We wrap a lot of box trucks and standard vans with simple overlapped panels. Each panel is approximately 50" wide and goes on with 3/4" overlaps. These types of vehicles have large areas that we cannot wrap in one continuous piece. On smaller vehicles, like cars and pickups, the sides are typically broken up by doors, trim, the cab and bed. These vehicles provide a perfect canvas for applying “seamless” graphics.
We design all of our wraps on a photo of the actual vehicle we’re wrapping. We feel this gives us the most accurate install as all obstacles, including after-market parts, are taken into consideration. To do this we take straight-on photos of all sides we’re wrapping, standing back and crouching down at the midpoint of the vehicle to get the straightest possible photo. Then using a hand-sketched template, or a printed template of the vehicle type, we note a few reference measurements. Clearly mark on the template where you held your tape measure, end to end.
For accuracy, take these measurements at a similar spot each time, like under the window on the doors, along a body line or along the bed. You can also use vehicle templates like Art Station’s Vehicle Templates and their Wrap Dimensions guide for reference measurements.
The photos we take are brought into Photoshop and cropped to the vehicle, leaving enough space around the vehicle for overprinting the graphics. I like to scale my photos in FlexiSIGN-PRO by using the reference measurements. The same photo is resized in Photoshop to match the “actual size” we found by scaling the photo. All of our design work is then done in Photoshop within layers.
The top layer has all of the pieces of the vehicle that we will be wrapping deleted, the bottom layer is the original photo. All design work is done between these two layers.
If you prefer to do your wraps in a vector-based program, then you can simply take the scaled photo and create your artwork using the masking tools in programs like FlexiSIGN-Pro and Adobe Illustrator. Photos can be incorporated, but your vector artwork will be cleaner than if you output it as an .eps file to Photoshop.
We tape up our panels on the vehicle, making sure that panels with text are straight, and are applied first. Overlapping panels are flipped back or removed and then realigned to the applied and trimmed panels.
Using a hinge method the hood is wrapped in one piece using tape marks to ensure straight text.
Once the customer has approved the artwork you can prepare the files for printing. When we print a box van or regular van we simply output the print file, bring it into our RIP software and create our tiles and overlaps.
When planning out the print files for a “seamless” wrap, you could setup your panels in the RIP software as well, but we’ve found it to be easier to do in our design software. The idea of a seamless wrap is to use available breaks on the vehicle to avoid having overlapped graphics in the middle of vehicle panels.
When I initially set up the vehicle photo, I crop it down, leaving a just a small amount of space around the actual vehicle. By doing this I keep my file sizes manageable.
Having extra wasted space around the vehicle just increases your working art file, but once you crop down for output, you lose file size, and you can see that you were designing the actual graphics area at a smaller size. Of course, when creating all vector artwork it’s not a problem, but working in Photoshop it’s important to keep your file size large enough for good quality, but still manageable.
If you’re in doubt at the onset of designing your wrap, simply check yourself. To do this, bring in an element like the logo or text, and click on your zoom tool (looks like a magnifying glass) and then right click the image and select “Actual Pixels;” the image will zoom in and give you a good idea of output quality.
I found long, complicated, and conflicting, explanations online for the difference between “Actual Pixels” and “Print Size” shown just below it when you right click it. What I do know is that when I check the clarity of my artwork using this method, before I get too far into laying it out, then I end up with clean artwork when I output the art files. If the artwork looks pixelated, increase your resolution of the vehicle photo before bringing in your text, photos, or other artwork.
Using the guides in Photoshop, a guide line is placed where I will be boxing off the artwork for output. Each of these boxed off areas will wrap one of the panels, overlapping the next panel for lining up.
In the sample photos for the Windmill Washing cab wrap, I wrapped the fender area in one piece, the door in one piece, and the area behind the door in one piece. Using existing breaks on the vehicle for the door, hood, etc., I’m able to create a wrap with no visible overlapping seams. On this truck the hood was also wrapped in one large, seamless piece.
Keeping the top layer visible, with the photo of the vehicle, I place the guides. This layer is then turned off before flattening my artwork. Each panel is saved as a separate print file. Small panels can be nested in your RIP software or in Photoshop.
