By Melissa Donovan
When we discuss vehicle wraps we usually talk about the art of selling the service, designing the graphics, printing, finishing, and installing. The installation portion of the overall process involves multiple steps to ensure the job is completed. These steps require tools like heat guns, tapes, knives and/or blades, squeegees, and magnets. They may be simple, but they are important components in a vehicle wrap installer’s tool kit.
Above: Avery Dennison offers various tools used for vehicle wrap installation.
A Tool Rundown
A vehicle wrap install requires a lot of tools to get the job done successfully. The most important in a vehicle wrap installer’s arsenal include tape, magnets, squeegees, heat guns, and knives and/or blades. Some are essential while others are beneficial.
Prior to a material’s adhesive sticking to the car, it’s helpful to use certain tools to hold the graphic in place. Tape is an example—and holding things in place is just one of its many jobs. “Tapes have multiple uses. Masking tape creates slip points and protects things from being cut by knife blades. Masking tape also is used for bridging material and holding sections of backing paper and material,” share Ryan Allen, regional technical specialist Western North America and Joey Heiob, regional technical specialist Eastern North America, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions.
Tape is a common method, but magnets are also an option. “Vehicle wrap magnets are an essential tool for any serious vehicle wrap installer. Magnets provide a more efficient method and are easily repositioned, allowing wrap technicians to make adjustments as needed. Additionally, magnets do not leave behind a residue on the vehicle or graphic, nor will they tear or damage the graphic,” explains Karen Dekker, marketing communications coordinator, Master Magnetics, Inc.
“Magnets can be used in place of masking tape to allow the film to slide and be repositioned. They are often easier to use than tape in some parts of the vehicle where tape may not conform as well,” add Phil Aquin, application engineer and Marcio Oliveira, global expertise delivery manager, 3M Commercial Solutions.
Squeegees are helpful in adhering the film to the vehicle. Surprisingly, there are many different kinds of squeegees. “The type of film being installed determines what kind of squeegee to use as far as if you need a soft sided squeegee, a squeegee that has a material designed to be wet apply, or a more flexible squeegee for complex curves on a vehicle,” suggest Allen and Heiob.
Aquin and Oliveira believe that the squeegee is an installer’s most important tool—without it, install must occur by hand, which results in a lot of air bubbles. “When using a squeegee with firm contact, it helps to uniformly add pressure to the film so it adheres to the surface,” they continue.
During install heat guns soften the film and mold it into curves and rivets. Conforming the film to the shape of the vehicle, this achieves a painted-on effect. “Heat guns warm up and help adhere the vinyl wrap being put onto the vehicle. Heating up the wrap allows it to be stretched around the vehicle and installed perfectly. Without proper heat, an installer will constantly be going over the area and not installing as quickly,” say Steve Deremo, national account manager and Casey Halikiopoulous, senior marketing manager, Steinel.
An install often involves removing excess material from the car. Knives and blades are favored. “Knives are a huge part of car wrapping. A knife will help cut the vinyl to lay on the car and help with intricate designs, and remove excess material,” explains Stacey Grabiec, account manager, Excel Blades.
Snap-off or breakaway blades are popular because once a cut occurs, the edge can snap off and a new edge is available for the next cut. “Anytime you make a cut on vinyl, professionals recommend having a sharp new blade. This helps control the pressure to not damage the surface below the vinyl,” suggests Carl Cottrell, national accounts director, OLFA – North America.
If cutting directly on the vehicle’s paint, Aquin and Oliveira recommend knifeless tape—it is ideal for cutting the film without putting a blade on the vehicle.
“Knifeless tape is a must have for areas where you have to make cuts on the car and you want to avoid doing any damage to the vehicle paint and/or clear coat. There are several different types of knifeless tapes available, it is dependent on what type of cut you need to make on different materials,” add Allen and Heiob.
Additional tools to consider are tweezers, which are great for weeding vinyl, preventing wrap film from folding on itself, and providing extra control on tricky areas like door handles, notes Grabiec. She also says air release tools are helpful because they allow for almost invisible perforations to be made where air pockets are present.
