wraps

Let's Talk Shop: Q&A on Making Wraps Last

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.

My husband’s favorite way to mess with customers—the ones with a sense of humor anyway—is regarding the cleaning of their new wrap. One of the first questions we inevitably get is, “How soon until I can wash my car?”

He likes to look at them completely serious and say, “Oh no, your car can’t get wet now.” And then—after a couple of awkward seconds and some big grins when the customer realizes he’s joking—we explain the importance of keeping their new wrap clean.

If you’re going to put in all the time and effort it takes to create a wrap, then you want to make sure that it’s going to last. Good wrap maintenance will make the graphics last longer. This means you’ll have a happier customer who is more likely to return with additional work and also refer your company to others looking for a quality wrap job.

Fortunately there are steps you can take during installation to help ensure this, but it’s also true that much of the responsibility for maintaining the wrap is going to be up to your customer. Be sure that you explain to your customer how to best take care of their wrap. As a frequent contributor to Sign & Digital Graphics on the topic of wraps, I often get questions from readers—fellow shop owners who work with wraps. Here are a series of questions dealing with the do’s and don’ts of wraps longevity and maintenance.

Q: I want to be sure the wrap we’re working on will hold up. What can I do during installation?

A: This is the part of the process where you can make a difference in the durability of a wrap. The first step is choosing the right materials for a job. Unless the wrap is intended to be a short-term campaign, a cast material should be used. Be sure a premium laminate is also used that matches the wrap film.

Proper surface prep of the vehicle is very important. Be sure that door jams, gas tanks, areas around lights and door handles are all thoroughly wiped down. Follow with an alcohol wipe down with a lint-free cloth.

Wipe on some 3M Tape Primer 94 in areas with indentions and around obstacles to help promote adhesion. Use a light touch when brushing it on and carry a paper towel to lightly wipe up drips. Too thick a coat of the primer can be visible through your wrap.

Once you’ve finished the wrap, take some extra time going over it. Be sure that all of the areas along seams and trim areas are laying completely smooth.

One commonly overlooked area is under the vehicle. Don’t get sloppy with your trimming here, assuming the customer will never see under the vehicle. Choppy cuts, pulling on the vinyl while cutting and not fully smoothing it down will all cause the vinyl to start lifting. Under the vehicle you’ll start seeing flaps hanging down that quickly get dirty and that situation can soon lead to a failure of the entire panel.

Post heat—Post heat—Post heat! Obviously I feel that this is a very important step. Post heating releases the memory of the vinyl and helps it stay in the position you’ve wrapped it into. While you’re post heating you’ll also see any areas you didn’t get completely smoothed. Get good, even heat concentrating on areas around seams and obstacles.

Q: Sometimes bubbles come up in the first few weeks after we finish a wrap. Should I prepare my customer for this?

A: If you’ve used 3M Tape Primer 94, minimal stretching and lots of post heating, you’ll see less of these bubbles come up, but it does happen. We tell our customers that in the first few weeks they may see some bubbles come up along indentions.

We warn them against sticking their finger in it or attempting to press it back in. A simple fix with heat for us can become a panel replacement if the customer sticks their finger through the bubble. It’s happened and is totally frustrating.

We warranty the workmanship of all our wraps and ask the customer to notify us as soon as they see any problems. Typically they can just swing by with the vehicle and we can fix any bubbles with a little heat in just a few minutes while they wait. If they want to drop the vehicle off, we make sure to go over the whole vehicle with more heat to try and head off any future issues.

Q: What is the best way for my customer to wash their wrapped vehicle? Can they take it through a car wash?

A: So here we’ve come back to my husband’s gag question—can the customer let their vehicle get wet. Obviously they can—the real question is: Should they use an automated car wash or should they hand-wash the vehicle? Honestly they can do either, it’s their investment, but in my opinion, it’s best to recommend hand washing.

In a car wash the customer can’t control how much dirt may be in the brushes and pads of the car wash, all of which can cause abrasion. The brushes in a car wash can cause scratches in the protective laminate on the wrap, which can dull the surface.

So how can they avoid this same abrasion when hand washing? Instruct your customer to first rinse the vehicle down with clean water to remove any dirt that can cause scratches when scrubbing.

Start with a clean rag and bucket. Mix a mild detergent with clean water and start washing from the top of the vehicle down. Wipe but don’t scrub, being careful to avoid unnecessary abrasion. Once the vehicle has been washed, rinse the vehicle down with clean water from a garden hose and spray attachment.

The customer can then allow the vehicle to air dry, or the vehicle can be dried by hand using a clean microfiber cloth to remove excess water.

