By Melissa Donovan
With continued vehicle wrap product advancements, installation is easier than ever—sometimes only one installer is needed to apply an entire vehicle wrap.
Part of the success involves enhancements in adhesion technology. Each manufacturer has their own secret sauce, but most offer pressure-activated adhesives that slide and reposition with air egress technology that reduces bubbles, wrinkles, and air entrapment.
“Ease of installation is a critical factor for print service providers (PSPs) and wrap installers. The industry recognizes that quick and efficient installations are more profitable. Customers expect faster turnaround times. PSPs need products that are consistent, produce vivid colors, are easy to handle, and offer specific products that can be less expensive. Installers need materials that are easy to work with to meet those expectations,” explains Ryan Allen, regional technical specialist, North America, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions.
Adhesion, in addition to a number of other components—the film, liner, and overlaminate—play critical roles in creating media that offers ease of installation.
Above: The Avery Dennison Supreme Wrapping Film Celestial Satins, with color Solar Dawn pictured here, are three new iridescent shades added to the Supreme Wrapping Film ColorFlow color portfolio. Using Easy Apply RS adhesive technology makes application faster and easier, no matter the skill level of the applicator.
Ease of installation is continually in demand from PSPs as well as vehicle wrap installers.
“Adhesive technology of film has come a long way. Ease of installation is a must in a business setting where you need to get the finished product out the door as quickly as possible, but still offer a high-quality application,” asserts Michael Aldrich, product support specialist, FDC Graphic Films, Inc.
According to Louie Calma, technical solutions specialist, Arlon Graphics, ease of installation or application widens the range of application expertise. This translates to effortless scheduling and on-time delivery.
“Yes, products with easy application features widen the range of application skills needed to complete the job,” agrees Ritchie Daize, senior technical solutions manager, Arlon Graphics. “This is especially true when print shops send wrap kits out to contractors to apply. Contractors will often charge a premium to apply graphics without easy application features.”
A simpler installation allows print providers to take on more jobs. “The faster and easier you can correctly install a wrap the more wraps you can produce in a given time frame. That higher throughput ultimately means more profit for the business,” suggests Marc Bagley, transportation segment marketing manager, 3M.
Demand for ease of installation is partly driven by the lack of skilled laborers. “Complex installation processes require skilled labor, which can be expensive and hard to find. Simplifying the installation process helps shift the installation preparation and basic installation service to more novice installers. This allows highly specialized or certified installers more time to focus on revenue-generating activities for the shops, including intricate and detailed wrap designs requiring more advanced installation skills and expanding their range of services,” admits Allen.
According to Mattia Casarotto, area manager, EVOLV, there are always new installers with little experience approaching this industry, which makes it important to have products with ease-of-install features available.
Trends in wrapping also dictate whether ease of installation remains popular. “Of late, more commercial vehicles are partial wraps or vehicle signage where the surface is flat or has simple curves, and the advertisements are changed out more frequently compared to full wraps. In transit messaging, more partial wraps are sold now than full bus and train wraps. The conformability to compound curves and long-term durability that cast vinyl offers in these cases may be over-engineered, and calendared vinyl with an air egress liner is a suitable and more economical alternative that still provides ease of installation,” explains Jodi Sawyer, strategic business unit manager, FLEXcon.
“Installers will always be in favor of products that improve their processes, or offer greater reliability without any extreme effort. Anything that we as manufacturers can do to ease their load is going to be appreciated, and we are constantly looking for ways to improve the product and process for a better overall product and experience,” says Matt Edwards, product manager of digital print media, General Formulations.
Vehicle wrap installers range from experienced professionals to newcomers, says Allen. And this in 2023, where vehicle wrapping has been around for decades. The stability of the application is astounding and a testament to how successful vehicle graphics messaging for a business can be.
With this in mind, more interested parties are becoming involved in wrapping, which is why ease of installation is for all experience levels—novice to professional. “Providing ease of installation for all levels ensures consistent, vibrant results customers expect. It ensures satisfaction and reflects positively on the converter and installer,” stresses Allen.
Both ends of the spectrum benefit, notes Daize. “Low-contact adhesive systems that are often associated with easy application make wrapping easier and more manageable for novices and faster and more profitable for experienced installers.”
