carbon fiber

Let’s Talk Shop: Working with Carbon Fiber Films

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.

We do our fair share of vehicle customizing via hood and roof wraps, mirror wraps, stripes and other vinyl applications. A common request is carbon fiber film; its unique look has a texture that simulates real carbon fiber.

With so many different manufacturers making carbon fiber films today, there is a large selection to choose from. Colors, textures and adhesives are just a few options to consider.

Applications

We’ve primarily worked with 3M’s 1080 series carbon fiber. It’s possible to wrap an entire car in carbon fiber, but most carbon fiber requests we get are for partial wraps and accent graphics.

Roof wraps and hood wraps are a great way to add the texture and color of carbon fiber. Mirrors are another great part of the vehicle where a little carbon fiber makes a big statement. The film is available in widths up to five feet wide which means a seamless application is possible on most vehicles and parts.

Motorcycles seem to be a popular vehicle type for adding carbon fiber accents. I recently spoke with Sino Tour, with Icon Image Graphics, about some of their carbon fiber installations.

Tour shared a few images of accent graphics they added to a motorcycle and had this to say, “Our motorcycle wrap for a 2007 Honda VFR 800, known as the jack of all trades of bikes, received 3M’s black carbon fiber film on the majority of its body parts, especially the fairings. Since the fairings are the motorcycle’s largest surface to cover, we had to carefully select a vinyl film that would accentuate the shell’s finish with a bold textured look.”

On one of our installs, the customer wanted to add their shield logo to the side fairings of their bike. We loaded 3M 1080 black carbon fiber onto our plotter and cut out the logo. The graphics were installed onto the fairing; the flexible 3M material allowed us to work around obstacles with no issues.

Carbon fiber films are also great for interior applications. 3M’s DI-NOC architectural finish films have a long interior life and are available as carbon fiber films in a number of different colors. The film uses 3M Comply Adhesive technology for easier, faster application with no bubbles.

We primarily do vehicle graphics and signs, but product customizing is a big market too. Carbon fiber films are versatile and can be used to wrap laptop and phone cases, bike parts and other accent pieces.

Specs

3M 1080 series films come in five different finish options. Carbon fiber is one option, along with matte, gloss, satin and brushed metal.

The carbon fiber options from 3M are available in black, white and anthracite. The pressure-activated adhesive and non-visible air release channels aid in a faster, easier application.

Avery Dennison offers SW900X Extreme Textures carbon fiber films. The film has Avery Dennison’s Easy Apply RS technology which allows the vinyl to be positioned faster and applied without bubbles. It also aids in long term removability. Depending on the zone, a 2-four-year vertical durability is expected.

Carbon fiber options are also available from many other manufacturers. Be sure to check out the spec sheets for expected performance, adhesive types and watercraft use. These spec sheets also contain important tips; for example, 3M advises not applying waxes or polishes over their carbon fiber films.

Installation Tips

Many specialty films have unique characteristics that have to be considered during the installation process. These directional characteristics can alter the way the material looks on the wall or vehicle depending on how it was applied.

Be sure to use film bearing the same lot number for an entire application. You want to avoid the possibility of any differences in the film that may occur between different lots of material. Also, avoid alternating between lengthwise and width-wise panels when installing the graphics. This can change the appearance of the finished application due to the film’s inherent directionality.

One tip is to mark the back of the film to be sure you’re being consistent in the direction of the film. If the backing paper has an imprint, you can also use this as a guide for staying consistent in the film direction.

Carbon fiber film is unique because of its obvious pattern. During application you need to avoid distorting the lines of the carbon fiber film. Overheating and overstretching can distort the pattern and take away from the look of the film.

Wrapping parts that have curves and indentions will of course alter the pattern as it conforms, but be sure the lines of the carbon fiber remain in a smooth line. Avoid distortions that aren’t fluid with the surface the carbon fiber is covering.

Decorative

The unique look of carbon fiber offers a rich, dimensional look to vehicles and interiors. Since it’s an easy-to-use film that can be cut on a computer controlled cutter or with 3M Knifeless tape there are endless ways to create decorative designs on any surface.

Carbon fiber can be used alone or layered with other films to create unique looks. Choose films that compliment one another in color and finish and pay close attention to the lines within the carbon fiber film itself.