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Wraps Training: Knowledge is Power

The importance of proper wraps training, testing and certification

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Running a business while keeping up with two kids, and all the details of a busy life, makes it difficult to add in one more thing. For a couple years, my husband and I had discussed having me attend a 3M wrap training class and do the testing, and for a couple years we kept putting it off.

Looking back, I wish we had done the training as soon as it was available. A lot of the knowledge we acquired by trial and error could have been learned much earlier on, and with more efficient techniques.

There are a lot of great training and testing programs available. Since we primarily use 3M media we decided to go with a 3M program. Our company meets the qualifications to also become a 3M Certified Graphics Installation Company, but the training and testing is only available in St. Paul, Minnesota. We chose to stay in California and do the 3M Preferred Graphics Installer training and testing at Wrapix Academy in Burbank.

Why Train?

I’ve been working in the sign industry for more than half my life now. and I’ve been wrapping vehicles for nearly 15 years. With that much time under my belt, you would think that I could just go do the testing and be good to go, but you would be very wrong.

The wrap industry has changed and improved drastically over the last decade. New printers, inks, media and laminates have made huge changes, and improvements, to the way we install the graphics. New tools and techniques are also constantly emerging, each one helping to make your installs more efficient and durable.

When you get busy in your own shop you don’t necessarily have something to compare your efficiency and knowledge against. When you attend training classes, and even industry trade shows, you see other installers in action and can pick up tips and tricks along the way. You also get reassurance that techniques you’re already using are being done correctly.

In just three days of intensive training I picked up a ton of tips that have already made our shop more efficient. Not only have we sped up our installs, we’ve also improved our techniques, which mean our wraps will last longer.

Beyond Vehicles

Another huge reason we wanted to attend training is that the hands-on experience goes beyond vehicle wraps. In both the training and the testing we also covered five different wall installs, as well as floor graphics.

By learning the proper materials, tools and install techniques we’re able to expand our business by offering additional services. We also discussed the 3M wall test and questions you may ask a potential client in regard to their wall graphics. This discussion and training goes beyond what you’ll learn in a product bulletin alone.

Facilities

Once we decided to do the training and testing, I researched the 3M graphics website to look through the testing options. There are five facilities that offer the 3M Advanced Installer training and the Preferred Graphics Installer test that I wanted.

We chose Wrapix Academy since it’s only about five hours from our shop. They have a training calendar on their website at www.wrapixacademy.com where I was able to choose the week I wanted to train and test. I was also able to sign up for the class and process my payment online. Fees for training and testing seem to vary by location.

Before You Go

On Wrapix Academy’s website they also give a list of study materials that you should review before you go. These are 3M product and instruction bulletins that cover specific product characteristics as well as installation recommendations. The bulletins can be found on the 3M COSMO app or on their website at www.3Mgraphics.com.

I’m a little thorough, or neurotic, but I like to be prepared. I printed out all of the bulletins and went through and highlighted all the important information for easy reference. I reviewed this info a little at a time over the weeks leading up to the class.

This preparation, in addition to the training in class, not only helped me ace the written test but I also felt more knowledgeable during the classroom training.

Training

Training itself is a combination of classroom discussion, videos and hands on demonstration and practice. Adam Sumner, owner of Wrapix Academy, did all of our training. After brief introductions we jumped straight into it. There was a lot to cover in just three days.

The class was also a mix of those training and those training and testing. Of the six students in my class two did three days of training, two did five days of training and myself and one other person did the three days of training and two days of testing. We were all busy, all learning and all encouraging one another over those five days.

Previous experience is recommended but whether you have three years of experience, or fifteen, your success in the class is going to come down to your ability to listen and apply what you’re taught, your attention to detail and your determination.

Everything we covered on the three days of training is what we were tested on over two days. Sounds simple, but many of the stations we trained on involved tools and techniques we had never touched before.

Testing

I knew I was doing the testing going in so I put a lot of pressure on myself during the three days of training. I was determined to go home with that certificate.  I’m pretty sure I stressed poor Adam out too, but he was an excellent and patient instructor.