There is nothing wrong with “frustration-free application” as it “keeps a high morale and motivation for all levels,” says Calma.
Also, many wrap jobs aren’t straightforward—there are multiple factors that can effect the final application, this includes the printer used, the ink type, vehicle accepting the wrap, and even the climate. Any of these reasons could be why media featuring ease-of-install characteristics would be preferred.
“Depending on the curvaceousness and complexity of the vehicle being wrapped in addition to the customer’s expectations one film may be more advantageous over another. Take a cargo van with a deep recess and a customer that does not like the look of a commercial cut or cut-and-drop for example. In that instance, an installer is going to want a more conformable film that can be set into a deep recess with less heat,” shares Bagley.
He explains that in warmer areas, wrap films across the board tend to tack up a little more so those installing further South tend to prefer lower tack films, especially in non-climate controlled conditions. The opposite is true in colder climates. In the North, installers tend to favor films with a slightly higher tack level.
“The complexity of the installation, the size, scope, and risk involved are factors that impact the material selection and the importance that ease of installation plays,” agrees Sawyer.
According to Nate Goodman, technical product manager, graphic and signage solutions, Mactac, “researching the product beforehand is important and determining whether it suits your skill level to avoid potential frustration or damage. Ultimately, whether a product is easy to install depends on the user’s experience and familiarity with the technology.”
None the less, “most veteran installers will tell you that they can install anything, as their experience with various materials and surfaces has put them in a position where they learned how to listen to the film and feel the adhesive, regardless of the application,” admits Edwards.
Today’s vehicle wrap media products are much easier to work with during install for multiple reasons. Narrowing it down, there’s the adhesion technology—which plays a large role, in addition to the release liner, facestock, and overlaminate.
“From a broad standpoint, the industry has advanced in terms of installation training and education and increased collaboration between the media manufacturers, printers, and installers to better understand how the materials, the printing and converting, and the methods used for install can impact the ease and ultimate success of the installation,” shares Sawyer.
According to Edwards, the adhesive, film, and liner “all working in concert have created an ideal instrument that is an excellent mix of flexibility with consistency, conformability with control, and with increasing quality of look and durability.”
Specifically, “adhesive technology has advanced in many ways to make wrap films easier to apply,” explains Daize.
“Adhesive is key for a quick and easy install. There are permanent, removable, and slideable adhesive systems. All three need repositionability to tack down, remove, and reapply in case of bubbles or other challenges during installation. The slideable technology allows quick and easy positioning because it will not stick to the application surface when it is being put in place, explains Goodman.
Main points to note in relation to adhesion technology for an ease-to-install product include air egress, tack, respositonability, and ultimate bond.
Air egress is essential. “There is nothing worse than laying down a difficult panel only to discover a bubble right in the middle that requires you to either puncture the graphic film or snap part of it back up,” admits Bagley.
“In today’s market, it is a necessity for vehicle wrap films to have air egress to allow for a bubble-free and dry application. Next is the adhesive’s pre-tack. Once the liner is removed, the less pre-tack there is, less effort is needed to snap up the graphic and reposition,” says Calma.
Adhesive with a medium to low tack allows for easier repositionability of the graphic to the surface, states Sawyer. “The tack of an adhesive is the force required to break an instantaneously formed bond. When an adhesive has a high initial tack, it can make repositionability of large panel graphics more challenging because the adhesive grabs onto the surface and is not easily repositioned.”
Then there is the repositionability after squeegee pressure. “The adhesive must remain workable for the next few minutes—prior to post-heating—to allow for correction such as wrinkles or bubbles. And finally, the ultimate bond. The adhesive must be able to stay down on complex curves and grooves even without the use of primer or adhesion promoters,” shares Calma.
“A preferred adhesive type for vehicle wraps is a long-term removable acrylic adhesive. This specific type of adhesive offers a low initial tack, and gains adhesion over a period of time. Removability is key and finding an adhesive that lifts when it is needed and that will not separate, is very important. It means the adhesive leaves no residue behind once the film is removed from the surface of the vehicle,” says Allen.
