Everything to Know About How to Wrap Your Vehicle
An alternative to painting your vehicle is to have it “wrapped”. This is a process of covering the body of the vehicle with vinyl instead of a layer of paint. The benefits to wrapping include the ability to use complex graphic designs that are printed rather than painted, wrapping provides a protective layer to the paint below, and it offers a new level of personalization for any vehicle. This notion of personalization is what often makes wrapping a popular choice in advertising. There is also a growing interest in wrapping personal vehicles with solid colors to achieve tones and finishes that are typically painstaking to paint.
We will highlight the pros and cons of a wrap vs. paint, as well as the basic car wrap costs, and key aspects to pay attention to while deciding on a wrap.
Why Wrap, not Paint?
If you are interested in wrapping your vehicle already, you likely already know why you prefer a wrap over paint. For those who are still unsure, there are several reasons why a wrap is your best choice. Reasons for choosing a wrap over paint include:
- Wraps can offer a wider selection of auto body personalization.
- You can get graphics on the vehicle that are nearly impossible to paint.
- Wrapping can be cheaper when you are modifying only sections of the vehicle.
- Wraps can preserve the paint underneath.
- Wraps do not take away from the resale value of the vehicle because they can be removed.
- Car wrapping is easier to make uniform for fleet vehicle purposes.
There are times in which a wrap is not your best choice. For most applications wraps are perfectly fine, however they can be done wrong and end up not being worth the effort or investment. Reasons you may decide against a wrap can include:
- Paint beneath wraps has to be flawless, or at least perfectly smooth, or else the flaws will show through the vinyl. If your vehicle has poor paint quality or is missing large sections of paint, it may need to be repainted before it can be wrapped.
- Some wraps are too obvious, and do not provide a “deep” enough color. For a traditional look, a new paint job may be the only way to achieve what you want.
- Paint jobs can be cheaper.
- Clear coat problems may prevent wrap from adhering to the vehicle, so paint may be your only option. Although, after curing, you can wrap over the new paint.
- Wraps may not last as long, especially if you do not buy a quality product or have it installed properly.
- Wrapping can be as difficult as painting if you are not used to the process. If you are looking to DIY, make sure you practice first.
Tools and Chemicals Needed to Wrap a Vehicle
As with painting, preparation is key to a successful wrap. The tools you need for preparation are as important as the tools you use for the vinyl application itself. Make sure you use quality products for a quality result.
- Degreaser/wax stripper- to remove waxes and finishes that will prevent the vinyl wrap from adhering. It is best if these are safe to use on car paint, and will not do damage to the paint below, but simply expose the paint
- Isopropyl Alcohol- to perform a final cleansing right before vinyl application
- Squeegee- for vinyl application
- Measuring tape/T-square- You will need something to help you cut the vinyl appropriately
- Blade/hobby knives- to cut vinyl to size, and shape curves. You may want a small variety of sizes and shapes
- Heat gun– for vinyl application
- Vinyl wrap gloves- specially designed for vinyl application, you will want a pair if you are doing this yourself
- Vinyl wrap– Choose the vinyl wrap in a color or design that you like. We suggest no purchasing the least expensive option, as the quality of the product may be subpar. The application process may be more difficult with cheaper products as well
- Infrared thermometer- to keep the heating process controlled
- Lint-free towels or paper towels- to lessen the amount of time you spend prepping the surface of the vehicle
How to Wrap A Car – Step by Step Instructions
1. Remove All Accessories
Anything and everything needs to be removed from the body of the vehicle. This includes badging, moldings, handles, bumpers, trim, or any accessories that are attached to the body. These will prevent you from wrapping the vehicle properly and will get in the way. You also want to be able to clean the paint surface under these items so the vinyl wrap can adhere properly.
2. Prepare the Vehicle’s Paint
The first step is to prepare the vehicle’s current paint for wrapping. This is probably the most important step, as it will determine how successful you are during the rest of the wrapping process. Preparing the vehicle may be more difficult depending on the current condition of the paint and body. See “Pro Tips” below for more information on specific detailing guidelines.
Any wax and polish that is on the vehicle’s paint needs to be removed. Vinyl wraps will not adhere to these products, and you will have problems later on. Dirt, grime buildup, grease, and anything that may compromise adhesion needs to be removed. Keep the isopropyl alcohol on hand, as you will do a final wipe with it (on a lint-free towel or paper towel) right before you apply the vinyl.
You will also want to make sure that the area in which you are working is incredibly clean and dust free. This will minimize the amount of extra cleaning you have to do directly before applying the vinyl, and it will help improve your chances of success.
