Can’t-Miss Graphics: Building wraps can dominate a city landscape

Andy Stonehouse is a Denver-based freelance writer who has been covering the automotive industry for more than ten years.

Got a client who wants the biggest image possible, covering an entire building? Absolutely gigantic wrap projects can transform an office building or hotel, with easily-removed imagery that can last for a few weeks or several years. Planning, output and installation require a special skill set, the experts suggest.

It’s no wonder that Las Vegas, the epicenter of everything that is larger than life about America, might also be on the cutting edge of full-scale building wraps. If you’ve visited Sin City in the last few decades, you’ve probably watched the trend emerge and the technology change—as those 50-foot-tall images of entertainers and shows gradually migrated from lit signage or billboards and came to take residence on the surface of hotels and casinos themselves.

Those gigantic Vegas wrap jobs have started to appear across the United States, from massive movie or TV-related images on buildings in Los Angeles to gigantic images on under-construction buildings, letting the public know about new business vacancies or condos for sale.

And more than just vinyl wraps taken to their biggest possible utilization, buildings can also be wrapped in less-invasive draping, which still provides the same advertising impact but can be more easily removed—and are arguably easier to install, as well. And since visibility is still an issue for building occupants, both solutions provide their own positives and negatives for seeing out, while the image itself is seen by the public.

Joe Castellano, president and CEO of Color Reflections Las Vegas, has been involved in building wrap projects for years, and has become an expert in the field. His work can be seen in regular displays at the Las Vegas Design Center at the World Market Center, an off-strip hub for home furniture and décor ideas–useful in a city with so many ever-changing hotels and hotel rooms. Among his varied clients, he’s had images that are only wrapped for a few weeks and then removed, and some that endure for years.

Meanwhile, in the greater Boston area, Chad Joiner, a sales associate with Framingham, Mass.-based ICL Imaging, says his company has also had lots of experience using 8-ounce vinyl mesh as a somewhat free-hanging surface for large-scale advertising images.

Castellano’s projects have also included wraps for some of the major resorts and hotels, with the entire fronts or sides of multi-story buildings providing a gigantic canvas for some very large-scale output and install jobs. Prep work and planning, as one can imagine, are also fundamentally important when considering a massive wrap project; a fear of heights might also not be compatible with this sort of project, he adds.

“You can print as large a building as necessary,” he says, “but it’s all based on getting a good measurement before you start. We’ll typically send a couple of guys out rappelling down the side of the building to measure the width and height. In other cities, I’ve seen wraps that cover the entire length of a building, or reach up 40 or 50 stories.”

Those proportional details are critical when undertaking a wrap that covers hundreds of feet of glass, concrete and metal surfacing, and can help make the very long output process a little easier to handle.

Castellano says he works with his digital department to create a template that allows the advertising image to be scaled and broken up into more digestible chunks for easier installation.

“We create a grid and in our shop, we’re able to produce 50-inch-wide portions that are 20 feet in length. We integrate the crop marks and the panel numbers onto the sheets themselves, but they’re never visible because the viewing distance is so long–and little imperfections are a little easier to handle.”

A primary concern is output time for imaging, and while Castellano says any experienced print shop can do the work, he suggests doing a major project like a building wrap as a continuous print run, which can assure consistency and simply make the most sense, considering the logistics.

“Once we start a project, we go ‘round the clock until it’s done. That way, there’s a much better chance that the color will be consistent, and you’ll be able to keep track if a head blows out or if you have head rub on the image. We’ve found that a 20,000-square-foot output job takes between 12 and 14 hours.”

Installation is just like any wrap job, with the added drama of occasionally taking place a hundred feet above the ground. But Castellano says an installation crew can easily adapt to the work, provided all the preliminary steps have been taken. That also includes freshly-washed windows close to the installation date, whenever possible.

“Normally, you have a sled to stand on, and we’ll provide the installers with pre-packaged boxes that have the sheets in sequence–starting with the first three rows–and then they’ll have to reload and go back up. From there, it’s a normal wrap project–you peel back the first six inches of the backing and tack it in place, slowly removing the release liner as you go.”

The weather extremes of Southern Nevada provide the ultimate test environment for the durability of building wraps, though Castellano says he’s had some jobs last between three and five years. Long-running wraps usually require some maintenance, and he has staff occasionally take close-up pictures to let clients know if wind damage, UV exposure or even bird strikes have frayed the edges or caused issues–necessitating a small repair.

Removal poses the same issues as you’d find in a small-scale wrap, and can also be an instance where your substrate becomes incredibly important.

“If you use a good-quality product, it’s usually not that difficult, but it also depends on how long it’s been up there,” he says “You don’t want to be up on the side of a 20-story building and suddenly pull off pieces of vinyl the size of a quarter. That’s when you know you’ll be in it for the long haul.”

ICL Imaging’s Joiner says the vinyl mesh route also allows a building wrap alternative better suited to applications where interior visibility is less critical.

“These tend to be for new building projects, with images like ‘our company is moving here,’” he says. “We have a 16-foot-wide printer and we’re able to weld the sections together, and then install grommets into the mesh webbing to help tack it into place. We had one building under construction where the wind just blew right through and we had to cable on the mesh, and then drive bolts right into the building.”

Joiner has also come up with some other unique solutions for building-sized wraps.

“In some instances, the clients don’t want to use mesh as it breaks up the image,” he says “We had an art project in Boston where a building was being demolished and an art group got to use it, so we created a massive 13-ounce vinyl banner. We laid it out in the parking lot and eight of us got up on the roof to hoist it into place.”

Joiner says the banner was in place for six months and when it was finally removed, the artist community found a vendor in California who was able to cut pieces of the banner and transform them into tote bags.