In the past several years, I have had the fortunate opportunity to travel across the world teaching wraps workshops. As much as I have been teaching people how to wrap, I have equally been learning and observing how installers, sign shops and even countries approach the wrap industry.
The core of wrapping is the same everywhere-car, squeegee, materials-yet every country approaches and sees the process differently based on a combination of geographic location, population and economic level. From these observations, I am constantly tweaking my workshops and approach to the industry as I pick up new tools, techniques and perspectives.
For me, this has made my workshop very much a worldwide hybrid style that makes it unique and current. For you, the following perspectives and observations of how people are wrapping around the world might help shed light on a new way to see the industry, perhaps even help increase profits and spark new ideas on how to improve your wraps (or, maybe wrap with an accent).
In the U.S., Canada and Europe, it’s fairly standard to have a properly heated workspace to do installs. In Europe, the workspaces tend to have quite a bit of natural light as well, which makes them ideal. In Ireland, Australia and Japan most of the workspaces I visited didn’t have heat, which made for some very cold installs during the winter months.
In Ireland and Australia the reason for this was not readily evident, but in Japan-especially around Tokyo-I was told that the larger spaces for vehicles were simply too expensive to rent or buy due to high real estate prices. Needless to say, the installers from these countries know how to put on wraps when it’s 40 degrees, which is a good skill to have but one I’m happy to say I haven’t had to master.
The name of the game, at least in the Netherlands and Germany, is fleet wrapping. In those countries color-change wraps have been in the marketplace for a good seven years now, so the leasing companies really understand the value of wrapping a vehicle to protect the OEM paint. In many cases, the leasing company makes a profit after three years (including the price of the install/material) so they are driving the market.
In Australia, which is a very healthy market for installs, fleets are not pushed at the same volume as in Europe. The reason for this is that the leasing business model is different. The large companies sublease their vehicles to individuals, so it’s up to the driver to decide if the vehicle gets wrapped. These individuals don’t understand the value of protecting OEM paint, and so opt to get some cut vinyl letters/shapes put on as they think it’s cheaper.
Color-change wraps have only really been in the U.S. for about three years, so I think that the massive volume, like Europe with fleet wrapping, is just around the corner. In smaller countries like Ireland, fleets aren’t getting wrapped at any kind of scale simply because the population is only about four million.
Full Print vs. Color Change vs. Partial
When I first moved to the Netherlands, I saw myself picking up where I left off in New York City-which was doing large volumes of full-print wraps. When I was looking for work, a well-established installer told me that the Dutch don’t do full-print wraps. Apparently they are too loud for their culture. Instead, they put on a single color with some cut vinyl shapes/text over the top (plus it’s cheaper than a full print, so it’s more cost effective, which is very Dutch as well).
Sure enough, out of the 1,000 cars I have wrapped in the Netherlands, only 5 percent have been full-print wraps. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from wrapping my own car in loud prints like camo, leopard and art. I can get away with it because I’m “that crazy American.”
In Thailand, I rarely see a full coverage vehicle wrap. What I do see on about 25 percent of the cars, however, is the hood and roof wrapped. These partials may seem cheap compared to a full wrap, but the install is efficient and they are being installed at a very high volume.
Cast vs. Calendar
I had always assumed that installers everywhere wrapped vehicles with premium cast film. What a shock I had when I did my first demos and workshop in Brazil. There the standard material for a full-print wrap is un-laminated calendered film with water-based adhesive.
Single-color film has the same adhesive and the top layer often doesn’t have a laminate layer fused to it like on premium films, but rather it is topped with a coat of varnish. The first time I finished installing a gloss hood in Brazil I wiped it down with isopropyl alcohol to clean up hand prints, and the varnish/color wiped off as well. And of course, I did this while on stage with 250 people watching.
A similar story is seen in Mexico and in some other countries that aren’t as economically strong as the U.S and Europe. The funny thing is the installers using this type of calendered film are above average in skill level, as they have had to really adapt to make it work.
A lot of the techniques that I show in my workshops and videos on The Wrap Institute are influenced by this-the use of masking tape to reduce surface energy, using lamination tape to seal underneath bumpers and so on.
Naturally the clothing styles worn by installers worldwide vary quite a bit, based on culture. In Europe, a lot of the installers wear special work pants when wrapping. They take off their jeans when they get to work, put on the install pants for the work day, then switch back to the jeans when heading home. I do the same now as it’s super practical and efficient for the job. One of the first questions I get asked at the workshops/sign shows I do in the U.S. is, “Where did you get those pants?”
