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Vehicle Wrapping – A Quick Guide

A Quick Guide to successfully wrapping vehicles.

Knowing the tricks that make up the anatomy of a great car wrap are essential to ensure consistent quality on all vehicle wraps.
From graphic design to vehicle preparation and having the necessary tools on hand, there is knowledge to gain that will make every applicator even better.
If we can share that knowledge we will increase the credibility of the application craft, and in turn ensure that all vehicle wraps are works of art.

The media you choose will also influence the speed and quality of your vinyl wrapping projects, we can offer advice on the best media and adhesive combinations for your particular projects – speak with our sales teams, on: 01753 696977 or 01709 829800.

Top 13 tips to successful vehicle wrapping:

  1. Make sure you have images of the vehicle prior to planning the design.
  2. Determine where all the joins will fall. Use the natural lines of the vehicle, whether horizontal or vertical. Use door panels/weld lines to cover overlaps.
  3. Thoroughly wash the vehicle down with soap and water and allow 24 hours to dry, paying extra attention to door seals and wheel arches.
  4. Degrease the vehicle. Mactac recommend isopropyl alcohol. Alternatively use a fast drying panel wipe with silicone killer paying special attention to all the recesses.
  5. Coatings on new vehicles is a hot topic, be they rust or dirt repellent, as these coatings can cause applications issues and failures.
    We have provided more in depth information at the bottom of this page to help identify these coatings and also some advice on dealing with these surfaces.
  6. For solvent printed media allow a minimum of 48hrs to outgas. The rolls should be left standing vertically and loosely wound to help with airflow and should be turned regularly as the solvents are heavier than air. The more the vinyl can be allowed to de-gas, the less tacky the adhesive will feel and the easier the graphic will be to fit.
  7. Laminate with cold rollers only. Do not use excessive tension on the rollers.
  8. Use a hard Mactac squeegee or similar. Apply a strip of velvet to one edge and change the velvet regularly to avoid scratching.
  9. Apply the vinyl to the flattest part of the panel first (create a base line) working from side to side, keeping the vinyl as level as possible. Stretch the vinyl without heat over the whole area and do not work the film into the more complicated areas such as recesses until later.
  10. When stretching the vinyl, always pull outwards from the largest area of the vinyl you can to spread the tension. This also applies when you use extra heat to soften and stretch the vinyl, apply heat to a larger area than you need as this should help to avoid distorting the graphic.
  11. When cutting through the vinyl on the bodywork or around handles it is best to stick electrical tape to the surface first. Use a new blade each and every time you cut through the vinyl. The weight of the blade should be enough without having to apply extra pressure.
  12. Post heat to 95ºC or above and always use an infra red temperature gauge to be sure that you have reached this temperature. Anything less and the vinyl will retain its memory and cause the graphic to pop out of recesses and curves. This post heating must be carried out scrupulously on all areas where the wrap has been stretched to fit, especially in deep recesses. Do not overheat as you may damage the film.
  13. If vehicle wrapping in colder weather do not let the vehicle leave the workshop until the following day. The vehicle and vinyl should be allowed to cool down at the same rate as the workshop. This will help to avoid thermal shock and reduce the risk of failure in the recesses.

Thoroughly clean the surface the material is to be applied to using a sponge and clean, soapy water.
The surface area is clean enough when you can rub your fingers over the cleaned area and it is ‘squeaky’ clean. Then use Avery Dennison Surface Cleaner to prepare the surface that the vinyl will be applied to. Pay particular attention to the recessed areas of the bodywork which trap dirt and grease – ensure these areas are completely free from dirt, oil and grease as any dirt left on the body work will affect the materials adhesion to the surface.
Position the film to the cleaned application surface using low-tack application tape or wrapping magnets.
These will serve as a ‘hinge’ for applying the material to the surface. Ensure the ‘hinge’ tape is placed on a flat part of the surface. Only remove a small section of the liner at first to prevent pre-sticking. Avery Dennison car wrapping magnets are an easier alternative to using application tape.
Keep the adhesive away from the surface until ready.

