By Melissa Donovan
There’s a lot of discussion on paint protection and color change films in relation to vehicle wraps. However, some of the biggest conversations in the early days of this application centered on printed graphics placed on vehicles. It was such a novel idea at the time, a graphic, on a piece of adhesive-backed media, adhered to a vehicle—and able to come off cleanly.
As time’s gone on, the allure has died down, but the thing is—printed vehicle wraps are still making a commotion. Whether it’s a four-door sedan, a box truck, or a boat, vehicles are on the go and marked with messaging that grab viewers’ attention when done properly. Media, hardware, and ink advancements allow this application to remain at the forefront when it comes to options for brand messaging.
Above: Wrapped car by SkinzWraps utilizing an Epson printer.
Aware of Advancements
Material, hardware, and ink advancements drive vehicle graphics’ popularity. Print service providers (PSPs) look to manufacturers to create products that enable them to be productive while still offering a high-quality graphic to their customers.
Productivity is a central focus. “When it comes to vehicle wraps, installers are always looking for films that install easier and faster so they can be more productive,” expresses Javier Lozano Jr., CMO, Wrapmate. This means improving the conformability and stretchability of films, in addition to advancements in adhesive technologies.
“When wrap material first came out, you would have a cast white print film with gray adhesive and the adhesive had some basic technology allowing you to pull up the film as you apply it. At that time, pulling the material back up to correct an issue wasn’t very easy. Shortly after, manufacturers added air egress technology to allow easier installation of the graphic to help remove air bubbles. Today, there are options like slideable films that glide across a vehicle, allowing for the correct positioning of the graphic to the surface until pressure is applied to get the graphic to stick. Adhesive bubble technology allows similar ease of application, and with these adhesive technologies, it is much less difficult to pull up the graphic to correct any issues while applying,” notes Michael Aldrich, product manager, FDC Graphic Films, Inc.
Slideability and repositionability are becoming standard on vinyl/film solutions, says Matt Edwards, product manager, digital print solutions, General Formulations. “The ability of a vinyl to be easily ‘tacked and retacked’ during the installation is a must. As vinyl/films continue to change, installers are coming up with more creative ways to install vehicle wraps. All of the advancements and improvements have resulted in increased application speeds, increasing profitability as well as the number of jobs completed in a period of time.”
“Some of the main advancements in vinyl media attribute to the longevity of the wrap and the ease of installation. Many longer lasting film laminates are coming on the market boasting a seven to ten year lifespan for vehicle wraps. Most of these laminates are non-PVC or polyurethane laminates that have similar properties as paint protection films. The different chemical make up of these laminates lasts substantially longer under intense UV rays; this prevents early burning, cracking, or discoloration on vehicle wraps, which you can typically see in the first two to four years depending on sun exposure and client aftercare,” share Jess Bonifacio and Mike Shedd, co-owners, Wrapsesh, in partnership with Mutoh America, Inc.
Ryan Allen, regional technical specialist, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions, hasn’t seen any huge advancements in the composition of materials, but he says there is an evolution in the way the substrate is used. “With restrictions on the availability of materials due to supply chain issues, print shops are creating amazing graphics and displays using mixed media.”
He gives an example of printing a unique color on digital wrapping film that a shop couldn’t source from a color change vehicle wrap portfolio, then overlaying lettering or other branded shapes using cut vinyl. “This provides more vehicle customization and personalization using a range of graphic film materials,” continues Allen.
“When it comes to printing on vinyl media, many custom graphic shops push the boundaries with their custom printing capabilities,” agree Bonifacio and Shedd.
Another illustration of unique methods of incorporating traditional printed vehicle graphics with color change film is by Wrapsesh, which regularly uses a matte metallic silver color change film. “The metallic base adds more depth and color saturation to a print. Imagine trying to print gold or silver on a standard white printable media. The colors come across as gray and yellow. When printed on a metallic silver base film, these colors look gold and metallic with more dimension. We are always trying new things with our printers and we often print on color change films and incorporate specialty laminates to make our wraps stand out. Keep in mind that if you print on a color change film, the manufacturer does not warranty the product. We typically reach out to the material manufacturers for guidance and advice when we are trying to push the envelope on our prints,” explain Bonifacio and Shedd.
There are also updates to printers and ink sets worth noting. “Printer and ink advancements have made wrapping even more exciting with the advancements in color matching and vibrancy of colors you can accomplish,” says Aldrich.
Vehicle graphics require “high consistency, both in color reproduction and length of print. Accurate, repeatable color is critically important in fleet graphics,” agrees Matt McCausland, senior product manager, Professional Imaging, Epson America.
Today’s ink sets are formulated for optimum performance when it comes to contoured applications. “Some UV inks are formulated to stretch and bend, whereas before UV ink was limited to flat applications only,” shares Aldrich.
One example of this, Canon Solution America’s Colorado line of UVgel printers. “The Colorado line of printers brings stretch to the UV market. With 185 percent stretch and a large color gamut, the Colorado can compete with the latest technologies in the print market for vehicle graphics,” explains Blake Moore, senior marketing specialist – Colorado, Canon U.S.A., Inc.
Dry times for the newest ink sets are virtually non-existent. “Printers and ink types continue to evolve and grow as well. These advancements allow vehicle and other graphics to be printed and laminated right away. Turning jobs over quickly is a must as lead times shrink. Yesterday is no longer fast enough,” notes Edwards.
