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Designing With Color Change Films

Fleet graphics? Check. Wraps for a prototype tri-hull kayak? You’ve got it. Over the past 10 years, what started as a garage operation has turned into a booming wrap business, and at PDX Wraps we’ve seen our fair share of installation types along the way. As innovation and technology continue to advance in the wrap industry, the only limit on creative potential is our own imagination and skill. This holds especially true for color change films.

As a wrap business, there’s no cap on the number of projects that ask for the use of printed graphics. However, the continued expansion of color, texture and effect options for color change films is making many installers and designers reconsider the way they approach wrap projects. And customers are starting to notice.

Trust the Process

Big and Bold is Better.” That’s one of the mottos we live by at PDX Wraps, and it holds true for nearly every project we work on. Whether it’s a small graphic addition to the side of a van, or a complete branding overhaul to a vehicle fleet, clearly conveying a company’s message and identity is of upmost importance. And with 90 percent of our clientele looking to us for design ideas and product recommendations, we have the opportunity to flex our creativity and develop something truly special.

I want to be able to read a message from a mile away, without having the design work in competition with the messaging. This can occur when graphics are too extreme, there’s too much text or a color scheme limits the legibility of a slogan or name. There’s also a fine line between client requests and our recommendations. Often times, customers want to put everything and the kitchen sink into a design, but we try and preach that less is more.

That’s where color change films are beginning to make a real impact. Instead of complicated graphics or gaudy art, a simple, yet refined aesthetic can go much further in communicating a company or personal brand.

Our company primarily uses 3M Wrap Film Series 1080, and it’s an easy process to flip through the product’s swatch deck and show customers exactly what they’ll be looking at on a finished project. Although we sit down with clients to walk through their goals and show them digital previews of printed graphics, with color change films there’s something unique about the tangible qualities of seeing the actual film up close, and running your fingers across the vinyl.

We recently worked with a local landscaping client that perfectly represents the shift towards using color change films as a solution for branding. With company colors of bright orange and black, Pacific Landscape Management previously had their vehicles painted to reflect their brand. But when they came to PDX Wraps looking for an update, using color change film to refresh their image couldn’t have been an easier decision.

To mirror their colors, we used 1080 film in Gloss Burnt Orange for the body of the landscape rigs, providing the perfect backdrop for their modest logo and messaging. This led to a simple, yet effective design. Down the road if Pacific Landscape Management wants to make an alteration, it will be easier to change a specific area of the wrap, rather than redo the entire vehicle with new graphics, or even worse, paint.

An Eye for Design

Color change films aren’t just a useful alternative to paint or printed graphics. They’re an excellent design medium in their own right. One of the first things customers notice about the products they preview is how vibrant and rich their colors are. A printed graphic can’t quite capture the color consistency of a color change film, which is why we’ve seen a growing trend towards using products like 3M 1080.

Our team recently finished an installation for Dandy Rides on a Chevrolet HHR, and had the opportunity to capture their brand and message with a partial vehicle wrap. Following the layout of the car’s body, we installed 3M Wrap Film 1080-S334 Satin Canyon Copper on the vehicle’s upper half, complemented with accents of chrome and black. This process proved to be an effective way to develop an eye-catching wrap that conveys Dandy Rides’ style without the need of printed graphics.

On the flip side, our team recently designed a wrap for a Lexus entering an auto show, and instead of a partial wrap, we used 3M Wrap Film Series 1080 in Satin Gold Dust Black to emphasize the hood, spoiler and bodylines along its side. With just a small amount of color accent, the contours and bodylines of the car came to life, adding a visual element that helped it stand out from the crowd.

Design Tips

There’s far more to designing with these films than just selecting a color and adhering it to a vehicle. Here are a couple of techniques and tricks of the trade we’ve learned along the way:

  • Follow the Curves—Like a piece of fine art, each car has its own personality and set of features that sets itself apart. With that in mind, it’s important not to force a design or pattern. You may have an ambitious project in mind, but if the layout and color selection don’t match the contours and shape of the installation vehicle, you’ll likely end up with a poor result. With color change films, simple is often best.
  • Two-Toned—The most common color change wraps usually involve a single color, or a handful of distinctive shades designed to compliment one another. But with the confluence of new colors, overlaminates and finishes that have entered the market in the last few years, we’ve found an alternative that has supercharged our innovation.

Despite the many wraps we’ve done over the years, we probably receive the most complements on our own truck. Instead of flashy promotional graphics or showy artwork, we decided to follow our motto for our own truck. On a base wrap of 1080 film in Satin Gold Dust Black, we used an overlay of 3M Overlaminate 8900-BR100 Brushed to add our logo to the sides of the truck. The two products culminate into a two-toned design that creates a subtle, yet transfixing contrast. On a sunny day, the PDX letters pop unlike anything else we’ve done.

We’ve taken this process and applied it to wraps for multiple clients. Whether it’s combining two similar colors, or mixing in different finishes and overlaminate textures, these understated, yet bold designs are just another example of how color change films are affecting vehicle wrap design.

Navigating Installation

Along the way our team has seen its share of bumps, and we’ve developed a few recommendations on the installation process:

  • Post-Heating—To us, post-heating is the most important step of the wrap process and can make or break the installation. Every installer knows the value of post-heating, but its equally vital to understand a product’s limitations and how far you can take it. Make sure you do your homework before working with a new product. Poor post-heating procedure may force you to start all over.
  • Inlays—Everyone has different opinions on inlays, but we aren’t opposed to doing them if needed. While working around a large contour or edge, carefully placed and crafted inlays can make a true difference. The last thing you want is a client to drive up three days after an installation, because the wrap has popped off.
  • Film Orientation—If you’ve used color-flip films or products with a directional texture or gradient, film orientation is crucial. It may not be until a project is finished until you notice that one of the wrapped doors has a color or textured direction that’s running in competition with the rest of the wrap. During installation, be sure to double-check that the orientation of each wrap segment is working in tandem. The new arrows 3M has implemented on the liners of 3M Wrap Film Series 1080 is a great addition that can help alleviate potential alignment issues.

The trick to navigating the evolving world of color change films is getting one step ahead with creativity. As countless new wrap film colors, textures, finishes and effects enter the market every year, installers must match manufacturers with our own innovations. We’re only beginning to scrape the surface of what’s possible, and it’s up to us to discover what’s next.