To achieve optimal installation, Edwards suggests a grey adhesive, providing opacity to prevent the paint color from impacting the look of the graphic. This adhesive has just the right amount of tack to hold when needed, but release when necessary to slide.
“For vehicle wraps with compound curves, products with repositionable, slideable adhesives are often preferred because they allow the product to hover over the surface and be repositioned multiple times with ease without distorting and stretching the graphic. Once the graphic is in place, pressure activates the adhesive and allows it to wet out and bond to the surface,” explains Sawyer.
Besides the adhesive, another important component to ease-of-install media options is the release liner. “An easy liner release prevents the film from pre-stretching and zipper lines. It also eliminates the need for a second person to pull the liner from the opposite side,” explains Calma.
“The liner, or backing quality, is a crucial component. High-quality liners ensure that the material can be unrolled and applied smoothly, minimizing tension and reducing the risk of errors. While adhesive quality is vital, the role of the liner in facilitating smooth handling and application is equally important,” agrees Allen.
The liner acts as backbone to the whole configuration. “It provides stability, lay flat characteristics, and prevents stretching during printing and handling. It also will impart air release channels in the adhesive so the film can be applied without bubbles being trapped behind it. While the adhesive is crucial, the film and liner help to make the installation process as smooth and easy as possible. The film conformability, stability, and elongation properties affect whether an application tape needs to be used and how to handle it when installing,” shares Goodman.
The facestock or film and overlaminate should not be overlooked. “These components affect the dimensional stability of the overall construction. Some rigidity in the film is beneficial to minimize pre-tack and pre-stretching,” says Calma.
Aldrich agrees that film technology is important. “Cast vinyl being the go-to for most wraps there are calendered films also with lots of plasticizers allowing this film to be more flexible to help go around rivets and most complex curves. This allows for a more cost-effective, shorter term option for customers that want a good looking wrap but want to save some money.”
Softer films, which are easier to stretch, also aid in ease of installation, according to Casarotto.
Laminate choice has an impact. “The thinner the laminate typically the more conformable. Also consider the surface energy because that correlates with the amount of friction your squeegee or wrap glove has as it slides over the face of the film,” adds Bagley.
Edwards agrees that film and liner play critical roles in the mix, and other components “come down to experience and equipment, spending time building your craft and identifying the best methods and aides to get the job done consistently and with the highest quality.”
Slide and Reposition
Considering two of the more common terms in adhesion technology for easy install include repositionability and slideability, can one exist without the other?
According to Allen, repositionability and slideability go hand in hand. “They work together using the same technology to accomplish each of the tasks. Together they reduce a large amount of issues that become present at time of installation. While slideability enables the material to glide across the surface much more easily, repositionability offers the opportunity to make larger adjustments after the film has touched the surface. Both features contribute to a successful, easy installation and save time.”
A material that is repositionable, but not slideable is possible. “Slideability is created both with the formulation of the adhesive as well as the pattern of the air-egress liner. It is feasible that you could formulate a slideable product that becomes instantly permanent when pressure is applied, but that lack of repositionability would make it much less helpful for actual applications,” admits Edwards.
“You can have one without the other. This would most likely depend on the installer’s experience with vehicle wraps and decal applications and how comfortable they are with installations and understanding and applying the techniques needed without one of these features,” suggests Aldrich.
For Calma, it depends on how you define repositionabilty. “When I evaluate wrap films or train applicators, I refer to repositionability as the ease and ability of the film to be repositioned after squeegee pressure is applied.”
Another factor—the application. “Though they are often paired together you can technically have a film that has one technology but not the other. In cases like box trucks, a surface that is relatively flat but needs a cast film for the conformability over rivets, you may not need repositionability but want air release channels due to the size of the panels,” says Bagley.
Media designed for ease of installation is in demand for multiple reasons. A wrapper or PSP may employ novice installers, or perhaps they want to speed up production to wrap more vehicles in less time.
Advancements primarily in adhesive technology are furthering the potential for films boasting ease of installation, but other components like the media itself, liner, and overlaminate also play a role.
To learn more about vehicle wraps and this category of media, visit digitaloutput.net and register for our latest webinar on the topic.
Nov2023, Digital Output