By Cassandra Balentine
The path to success is different for everyone. Vehicle graphics are an attractive application, and many print providers have built businesses with this focus. With a range of media options, printing technology, and opportunity, skill and experience help set certain vehicle wrap providers apart from the competition.
For example, HDFive, based out of Grand Rapids, MI, is a vehicle wrap provider that specializes in motorsports. With eight employees, it is a family-driven business that is part of the NASCAR community. Tim Horvath II, owner, HDFive, grew up around race cars, his dad a racer. Horvath would watch his dad’s car being hand painted. As that transitioned to graphics, he saw an opportunity and started his business with a vinyl cutter.
Another MI-based company, One Eighty Designs, is in Carson City. It tackles a range of solutions from high-speed boats to an array of commercial vehicles. Established in 2011, the company started with one employee and is now up to eight. It is also doubling its footprint, adding 4,600 square feet to its current 4,000 square foot location.
Elsewhere, StickyStuff Signs & Graphics, Inc. is a three-employee operation with one location in central FL. Established in 1999, the company also focuses on race cars, as well as boat, trailer, and color change wraps.
Each of these businesses is an expert in designing, printing, as well as installing vehicle graphics.
Above: StickyStuff Sign & Graphics relies on General Formulations media for its NASCAR wraps.
The right media is essential to a successful vehicle wrap. Many shops have a go-to choice with years of experience to back up their selection. While it’s been difficult the past year and a half in terms of supply chain issues on the media front, having a good relationship is key to making it work.
HDFive is primarily an Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions shop; Horvath estimates that at least 95 percent of its vehicle graphics are printed on Avery Dennison media. He says the company transitioned two years ago and hasn’t looked back. “We feel it is a faster material to work with and realized we wrap about 15 percent faster with it,” he notes. Additionally, he experiences fewer returns and failures. Even with a higher price point, at the end of the day it is the ideal choice.
However, even with notable benefits, change is difficult. Horvath admits that after initially switching media, his installers were hesitant. They quickly converted after having time to work with it. “One of the first jobs we did with Avery Dennison was a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team. It was a big deal and we sent down three truck wraps. The owner of the team called and said ‘the first 30 minutes, I hated you because I didn’t know what I was dealing with, but once I learned how to best work with it, I fell in love.’”
Horvath explains that the media is more forgiving than some of the other standard vehicle wrap materials on the market. “If something is going south, it gives me the opportunity to react to it. I can maneuver it better and stretch or pull it. It’s the little things that make a faster install,” he continues.
Jason Teegardin, owner, One Eighty Designs, says that approximately 75 percent of its business is wraps. Its media brand of choice is Avery Dennison. “We were die-hard Avery Dennison from day one. We’ve used everything, but it is our go-to film.” Part of the allure is the outstanding customer support and relationship. In fact, One Eighty Designs is a test site for new releases.
The shop appreciates both the visual and performance aspects of Avery Dennison’s media. Teegardin says its repositionability and initial tack are two properties that shine. He finds it less aggressive than some of the competition and overall easier to apply. “I like the way the air channels disperse behind the film,” he notes.
StickyStuff Signs & Graphics relies on General Formulations media, especially for its digitally printed NASCAR wraps, which are done exclusively with the media brand’s GF 242 and GF 230 options.
GF 230 Automark is a premium 2.4-mil calendered gloss white vinyl digital media with a gray permanent repositionable acrylic adhesive on an air-egress liner. It is designed to accept a variety of solvent, latex, and UV-curable inks common to wide format digital printing systems. The gray permanent adhesive offers excellent opacity and exceptional repositionable qualities. It is specifically engineered for use in most vehicle wrap and decal applications.
GF 242 Optically Clear Cast Gloss overlaminating film is a pressure-sensitive vinyl with an optically clear, permanent, solvent-based adhesive and a polyester liner. This highly flexible gloss laminate provides protection against UV radiation, moisture, and abrasions. GF 242 is designed specifically for perforated window films like GF 280 and is recommended for use with GF 232, GF 260, GF 261, and GF 270. Cold lamination is recommended for this film.
Terry Hartley, owner, StickyStuff Signs & Graphics, says the media offers “incredible color printing, suburb adhesion, conformability, and high-gloss finishes. We’re always getting questions and complements—‘how did you do it?,’” he adds.