In Australia the installers are really into work shirts with the name of their company prominently displayed. In the U.S., they don’t seem to be as much into dress codes It’s more like you just wear your normal clothes and get wrapping.
In Japan and Sweden I noticed some of the installers wearing special slippers. They take their normal shoes off when they come into the workspace and they put on their “inside” slippers. It makes for a very clean environment, but I’m always afraid someone will drop a heavy roll of film on their toes.
There are differences in install technique worldwide based a lot on weather. In Northern climates, especially in the U.S. and Canada, installers spend a significant chunk of time at the end of the job sealing the wheel wells and bumpers to protect against the salt and chemicals that get put on the roads during the winter.
In Australia, Texas and other areas that get a lot of intense sun, the installers have to really adapt to the sun baking the hoods and roofs of wrap jobs. Replacing the roof and hood within a year or two after the install is often built into the original price because in those climes, they weather quickly.
Baked roofs and hoods can make for hard removals as well, so extra time is taken for removals. In Brazil, installers often deal with high heat and humidity, which can create big challenges in terms of overstretching.
In wet areas like the Netherlands and Ireland, the installers often have techniques to deal with wet vehicles. For example, some installers use portable air compressors to blow out the water from hard to reach areas or large window squeegees to whisk off the water before cleaning and installing.
The Time Clock
If you want a regular workday, even for freelance installers, Europe and Australia are good places to be. In the Netherlands for example, the workday starts at 8:30 a.m., lunch is at 12:30 and the day ends at 5 p.m. In Australia the work hours are very similar and they even have apprenticeship programs so the young industry of vehicle wraps is already getting sanctioned.
In the U.S., work hours amount to a total Wild West. Work hours can be really random, and the frequency of last-minute jobs can make it really difficult to work a normal schedule. I think in the U.S., this style of working caters to a certain personality type; they have to be good with their hands but flexible with work hours-a unique combination. I see a lot of American installers who reluctantly quit car wrapping after a year or two. They tell me they love to wrap but they (or their spouses) cannot deal with the lifestyle.
In mainland Europe, the pace of wraps steadily increases every year because it is so firmly established in the marketplace. There the focus is mainly on single-color wraps with cut vinyl shapes or text on top.
In the U.S., full-print wraps have been king, but single color wraps are really coming on strong and are starting to change the marketplace.
The economic crisis/recession that the world has been dealing with since 2008 has really affected Ireland, and slowed down its car wrap market significantly. Yet, as the economy has turned around, car wrapping has really taken off again. Interestingly, despite what’s happening in the rest of Europe, single color wraps in Ireland are not established at all. The vast majority of work being done there is for full-print wraps.
Australia enjoys a very healthy marketplace for signage of all levels. The quality of installers there is quite high; and full print and single color car wraps are being applied in equal measure.
Oddly enough, the wrap market in Japan is still in its infancy and is just starting to catch on. I think the potential for growth there is very high.
In Brazil, despite the fact that the calendered films used there is often difficult to work with, there is a huge passion for wrapping. Out of all the sign shows I do, the energy of the crowds and installers wrapping at shows in Brazil is though the roof. TV, radio and newspapers cover the events and the installers at the workshops are fully into the whole concept and lifestyle.
Despite all the large and subtle differences in the wrap industry worldwide, I have two observations that are universal. The quality of installers worldwide has gotten much better over the years. One of the first things I check out when I’m in a new city and country is the quality of wraps on the airport/hotel shuttle busses.
Five years ago they were often horrible, with peeling window perf, poor registration, fingering on the compound curves and so on. Today, I am seeing much higher quality on those shuttles, which tells me the installers overall are getting better, which is a great sign for the industry moving forward.
That said, from talking with sign shop owners or install crews across the world, there is a still a massive need for qualified car wrap installers. Most installers can wrap walls/windows on a daily basis; but to pump out high-quality, durable car wraps is still something that needs to be addressed in the industry because I see a pronounced gap there.
Too many installers still cannot master wrinkle-free corners and durable curves like those needed to wrap mirrors and bumpers. These skills are especially important for color-change wraps where the quality and durability has to be super high. The potential for growth is there, so with a push toward quality among car wrap installers worldwide, the differences (and similarities) in car wrap styles worldwide will become even more pronounced.