An abbreviated curing time is a key feature when producing vehicle wraps, says McCausland. For example, the Epson SureColor R-Series Resin inks provide fully cured ink, so output can be laminated immediately. “With these features, installers can be confident in applying their newly printed graphic.”
Other advancements open up the possibility of eliminating lamination. “For vehicle graphics, PSPs no longer have to laminate 100 percent of their fleets thanks to durable, scratch resistant, and graffiti proof Canon UVgel inks. This is ideal for fleet graphics that do not require a full wrap. Eliminate excessive lamination costs on these applications while increasing profit margin,” attests Moore.
A Mature Application
Printed vehicle wraps are not the “new guy on the block” so to speak, but they hold their own when it comes to “hot” new applications. Brand owners continue to keep vehicle graphics top of mind.
“Despite the increasingly digital world, out-of-home advertising—which includes fleet graphics—remains an extremely effective marketing tool. Fleet branding connects with on-the-go consumers in a bold and memorable way to help build brand awareness. Studies show that vehicle marketing results in a 97 percent message recall compared to a 19 percent retention for stationary signs,” suggests Lozano Jr.
Savvy brand owners recognize the power of a good marketing piece, whether it’s a plane, train, or automobile wrap. “Wraps are a fantastic way to draw attention, curiosity, and value to a brand. With a wrap, you can engage many people, and this can be done in the grand scheme of things at less cost than what the brand owner may spend on other forms of outdoor advertising. These can be applied for a long period and can be easily changed out often refreshing your brand messaging,” shares Aldrich.
“The return on investment from the advertising value of a well-done wrap proves the power of ink and vinyl with the ability to change the wrap/graphics more frequently. Vehicle wraps are a near-mandatory branding extension for any small business. With so many surfaces that can be wrapped coupled with acceptance of spending funds on them, this advances our industry in a big way,” attests Edwards.
Printed wraps will always be a hot item, says Allen, as long as designers push the limits of their creativity. “Some of the greatest art I have seen has been on vehicles and walls. Graphic designers are now also getting into mixed media and finding creative ways to print on media that haven’t been done before. It’s an exciting time for creativity and how the range of vinyl films can be used to achieve a unique vision on a variety of applications.”
“Although vehicle wraps may not be the new guy on the block, in terms of applications they are still in demand as consumers look for more customized products. From cell phone covers to shoes and clothing, people look for any way to stand out from the crowd and the vehicle wrap market is feeling the effects of the increased demand,” says McCausland.
The interest in personalization is why Bonifacio and Shedd see printed vehicle wraps becoming popular for personal vehicles as well. “Having the option to print custom graphics gives clients so much versatility that printed wraps are becoming increasingly popular on personal vehicles rather than just commercial/fleet graphics used for advertising. Clients want something that no one has ever seen before; they are constantly looking to one-up their car community friends or stand out from dozens of businesses within their realm.”
PSPs contemplating venturing into vehicle graphics aren’t late to the game. There is still demand for additional shops to join the fun.
Moore sees the need for more players in the wraps segment. At a recent trade show, where the Colorado was showcased, Canon found many new prospects for the vehicle graphics market. He credits the “Colorado’s unique ability to produce large color gamut prints with consistent color that allow for vehicle wrap companies to not only match customer colors but reproduce them time and time again with consistency,” as a large draw.
“We are a big industry in many ways but also small. Everyone seems to know each other and we have made long-lasting friendships with other shops just by attending industry trade shows. Within the capital of AZ, there must be hundreds of sign/graphic shops and wrap/restyling shops. At one point in time, we had five shops within a single square mile of us. The demand for advertising and business graphics is constant, and the desire for custom prints for show cars and personal vehicles is ever growing,” admit Bonifacio and Shedd.
Lozano Jr. believes there are endless opportunities in this market and a strong need for more vehicle graphic shops and installers. “Recent reports have shown that our industry has grown rapidly over the last five years and will continue to grow at an exponential rate for the foreseeable future.”
Having options is important. Allen shares that this makes it better for the market as a whole, noting that there is always room for more wrap players in the industry. To succeed, he says the key is differentiation. “Each shop needs to find that one thing they are amazing at and really own it. Some shops are known for their specific styles or looks, or even applications, and that sets them apart from a traditional print shop.”
The sheer volume of vehicles also supports the need for additional PSPs taking on vehicle wraps. “According to Google, the last reported number of registered vehicles in the U.S. was 286.9 million in 2022. This includes cars, trucks, motorcycles, and buses. This doesn’t count train cars, semi-trailers, or airplanes. With the wrap template software that is available today, you can print anywhere and ship the graphics to the installers,” says Aldrich.
With “room to play,” Edwards encourages PSPs to take on vehicle graphics/wrapping, but cautions jumping in without significant research and training. “Everything from the materials used, design process, RIP, and vehicle-specific layouts, to the installation tools and space needed, all require a lot of knowledge, time, and money. All of these requirements should be considered as well as the business strategy overall. These changes may require a significant investment in space, equipment, and training. The PSP considering an expansion into vehicle wraps should do a review of their capacity, strengths, and current customer base.”
“Before entering the vehicle graphics market, PSPs should consider their position and installation capabilities. If the ability is there, then a PSP should look at offering vehicle wrap services to bolster their existing product line,” recommends McCausland.
There is room to grow in terms of people participating in the vehicle wrap market. Opportunities are there and it’s up to PSPs to conduct their own research on whether the moment is right to take them.
We continue the discussion on printed vehicle graphics and their relevancy in our most recent webinar, which is available online at digitaloutput.net/webinars.
Nov2022, Digital Output