Features to Look For
Vehicle wrap installers considering tools like magnets, squeegees, heat guns, and knives and/or blades need to understand exactly what is required when it comes to installing vehicle wrap graphics. Certain features are ideal and help to achieve a smooth install versus creating damage to the graphic or worse vehicle.
When it comes to magnets, key factors are strength, ease in ability to handle the tool, and minimizing the magnet’s attraction during storage. “There are many types of magnetic material. Neodymium—also referred to as rare earth magnets—is the strongest and securely holds graphics and other tools in place. Master Magnetics’ wrap magnets have added benefits of an easy-grip design and Magnetic Shield, which prevents unwanted attraction during storage,” says Dekker.
Squeegees are available in nylon, teflon, plastic, felt, fleece, and gloves. “The installer needs to be comfortable with the squeegee they use. Most installers apply a separate felt or fleece to the squeegee that will make installation easier by improving slideability,” say Allen and Heiob.
Heat guns vary in regards to temperature settings. For a beginner wrap installer, Aquin and Oliveira suggest using a fixed dual-temperature gun. It works for most vehicle wrap films.
For example, the Steinel SV 803 economy heat set gun is an ideal general purpose heat gun. It offers three airflow settings and an adjustable temperature from a low 140 degrees Fahrenheit to a high 1,050 degrees Fahrenheit.
“For a heat gun, you want a quality tool that is accurate with its heat. A heat gun should be putting out exactly the heat you need, so you are not guessing how hot the material is. A digital readout on a heat gun allows the installer to know exactly how hot the material is getting,” add Deremo and Halikiopoulous.
One heat gun on the market that allows the user to control the surface temperature is the Master Appliance Corp. Proheat Surface Temperature Control Heat Gun. Equipped with STC Automatic Surface Temperature Control, it automatically regulates to maintain target surface temperature.
Cottrell notes that when it comes to knives and blades, the important thing to remember is cutting all the way through the film is not necessary. “A simple score needs to placed through the film so that it will split along the scored line. Using a 30 degree OLFA precision blade provides a precise point so that the film is scored but is not cut all the way through to the adhesive layer and accidentally to the paint,” he continues.
Knife features that Cottrell sees commonly requested include smaller handles the size of an ink pen for precision and control, but flat so they can be held without obstructing the installer’s view while cutting. The 30 degree snap-off OLFA blade model A1160B is popular because it offers a longer breakaway angle for better cutting accuracy.
“A light duty utility knife with a rounded, plastic front is important so that the knife can be pushed against the body of the vehicle and allows the installer to keep a steady hand without fear of scratching the car itself,” says Grabiec.
The Excel Blades K73 Smart Snap Knife features a 30 degree blade with a rounded plastic front, which allows for making smooth transitions while in use, according to Grabiec. A snap off, once the blade is dull it quickly becomes a fresh, sharp one.
Founded in 2010, St. Paul, MN-based Brand Ink is known for its wrapping expertise. Its install facility encompasses over 5,000 square feet, which enables the company to wrap hundreds of vehicles per year.
Nicholas Lowry, president, Brand Ink, believes the most important tools to achieve a successful vehicle wrap install involve experience and proper techniques. “Good installers know how to solve an installation problem when they get painted in a corner, but great installers see where the challenges are well in advance of getting to them, make small adjustments or plan to avoid them entirely.”
He suggests attending training classes. While training once involved expenses like travel, hotel stay, the cost of the class, and of course the time it took away from actually working, there are much more attainable methods available today.
“Any training you seek out needs to be relevant for the work you are doing or seeking to do. The skill set to be successful at fleet applications versus high-end car wraps are not complimentary, and if you forget what your goal is, you may end up pulling yourself in the wrong direction,” cautions Lowry.
Frame of Mind
The right physical tools can help install a wrap, but they can’t replace knowledge. Skilled wrap installers understand the correct way to handle tools.
Jun2020, Digital Output