Q: Can my customer pressure-wash their vehicle?

A: A couple of our fleet accounts have to wash a lot of cars in a short amount of time. For them, pressure washing the vehicles is the best solution. Hand washing is a better option, but if the customer has to pressure wash their wraps there are a few technical points to keep in mind.

  • The customer should first check for any lifting graphics and make sure these areas are fixed, before they are exposed to a forceful spray.
  • Avoid spraying the graphics at an angle—especially along seams—to keep from lifting the vinyl.
  • The water pressure should be set to a maximum of 800 psi to 2000 psi.
  • The temperature of the water should be between 72 and 180 degrees.
  • Keep the spray nozzle pattern at 40 degrees and hold the nozzle back a minimum of 12 to 18 inches from the surface.
  • The angle of the spray should be 45 degrees; use a sweeping motion.
  • Avoid turbo pressure nozzles.

Q: My customer wants to wax over their wrap. Is this okay?

A: It’s not necessary to add anything to protect a vehicle wrap since all wraps are laminated. The premium laminate helps protect against abrasion and harmful UV rays and also enhances the graphics.

If the customer does want to add extra protection, you should recommend a Teflon or silicone-based polish. Carnauba-based waxes should not be used. The graphics can be damaged with the rigorous buffing that is used with carnauba. These waxes can also actually stain the graphics and attract dirt.

Waxes and polishes should not be used on textured, matte or other specialty films. Because of the finish of the film, scratches and marks may be more visible and you may not be able to work them out.

I talked with Leigh Anne Turner with The Decal Guys, out of Richland, Mississippi. Their company gives each of their wrap customers a cleaning kit from CrystalTek to encourage proper cleaning. The kit includes a product called Wrap Polish that is designed to protect wraps against the harsh elements and pollution. You can check out their website at www.crystaltek.us.com to see their products and the cleaning kits.

Q: Can my customer use cleansers on their wrap to remove bugs and road grime?

A: Any products used on a vehicle wrap should be tested first in an inconspicuous area. As with washing the vehicle, any wiping should be done carefully to avoid abrasion. Citrus-based cleaners and degreasers generally work great for removing road grime and bugs. Once the debris has been cleaned off, follow up with clean soapy water to remove any residue and rinse clean.

Q: I want my customers to know that we stand behind our workmanship. What’s a good way to warranty workmanship?

A: Warranting materials is different than warranting workmanship. A materials warranty usually involves the vinyl manufacturer. Workmanship comes down to the skills and knowledge of the wrap installers. This is why continuing education and hands-on experience are so important. To warranty workmanship you have to trust that your installers have taken all of the steps discussed regarding proper installation.

For our shop, covering workmanship means that if problems do arise we address them immediately. This may simply mean adding extra heat on bubbles that have come up, fixing an overlooked area or even replacing a panel if needed. It will cost your company very little to replace or fix problems compared to the cost of losing a customer who can’t trust your follow-through. If a problem arises, we would fix it and make sure the customer is happy. We’ve been wrapping for more than a decade and have never had a customer who was not satisfied by any fixes we’ve made.

We explain the free coverage of our workmanship during the selling process. We want our customers to know from the onset of the job that we will make sure they receive an exceptional wrap and that we stand behind our work.

For our shop this is a verbal agreement. It’s given more as a form of customer service and is part of the selling process. Perhaps because we’ve been in business so long and have a great reputation, this warranty is usually accepted verbally. I can remember a couple of jobs where the customer requested something in writing. In those cases we simply added a line of information to their invoice so we both have a record.

If you write up something formally—as a stand-alone document, or as part of the invoice—be sure to spell out exactly what you’re covering and have the customer sign a copy for your records. On our wrap checklist we review issues on the vehicle (rust, chips in the paint, existing damage, etc.) and note them on a template of the vehicle. These issues may come into play in the future, so be sure you make it clear to your customer that existing problems may void any warranty for a particular area of the vehicle.

It will be up to your shop as to how long you would warranty against issues, but typically if a problem is going to arise, it will arise in the first few months. Anything after that is more likely wear and tear on the vehicle.

Q: How can I get my customer to remember these guidelines, and take care of their new wrap?

A: I’ve seen completed wraps that are filthy. Customers should know how bad this is for their wrap. If they’re going to make the investment, they should take the simple steps to keep it looking good long term.

I would encourage you to create a handout that outlines the main points of wrap maintenance. Give the customer the handout when they pick up their vehicle and discuss the major points. You can also take the same information and place it on your wrap shop website for future customer reference.