This may be the second most important part of wrapping a vehicle. Wrap is typically available in 60-in wide rolls, meaning you have to know the size of the wrap you are working with to properly map out where each section is going to be applied. Once you know the size of your wrap and how to orientate it, you can map out where each section is going to go and make a list of what cuts you need to make. Keep in mind seaming vinyl can be difficult, and you want to minimize the number of seams you have.
Always make your cuts 4-6 inches wider than you would expect they would need to be. This will give you extra room to play with in case something goes wrong. You can always cut extra vinyl off but adding it when cut too short is hard.
You can then lay the wrap, backing still intact, on the vehicle to ensure that the cuts are correct. Size up all of your cut sections of vinyl to make sure they are sized properly, and that you have not missed anything. Keep these cut sections separated and properly sorted out for smooth sailing during the application process.
4. Apply the Vinyl Wrap
Application is all about technique. Those who are new to wrapping will need to practice. Start with small flat areas in order to develop your technique on the easier sections. There are three things you need to keep in mind and focus on while wrapping. The first is that you are applying the vinyl from the middle outward towards the edges. This is the best way to reduce the risk of bubbles and trapped air. The second is that you will want to use a squeegee to push air out of the way as you lay the wrap down onto the paint. Lastly, you will use heat to expose any air bubbles, and work them out before the glue on the wrap gets a chance to dry. Below is a bulleted list of how to apply the wrap step-by-step.
- Lay wrap down for a final check that the section fits as designed.
- Use isopropyl alcohol to remove any dust and allow it to dry.
- Remove the vinyl’s backing exposing the adhesive.
- From the middle outward, press the vinyl onto the paint carefully and slowly. Use the squeegee as needed to work any air bubbles out as it presses down. Keep the section straight and level as you work it onto the body of the vehicle. Apply even pressure in a chosen pattern to keep the application uniform.
- After the section as been applied straight and with little to no trapped air, you can use a heat gun to expose any hidden bubbles. Work these bubbles out immediately.
5. Final Cuts
Make the final cuts to your vinyl. Cut the sections down to 1/8-in extra. This gives you the ability to wrap the tail end of the vinyl sections around the edges of the panels for a flawless look. Make sure you do not cut the paint below. Also make sure the cuts are straight and done with precision. Making mistakes at this stage is costly.
6. Tuck and heat
The final stage in wrapping a car is to tuck the left-over edges down around each panel and make them appear hidden. You can then heat the vinyl one final time to make it latch onto the surface of the vehicle. It will need to set and sit while you give it a final inspection. Look for any signs of potential problems like peeling or bubbling. These need to be fixed immediately. Use the squeegee to help if needed. Apply pressure for several seconds to ensure that the adhesive is making proper contact.
- Dents and scratches- Fill in dents and scratches before you wrap. The vinyl is going to take the shape of the vehicle, whatever condition it may be in. Have body work, paint touch ups, and other repairs done ahead of time.
- Get help- All of the above steps are easier when you work as a team. Not only does it help to have a hand holding the wrap as you apply it, but an extra set of eyes may catch something you didn’t.
- Seaming- Seaming vinyl can be difficult. You want to match the layers of vinyl together as closely as possible, without overlapping them. This is an area that has potential for peeling once the vehicle is exposed to weather, and it also has the potential to bubble. Take extra time to make sure seams are butted up together properly.
- Heating- Keep an infrared thermometer on the heated area so that you know when you are getting too warm. Follow individual wrap instructions, but most are required to be post-heated at around 95 and 120 degrees C.
- Quality Products- Always buy quality products if you expect a quality result. Purchasing cheap vinyl may result in a poor wrap or wrap that does not hold up well against the elements. The same can be said for the products you used to apply the wrap.
The Cost of a vehicle can vary greatly depending on the complexity of the wrap, the size of the vehicle, and any extra features that may interest you. A small sedan can get a solid colored wrap for $2,000. A van, truck, or SUV may cost more on the side of $5,000 depending on the market in your area. There are specially designed chrome wraps, textured wraps, and graphic designs that can all add to the price of a wrap. Commercial fleet wraps can typically get a group discount. A DIY job can cost as little as $600 for a small vehicle if you have most of the tools already.
We truly hope you have a better idea of what it takes to wrap your vehicle. Do not rush a wrap, as you are sure to make more mistakes. Take your time and make corrections as you go. While the process can be difficult, with patience you can wrap a vehicle at home for cheaper than having it done professionally. If you feel this process if above you, local experts can help you design a wrap that is perfect for your personal or professional career.
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