It’s in the Prep – Tips and Tricks for a Successful Vehicle Wrap

To complete a professional wrap that will stand the test of time, attention to detail with preparation is key, it will save you time, money and most importantly your professional reputation.  90% of wrap failures are due to lack of preparation with cleaning being the main part of the process not carried out thoroughly enough.

Be aware …….  that not all paint defects can be seen. To to cover you for any paintwork touch-ups and/or repairs that may have been carried out in the past and that could cause possible poor paint adhesion issues, the use of a paint waiver form for the customer to sign is advisable.  If there are areas where you see potential for the wrap to fail ie: rust, peeling paint or missing, dented or damaged parts you must advise your customer before you start any prep work. A wrap won’t stick to dirt or imaginary/missing car parts, but it will stick very well to poorly adhered paint, bubbling paint and rust bubbles. In fact, it can rip off poorly prepared paintwork, which not only means a damaged paint job but you then need to use more materials to replace that section of the wrap contaminated by the paint.

Tip: If the vehicle has recently had paintwork done, no matter what the customer says, don’t wrap it! Paint needs to cure. Never wrap a vehicle that has just been painted within the last 30 days.  

We all like shiny, polished vehicles, however wax is bad for wraps and must be removed.  Advise your customer to give the car a basic, quick wash with NO wax or polish and that you will give the vehicle a thorough wash which will be included in your final quote.

The start to a successful wrap is to firstly wash the entire vehicle with hot soapy water thoroughly, concentrating on high dirt areas such as under sills around wheel arches and in recessed areas of the body work.  Water will help remove any organic contamination such as dirt dust, animal manure, road grime, bugs etc.  Alcohol based substances will not remove natural residues. The vehicle must then be checked for tar on the paintwork, predominantly around wheel arches and on the lower sills and bottom of doors. If tar is evident then soapy water will not remove this, you will need to wash this area down with mineral turpentine.

Tip: Make sure the vehicle is completely dry before moving on, pay particular attention to door channel recesses and around and under rubbers when drying.

Removal of hardware such as door handles, lights and any badges is advised to give a neater finish to the wrap.  By removing these there will be no seam and no patching required and will help make the wrap look like it was painted on.  To assist in the removal of badges, pour boiling water liberally over the badges, this will soften the adhesive tape and allow for easier removal. Badge removal tools made from waxed thread and handles are also very useful for this. The tape will usually be left behind, soaking the tapes adhesive with Mineral Turpentine will assist in the removal of the adhesive and tape residue.

Tip: A plastic blade scraper or vinyl applicator can also be used in removal of stubborn tape and adhesive.

When it comes to removing existing graphics and adhesive, such as vinyl lettering, graphics, old wraps and decals, don’t wrap over them, this is bad wrapping and it will show. Vinyl removal can be a lengthy process but must be done for a professional finish.  If you come across this situation, this is an extra service you can charge for, especially if it looks like an involved job.  If there is adhesive residue left behind it should be removed by cleaning the area with turpentine. To identify areas of remaining adhesive, a paper towel works well. Wipe the towel over the area, fibres from the paper towel will stick to any adhesive residue, so reapply process until it has been removed.

Tip: Don’t forget when using an adhesive remover, clean the area afterwards with IPA as it usually leave a corrosive and oily residue.

The final, stage is to completely wash the vehicle from top to bottom with ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL, commonly known as IPA – this will remove dust or any oil/wax based residue such as oil, sweaty hand prints, road oils and grime etc . Lint free rags should be used to apply and clean with the IPA and also to remove and wipe the surface dry.  Work in small areas at one time before the IPA evaporates. Watch for hazing on cold days and remove any haze with a dry clean rag and elbow grease. Pay particular attention to concave areas and tight recesses. Once you are sure these are clean….clean them again.

Attention to detail is extremely important when it comes to prepping tight curves and recessed areas. Wraps can be prone to lifting on tight curves, edges, seams and along deep grooves in vehicles, concave and convex areas. Areas around the wheels where water or mud are constantly blasted against the vinyl can also be potential problems if not wrapped well.  A good start to assist these areas in adhesion is to use a primer product like 3M Primer #94. The consistency is like rubber cement and it dries to a less tacky residue. This product is particularly good on plastic parts.

Once you have prepared your vehicle for wrapping ensure that the workshop ambient temperature where the wrap is to be completed is at no less than 15.5 degrees Celsius and no more than 38 degrees Celsius, but always check your material data sheets from your supplier — 3M, Avery, Oracal, MACtac, Arlon, LG Hausys and Hexis. Whichever film brand you use, know your material.

It is important not only for the customer but for other industries involved with vehicle preparations to understand what processes are required for a professional, hard wearing vehicle wrap that will live up to the vinyl manufacturers warranties.  It will also instil the awareness needed within our industry and related industries that wrapping vehicles is a very technical aspect to the sign makers role and it is recommended that it should only be completed by specialised sign makers and or wrap shops.  To support the ongoing training needs and requirements the NZ Sign and Display Association will be launching in the new year their Signee – Vehicle Wrap Course for those wanting to upskill within the industry.

One last important factor for all Wrap Artists and Sign Makers out there –  it is in your best interest to align yourself or business with a reputable governing body for your industry.  The NZ Sign and Display Association values of quality, integrity and service are practiced with all their active members whom proudly display the sign of quality within their businesses, and by doing so, their customers trust their knowledge and experience as a Sign Maker.