For color change wraps, the shop uses products from 3M Commercial Solutions, Avery Dennison, or ORAFOL Americas.
Print and Finish
When it comes to production, the printer technology type, widths, and ink sets all play a role in the final outcome of a vehicle graphic. Further, lamination is almost always required.
HDFive utilizes Roland DGA Corporation printers along with eco-solvent Eco-Sol MAX 2 ink. It laminates everything that leaves the shop with a Graphic Finishing Partners laminator and a Rollover AS Flexi table. Horvath says the Rollover has been a game changer, as it was between hiring someone new or buying the equipment. “It blows my mind how fast we can operate with the help of the Rollover,” he shares. The shop uses Avery Dennison laminates.
For StickyStuff Signs & Graphics, two Roland printers and inks offer the color and speed necessary for vehicle graphics. Prints are finished with a Royal Sovereign, Inc. laminator.
One Eighty Designs favors Mutoh America, Inc. printers, which Teegardin says are workhorses, all running from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day. Its first Mutoh printer is now eight years old and is just starting to show signs of aging. It currently has three and is expecting another. “We love the quality and speed for the price,” he shares.
Two Royal Sovereign 54- to 64-inch laminators are operated in house. One Eighty Designs uses Avery DOL 1360 Gloss overlaminate and thin materials. They offer stretch and self-healing features as well as good price point.
A range of software solutions support design and production of vehicle graphics, including Adobe Creative Suite, CorelDRAW, and SA International.
For design work, HDFive has dedicated designers in house as well as freelancers that are contracted to them. For the freelancers, design work is all that they do. Otherwise, its in-house staff can handle some design along with other aspects of the project. Because of this, Horvath finds the Adobe Creative Suite beneficial because it is universally utilized.
Templates are another helpful tool. These allow print providers to manage design differences between vehicles.
However, One Eighty Designs prefers its own system. The shop will take pictures of the vehicles it plans to wrap and scales them for design. It has built a reputation on its custom offerings. “We spend one-on-one time with customers to create a design that is one off,” says Teegardin. We do a lot of snowmobiles. If you buy a snowmobile kit online, you may pass four sleds on your weekend ride with the same design. With ours, you won’t, it’s custom.”
Commercial and Private
A market exists for both commercial and private vehicle wraps and graphics. Depending on a print provider’s set up, it may approach them the same or a little differently.
“Commercial wraps almost always mean branding. I push branding, color, and visibility,” states Hartley. He points out that it is helpful to determine what they are selling, and to what demographics.
How they want it to hit is another consideration. “Mild or wild? And almost always drive the point home—pun intended,” notes Hartley. “We end up taking more of an advertising agency design approach. Private wraps are more about highly detailed perfection of finish, color, and style.”
HDFive also does both commercial and private work, which breaks out to about 60 percent commercial and the rest private. It approaches and handles both types of jobs similarly.
Teegardin points out that the goals of a wrap are different for commercial versus private, but the approach in terms of preparation, production, and installation are the same.
Hartley says he’s happy to be part of the industry. “I came from a screenprinting background. To print and produce highly detailed, full-color printing is a small thrill. To have watched and been part of the changes is fantastic.”
Horvath also finds satisfaction in his field of work. He says his favorite part is seeing the finished project, and still enjoys the times where he’s in the zone, late at night finishing up a wrap with no distractions. “It reminds me of the times I spent working with my dad in the garage. There is nothing better,” he says.
“I am successful because I have the best team. Getting people that fit into your company means there are no bad days. And that’s what we have here at HDFive,” he adds.
One Eighty Designs fosters a similar environment, which extends to its community. “We have a really good group of employees and it’s a fairly small team in a little city. Everyone knows each other and we try to make everyone that walks in our doors feel special,” comments Teegardin.
At the end of the day, it’s all about pushing talents to the extreme. “The creative side is endless,” he says. “Every day is different and we meet a lot of cool people in a great industry.”
Stand Out Success
Vehicle wraps are appealing for print providers. Often, a focus on this one type of graphic opens many doors. From snowmobiles to big rigs and everything in between, with the right vehicle wrap provider the opportunities are endless.
Mar2022, Digital Output