Vehicle Graphics 101
For many in-plants, finding new ways to be relevant to the parent organization while at the same time helping to cut costs and improve quality can be a challenging endeavor. And while the evolution will be different for every in-plant, one service that is starting to look more attractive across a range of industries and segments is vehicle wraps and graphics.
For any organization with a fleet — be it a single company car, hundreds of delivery vans, or something in between — vehicles are an often-overlooked way to spread the message and mission economically. In fact, for its 2019 Out-of-Home Advertising Study, Nielsen included wrapped vehicles for the first time, noting that among its participants, 64% noticed a wrapped vehicle in the last month, and 44% said they had noticed a wrapped vehicle in the last week. That is a powerful messaging medium any in-plant can leverage on behalf of its organization.
That leverage can range from including a phone number on the side of a car for customers to call, to tying graphics into a recruitment campaign that spans a range of media, to simply helping build brand awareness of the organization and the work it does. Right now, the odds are good that even if the fleet does use vehicle graphics, the work is being outsourced. An in-plant willing to take the time to learn can easily bring this service under its own roof.
One in-plant that has gone that route is Sanford Health Print and Mail Services.
“The expense to outsource this service was far too great,” notes Manager Lisa Stelter. “At the time [we added it], our large-format services were growing, and we had the technology in place to support wraps in general, but didn’t have the talent to support the need. We ended up hiring someone with those specific skills to bring this service in-house.”
For other in-plants that want to follow that same path, the question then becomes, “where do I start?”
Taking the Leap
First of all, says Justin Pate, a professional graphics installer and co-founder of The Wrap Institute, in-plants considering adding vehicle wraps to their service mix should understand that they don’t have to wrap the entire vehicle.
“Something I really push is that partial wraps are more profitable than full wraps,” he notes. “As much as people get in and feel like they have to wrap everything, if they’re really clever about the design and use good tips and tricks, they can get away with not wrapping the door handles and mirrors.”
In-plants can start off producing decals for the side panels, for instance, that are simple shapes and designs, and don’t need to conform to the specific curves and styles of a particular vehicle because they aren’t going beyond a single flat surface. In fact, for many in-plant operations, this might be as far as vehicle graphics ever go. But for those who want, or need, to wrap either all or part of the fleet, there are a few things to do before ever getting started to help ensure success.
First of all, says Ray Weiss, the director of digital print programs at SGIA, in-plants need to evaluate their current equipment lineup and determine what will be needed.
“That’s where I would start,” he advises. “I’m assuming most in-plants will already have a design department, so they have that going for them. But at a minimum, they will also need to have the right printer and a laminator — and that’s the bare minimum. They may also need a cutter, or a printer/cutter combination. Then they will have to decide if they want to go the solvent or latex route.”
The Latex Advantage
For an in-plant brand new to wide-format graphics, Weiss suggests going with a latex machine for several reasons. First, the printheads on latex devices can go weeks between being used without any trouble, whereas solvent printheads do better when they are run more frequently. For an in-plant just adding this service, this will cut down on maintenance.
Another advantage he points out is that the prints coming off a latex machine are immediately ready to laminate, whereas a solvent-printed piece will require time to outgas.
“They are setting themselves up for failure if they don’t give [solvent] time,” he says. “It will be at least four hours for a small amount of coverage, and they most likely will want to wait 12-24 hours before laminating to give it the least chance of failure.”
Pate also notes that the single biggest point of failure he sees in shops new to vehicle wrapping is that they didn’t allow the print enough time for outgassing. But that said, he notes that it also comes down to how much ink is used — if an in-plant tries to use the same profile for every vinyl, too much ink will get used for some of them, making the material sticky and tacky, and leading to points of failure such as delamination.
For those in-plants that choose to purchase a solvent printer — or want to use a solvent printer already owned — make sure the ink is dry and the piece has had time to sit before trying to proceed to the next step, Pate says.
That said, at the end of the day, “For the most part you can’t go wrong with printers,” says Pate. “All the manufacturers are putting out really great printers for the price point — just get one with a good service representative in your area.”
Stelter also recommends that, rather than starting with the equipment, go back one step and start by deciding who will be creating and installing the wraps — whether that means getting the training for someone already on staff, or hiring an individual who has that skillset — and then letting them dictate the technology choices.
The Right Materials
Once the hardware has been chosen, the next step is purchasing the right substrates. And this is the second point where many shops fail.
