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Let’s Talk Shop: The Value of Learning

Charity Jackson is owner of Visual Horizons Custom signs, a full-service commercial sign company based in Modesto, Calif.  She has been in business since 1995 and specializes in vehicle wraps, design and project management and workflow. You can visit her Web site at www.vhsigns.com.

There's nothing like watching a video that shows a valuable new wrapping tip—or taking a wrap training class—to kick-start a new level of excitement about the wraps industry. At least that's how I feel. Learning is never-ending and each new tip pushes me forward.

It's easy to get stuck in an "if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it" mind set when it comes to installs. You may have been installing wraps for years and the wraps are getting done and your work looks pretty good, but are you as efficient as you could be? Are you as profitable as you want to be?

That's the point we got to when we realized we didn't really have a benchmark to check ourselves against. We started offering wraps with progressively better results but we really weren't sure if we were doing everything correctly.

Investing in Education

Investing a formal wrap training and certification class was a big decision for us because it not only cost a bit of money for the class and travel, it also took an installer out of the shop for an entire week.

We had been looking into the classes and options for more than a year. There just never seemed to be a perfect time to commit. The shop would get busy or life itself would throw a curve ball and we would put off the training for another few months.

We realized that we were at a point with our installs where we were getting great final results but it seemed to be taking too long to complete each install. That concern about our lack of efficiency, and how it was either cutting into our profitability or causing us to have to overcharge for our time, prompted us to finally make the commitment.

We finally got to the point where we realized that the training was a necessity if we wanted to take our shop and our installs to the next level. This training was going to have huge payoffs and would outweigh any initial costs or time out of the shop. Any time or monetary sacrifices in training and education are really an investment in the future of your shop.

3M Class

Because we primarily use 3M materials we chose to take 3M's Advanced Installation Training course as well as the Preferred Graphics Installer test. The training and testing is offered at multiple locations around the country, but since we're on the West Coast I drove down to our classes, which were being held at Wrapix Academy in Burbank, California.

The Advanced Installer Training itself is offered in either three day or five day classes. If you choose to take the Preferred Graphics Installer test it's given over two days.

The training is broken up by classroom discussion and videos, instructor demonstrations on various work stations, and then hands-on practice. We were given time to practice a station we were trained on while our instructor would walk around offering advice and critiquing our installs.

Both the training and testing covered vehicle wraps as well as related installs which gave us knowledge in services that we could expand into. In addition to a written test and wall test the training and testing also covered wrapping over corrugated and rivet panels, smooth walls, concrete walls, brick mosaic wall and floor graphics.

Media Characteristics

Choosing to push the boundaries of my knowledge and expertise was a great experience for me. I knew there would be a written test that covered a range of product bulletins and installation techniques. By studying these ahead of time I was prepared before the class and absorbed a lot of information about the different types of adhesives and characteristics of the materials we use everyday.

Product bulletins are not an exciting read and it's easy to skip the time it takes to review them. Learning and comparing product specs, and knowing the details of a particular media's characteristics, is making a big difference in how I approach installations. If you're working with a new media it's worth the time it takes to review the adhesive characteristics, the stretch percentages and heat recommendations.

Tools

All the tools we would need for the class were provided for our use during the course of the class. We were also given specific media for each station that worked best for the challenges of that particular install.

Many of the tools we used were ones that I had little to no experience with because they had very specific uses. Other tools I had worked with; but I often realized that I was either not it using correctly or I wasn't using in a way to maximize the efficiency of the tool's design, and the techniques associated with it.

If a specific tool is recommended for an installation I found that there was a really good reason why. A tool may cost hundreds of dollars—but when it serves a really important purpose that both speeds the install and eliminates issues that may cause failure—it's well worth it.

Coming Home

I came home from the week of training and testing with a mind full of new tips and tricks that I couldn't wait to teach to our installers. By immediately applying these techniques and changing up the way we were doing our installs we've maximized the benefits of the class.

So many of these little—and big—tips have sped up our installations and have improved the quality of our finish work. While I still have a lot more to learn, I feel like it's an ongoing process for everyone within our shop.

When you pass the test 3M also includes you on their website. If a customer or another sign shop needs to find an installer in our area, they can search through the database by Region, Country, State and City. We're the only installer in our city that has earned the 3M Preferred Graphics Installer designation which sets us apart from other local wrap installers.

Avery Dennison

While we use a lot of 3M media in our wraps, we've also worked extensively with Avery Dennison products, especially their Supreme Wrapping Film. While overall wrap installations draw on the same pool of techniques, it's still important to get formal training on a specific material that you may use often.

I recently spoke with Destiny Rotuno with Avery Dennison about a couple different programs they offer. There are two different types of classes offered as well as a certification exam.

Destiny explained that the first class is a “Digital Films Class that covers walls, windows, floors, and full-print vehicle wraps.” The second class they offer covers the “Supreme Wrapping Film where participants will use different finishes of our Supreme Wrapping Film, including textured and chrome.”

These classes are taught over two days. Each participant in the class gets to choose a roll of material and receives a tool belt with tools as well.

If an installer wants to take the Certification Exam it's a half-day exam with both hands-on and written testing. If the installer passes the test then they earn the designation of an Avery Dennison Certified Wrap Installer and can create a profile on Avery Dennison's website on the “Find an Installer” section.

Further Education

I plan, at the very least, to take the Supreme Wrapping Film class that Avery Dennison offers, if not both classes. I know that I can learn so many more tips and tricks by attending these classes.

There are many other wrap training classes available that may or may not offer a certification option. Another class that we're interested in is the Born-to-Wrap workshop offered by Roland DGA and taught by Digital EFX at multiple locations.

As long time Roland users, and with the broad topics covered in their course, we feel like this would be another very important class to attend.

Check out the “Wraps Training Resources” guide toward the back of the 2018 edition of WRAPS magazine for a comprehensive list of training and certification options. The guide lists the company, duration of the classes, cost and details.

The Wrap Institute

If you feel like learning from home, be sure to check into The Wrap Institute's online educational videos and downloads. They offer a broad range of topics that support their slogan of “Never Stop Learning.”

Because there are so many videos available and topics covered we can search for ones that might help us on a specific install. If we're working with a new type of material or need a tip on approaching a particular obstacle we can search the videos and watch an install in action. 

Visit here for a more complete list of wraps training programs.