Since my artwork overlaps already, it’s fairly simple to line up the panels on the vehicle for installation. I start with the door panel because the logo has a straight line of text. I want to make sure this artwork is perfectly straight, and then line up my fender panel and panel behind the door to this.
When you plan to do a seamless wrap, you need to take into account extra overlapping in the pricing. Because the front of the door area is curved we have to bring in our guidelines to account for the front fender area overlapped onto the door and vice versa. In the case of this truck, it’s an extra 9" x 45" on each panel.
When you set up the hood, it’s difficult to get a clear aerial shot, so typically we lay out the hood on a scaled vehicle template or a created vector outline using measurements we take. Hoods can be tricky; be sure to account for the width at the furthest point, usually at the top near the windshield.
For the height you can take the measurement down the center of the hood and also from the outside corner down to the front, but you really need to take into account the furthest outside point, down to the furthest point at the center of the hood. Sounds complicated, but just pay attention to the real longest points or you’ll wonder why you’re coming up a couple inches short in each upper corner.
Hoods and other areas of vehicles can curve in multiple directions. Smooth the graphics down, treating each direction of the curve separately, by slightly pulling in the direction the graphics need to go. For tight registration, or possibly changing information, you can always print and apply this information separately.
I like to tape up all my panels to be sure everything is lining up before I start applying. Sometimes small tweaks to one panel can help other panels fit a little better. Again, I start with the panel that has text or a logo on it that need to be straight.
You can remove the panels you’re not applying yet and realign, or you can simply tape them in place and flip the overlap out of the way. I choose to do this on most of my wraps.
For box trucks, when it’s basically just a rectangle, I know what overlaps I have setup, it’s fairly difficult to mess up, so I start applying the first panel and then align as I go, checking that important information is staying level on each panel.
When I’m installing a van or box truck, I typically install all of the panels and then go back and do my trimming. On seamless wraps, when one panel largely overlaps another panel, to work with an existing break on the vehicle, you need to remove the area overlapping your next panel.
Once one panel is in place, simply flip the next panel into place and realign. Install and trim this panel before moving on.
Tips and Tricks
We run a fairly small shop, but we’re extremely busy, which means we have to be very efficient with our time. I do most of our vehicle wraps personally, sometimes by myself and sometimes with someone helping with the trimming and finishing work.
Some shops put their panels together on the table, some shops, like ours, put the panels together on the vehicle. There is no one right way to wrap a vehicle. The best way to do anything is the way that produces the most professional, durable and efficient results for your shop.
We’ve taped up our panels with masking tape for years, and typically this method works just fine. There are large magnets available that are a simple solution to holding your graphics in place with a little less headache. Be aware of tools on the market and be willing to try them. Sometimes these little tools can make a big difference in your productivity.
Another tip for installing a large one piece panel is hinging. In this case we use tape. To wrap the hood of this truck in one piece I created a hinge on one side of the hood about a third of the way in. The graphic was flipped back and the backing paper cut off.
The hood had a logo with a straight line of text so I made sure it was measured and lined up prior to installing. Small pieces of tape were placed on the outsides of the graphic so I could check that it was going on straight. I flipped the graphic back over and start applying paying attention to where the graphics line up against my tape guides.
Many hoods curve down on the outsides. When I set up my graphics for printing I make sure to give myself enough overlap so I have something to grip. I use this extra material to guide the graphics as I apply.
When the vehicle surface curves in multiple directions I can pull the graphics slightly, sometimes with a little heat, to conform to the shape. Take note of the different ways the surface curves and break up your install, first pulling and smoothing the one direction, then the other.
After graphics have been installed, be sure to thoroughly post-heat before trimming. I find this especially helpful around doors and obstacles to be sure all graphics have been completely squeegeed in place.
Any areas that have been stretched a little need to also be thoroughly heated, including rivets. If you were to start trimming a panel and the graphics were not completely in place they can shrink up exposing the vehicle.
Another simple tip is applying some information in separate pieces. For most wraps we print everything in one print. On wraps like this one, we chose to print the contact information separately. The lettering was color matched to the rest of the graphics, printed and contour cut. Because spacing was tighter, we had better control over placement.