Use a velvet edged plastic squeegee to firmly apply the film from the centre outwards towards the film edges.

Take care NOT to stretch the film while following the irregular shapes of the surface.

Apply vertical sections using vertical squeegee strokes.

Remove the application ‘hinge’ tape or magnets and re-squeegee all edges and corners.

When re-squeegeeing the edges and corners, ensure the material is fixed on ALL edges of any irregular shapes in the surface.

Work your way around the edges of all irregular shapes, dips and corrugation ensuring all the edges are fixed firmly!

Once all edges have been firmly fixed to the surface, the application of the material in the recesses and shaped surface areas can begin…
Then, to conform the recessed and irregular shaped areas, use a hot-air gun to heat these areas of material gently to about 40˚-50˚C.

We advise you only heat small areas at a time.

Always check the correct temperatures are adhered to using a temperature sensor.

Having heated the material to 40˚-50˚C start stretching the material into the deepest parts of the recessed areas – ensuring the area of material you are working on stays heated to at least 40˚C.

Continue working your way around the recessed area focusing only on the deepest part.

Once the deepest parts have been successfully applied, begin to work your way through all the other recessed areas, shaping the material to the contours of the substrate.

Again, ensure that the material is heated to 40˚-50˚C.

With all the edges now properly applied you will need to turn your attention to the remaining areas of the vinyl.
When doing this make sure that any air is not trapped; avoid trapping air by leaving an opening for the air to escape. Check the application for any air bubbles – if any small air bubbles can still be seen these are easily removed with a small puncture, then heat it a little and push the air out.
Now for the final stage.

Use the hot air gun to heat the material to a minimum of 90˚C, especially in areas where the material has been stretched.
Ensure the heating is done gently and the temperature then gradually increased – it is important that the film AND the substrate reach these temperatures by re-heating gently rather than with short blasts of heat.

Watch a couple of quick videos to see the APS Van and Truck livery being applied:



» For even more in-depth vinyl wrapping information, Avery Dennison have created a series of really useful tips and tricks on the topic of handling and applying wrap film – click here.

Issues with wrapping onto special surface coatings

Prior to applying self-adhesive vinyls, here are some additional considerations for different application surfaces.

Special surface coatings

Coatings on new vehicles is a hot topic, be they rust or dirt repellent, as these coatings can cause application issues and failures.

What we have noticed over the years, especially since paints have become water based, is the extensive use of rust preventative coatings (wax / silicone like residue).

These coatings are sometimes so thick that the vehicle needs to be cleaned and degreased 2 -3 times to remove all remnants of wax / silicone contamination.

If all these residues are not thoroughly removed the material will never build ultimate bond strength, in fact it is similar to when vinyl is left on the backing paper… it never bonds.

Ceramic coatings and non-stick / self-cleaning paints

Another wrap application challenge that has surfaced more recently on brand new vehicles is ceramic coatings or non-stick / self-cleaning paints.

Essentially these coatings or paint additives prevent anything from adhering to the surface, which for wrapping is not compatible. i.e. the surface is rejecting the self-adhesive vinyl.

Once again no bond strength will build in cases like this resulting in wraps popping out of recesses and easy removal of applied vinyl days later.

Remedying special surface coatings

If either of these coatings are present no self-adhesive vinyl would perform as expected, including high tack constructions.

To remedy a ceramic coating a mechanical removal of the coating must be done, car detailers offer this service, before self-adhesive vinyl can be applied successfully.

To establish whether there is a coating still present on the vehicle a simple peel adhesion test can be done with masking tape as follows:

  1. Apply a 2 inch strip of masking tape to the vehicles (clean) window and another 2 inch strip to the cleaned vehicle body (which requires wrapping)
  2. Peel both strips of masking tape off at the same time and the resistance to removal / tackiness between the strips as you pull them should be almost identical

If the strip on the vehicle body releases noticeably easier or quicker than the other strip this would be indicative of either a coating or wax being present.

Wrapping will not be recommended without more surface preparation.