“It’s not just about price,” stresses Pate. He notes that while it might be tempting to purchase vinyl and laminate material based on price, if they aren’t designed to work together, the likelihood of the entire wrap failing goes up exponentially.
“You might save $50 on a roll, but if the wrap fails, you’ve lost money,” he says.
“This is a critical point,” affirms Weiss. “You have to match the vinyl to the laminate. If the vinyl is cast, the laminate has to be cast; if it’s calendared, the laminate has to be calendared. Don’t think you’re going to use a 3M cast laminate, and then go buy a cheaper calendared vinyl — it will delaminate.”
And not all vinyl and laminate products will work well together even if they are the same type, so simply buying the cheapest cast materials available, for example, still might open the in-plant up for failure. Pate suggests not just listening to distributor recommendations, either.
“Talk to your tech rep, or go on forums of peers and ask them to chime in,” he advises.
Don’t Overlook Design
The actual design is the second part of having the right materials — especially for an in-plant looking to produce full or partial wraps. Having the correct template for the specific make, model, and even year is critical to ensuring the final installation goes smoothly.
“Designing for wraps is different than designing for walls or floors,” says Pate. “There is a 3D element that can be tricky to master, and it is the biggest bottleneck. Designers can really screw up an install.”
“The biggest fault I’ve ever seen — and it was my fault, I didn’t pay enough attention — was for a vehicle wrap demo,” reveals Weiss. “We … hired an installer, and I found a template online for the van we had and measured it from nose to stern. I don’t know what happened, but we printed this entire van — two sides, trunk, back doors, etc. — and had two days of install planned. The installer starts to lay it out with magnets, and I’m a panel short. The designer had cut 50 inches off the graphic. We had to do the front and back on day one, and quickly reprint the sides for the next day.”
To get around that potential waste of time, money, and materials, both Pate and Weiss stress that finding a good resource for vehicle templates is an absolute must before even starting the design process. That is the only way to make sure it will fit seamlessly, won’t interfere with functions such as handles or mirrors, and won’t come up short.
“Measure twice, print once,” advises Stelter, who has seen the scope of what her in-plant prints with its wide-format equipment, including vehicle wraps, expand over the past four years. Today, the shop is wrapping a range of vehicle types, including semi-trucks, box trucks, courier delivery vehicles, and even golf carts. Of her staff of 23, which now spans two locations, she says that two are fully trained for vehicle wraps, although neither is doing them full time; one produces all of the in-plant’s wide-format work, and the second is mostly backup and works in mail operations the rest of the time.
Stelter offers her fellow in-plant managers some advice on getting the installation correct: “Account for the time it takes to remove old wraps, and determine if it makes sense to wrap over the top of old wraps. Understand the longevity of the piece to determine materials, [and] have your trained expert train a secondary team member for large installs — the hardest thing to do is line up six-foot-plus panels by yourself.”
Don’t Skimp on Training
Training, she emphasizes, is a crucial step. There are a range of ways for installers to gain experience, including workshops offered by every major materials supplier (such as 3M, Avery, and Orafol), video training (offered by The Wrap Institute, for example), or live demonstrations at events such as PRINTING United in October. The best wrappers in the world are constantly looking for new techniques, new ideas, new materials, etc. In-plants that adopt an attitude of “never stop learning” will find far more success with this service over time.
Practice makes perfect, adds Pate. Starting small to learn the materials and how they handle is a good strategy.
“You don’t have to hit a home run,” he points out. “Hit enough singles and you’ll still win.”
While it can seem daunting to add a service that requires the right blend of people, training, and equipment, the reality is that for those in-plants willing to take the leap, the rewards can be great.
“It is a value-added service to any in-plant,” stresses Stelter, “no matter the size. The savings on average for our organization has been 400%. We’ve found that once folks know we offer this service, they find ways to utilize it — and in ways that would never have been financially possible. We’ve seen a tremendous increase in wrap requests.”
Vehicle wraps as a service require a bit more work up-front. Unlike other types of wide-format work such as signs or banners, it isn’t practical to install the equipment and start producing wraps the same day without any true preparation. But while it might cost a bit more in time and money to get started, vehicle wraps have the potential to catapult an in-plant from a minor cog in the organization to a major engine helping to drive the mission forward.
Related story: Walls of Wonder: Mastering Wide-Format Installation