicular to the original application direction as it goes over complicated hills and valleys.

The preferred method of beginning the planning is to transfer the three dimensional model into two dimensional space. This is relatively easy to do with many objects,  even complicated surfaces, as long as they are composed mainly of segments that are generally flat or gently curved. These projects make it quite simple to transpose the object surfaces onto the graphic to find out how it will all line up when installed.

Sometimes It’s Complicated
However, some complex objects, especially those with compound curves (curves that run in more than one direction), are very tricky. Making it fit often requires artwork manipulation. In the example shown, a globe had to wrapped. The map had to be replicated digitally using “orange slice” segments. CAD software split the globe into matching segments and gave us a precise cutting pattern for the digital pieces. As you can imagine, precision is of the utmost importance or the graphic pieces won’t line up. Installation requires patience and a heat gun to gently stretch the graphic around the horizontal curvature as it is being applied along the vertical curvature. Small slits sometimes have to be made in the material to avoid having the image fold into itself.

Vinyl film manufacturers often offer print media that is designed for these tricky applications. The media stretches easily and conforms to complex shapes.  Laminating films work well for simple jobs, but a liquid laminate is softer and more conformable when the going gets rough.

The opportunities are unlimited but the work is difficult. However, as the saying goes, “if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.” 

* From the 2013 issue of WRAPS magazine.

Duane Fast

Duane Fast is a Vancouver, Canada-based Interpretive Graphics Consultant with 30 years experience as GM of Artcraft Display Graphics Inc., an international manufacturer of interpretive graphics and exhibits. He retired in 2015.

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