There were two of us testing the last two days and Adam recommended that we tackle the most time consuming stations first. There is a time limit on each station and you’re allowed to go over a certain amount with a penalty. Each station must get an 80 percent or better score in order to pass. There are also certain mistakes that equal an automatic fail. If you fail a station you are allowed to retake the test on that station as long as you have time at the end.

Stations

There were 12 total tests that we took over the final two days. One was the written test and one was the wall test for checking the paint and graphics adhesion.

The other 10 stations were all hands-on installation tests. Since I knew I would have to hustle both days to complete all the tests on time, I took Adam’s advice and started with the three tests on the (Chevy) HHR.

The last thing Adam showed us in training was the front bumper wrap because it incorporated all the tips and tricks we’d learned from the rest of our training. It was fresh in my mind and was the most time consuming station so I started with the bumper Thursday morning.

From there I moved to the other two tests on the HHR-the rear ¾ panel, which includes the rear door, handle, rocker panel, quarter panel, and window perf. All panels have to of course line up to one another perfectly and the install needs to be as clean as possible.

The last test on the HHR is the Front Half Wrap which includes the front door, rocker panel and front fender. I knew I would go over on my time so I made sure it was worth it. I got a 96 percent on the rear panels and a 95 percent on the front panels which helped offset any small penalty for going over time.

I didn’t have enough time left in my first day to do another big test so I chose to do the floor graphic test, thinking I would knock that one out quick. Unfortunately I failed it because you have to cut a perfect butt cut, otherwise it’s a trip hazard, and an automatic fail. This really is a fairly easy test but my cut wasn’t perfect and I ended the first day on a frustrating note. This meant I had to

have enough time left at the end of the second day to retake the test with an automatic five-point deduction going in.

Crunch Time

I went into the second day with nine stations that needed to be completed. To say my stress level was high was definitely an understatement.

I started day two with the corrugated wall test which proved to be my worst station of all, and not a good way to start my second day. I think lack of sleep and a very high stress level contributed to the stupid mistakes I made during installation. From the corrugated wall I moved onto the Sprinter door.

My practice installs on the Sprinter door had gone fairly well, but I was using tools I had never picked up before training. I went over my time again, and made a couple dumb mistakes, but I ended up with an 88 percent which at this point I would happily take.

On day one of training we had practiced our skills on the rivet wall. With so many years experience applying premium cut vinyl I didn’t anticipate any problems with this station. I also didn’t realize how many bad habits I’ve picked up over the years.

Holding the squeegee correctly proved to be my biggest arch nemesis those first couple days. Holding the squeegee at the correct angle makes all the difference when applying vinyl across a rivet. This was a perfect example of how being self-taught doesn’t always mean you’re doing it right.

I had psyched myself out on my abilities on this wall by this point and was dreading having to do it. I had to push through it as quickly as possible because I still had six more tests left after this one. Adam gleefully marked this test up with lots of circles and marks-to mess with my head a little-but then he gave me a 100% on the station I was dreading.

As soon as I finished it I moved onto the concrete wall, smooth wall and brick wall mosaic tests. Each of those tests went fairly smooth, even though I was using tools that were new to me.

Although it was getting later in the afternoon I was able to breath a little at this point. I just had the written test, wall test and the floor graphics re-do test left. Because I studied like crazy for the written test I was able to breeze through it in about 15 minutes with a 100% score. The wall test also went smooth as Adam had walked us through the steps during training.

I returned to the floor graphic test for another attempt at cutting a clean butt cut. Luckily this time I was able to keep my knife at the correct angle and my seams aligned perfectly.

Having an encouraging trainer made a big difference in my ability to calm my nerves enough to get through each test. The knowledge I acquired, and the skills I learned, have been passed along to the other installers in our shop. Earning the 3M Preferred Graphics Installer certificate has also opened up doors to more installations as well.

Charity Jackson

Charity Jackson is owner of Visual Horizons Custom signs, a full-service commercial sign company based in Modesto, Calif.  She has been in business since 1995 and specializes in vehicle wraps, design and project management and workflow. You can visit her Web site at www.vhsigns.com.

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