Reflective vinyl graphics on vehicle wraps

Let's Talk Shop: Wraps That Shine

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

Over the years we’ve sold our fair share of cut reflective vinyl. Now that wraps are such a huge part of our business we’ve started looking at ways to incorporate printable reflective films into our wraps.

We’re considering material options and effective ways to incorporate reflective. We’re also taking into account installation methods and techniques.

Reflective Films

There are many different manufacturers of printable reflective films. I had the opportunity to talk with representatives from 3M, Oracal and Avery Dennison about the printable reflective films they offer.

3M’s Scotchlite removable reflective film IJ680CR-10 is a great product to wrap with because of the Comply adhesive. Within this 680 series of films is also a screen printable film as well as an inkjet printable film.

According to 3M these films “are very flexible and conform well to many typical contours, including substrates with moderate curves, rivets and corrugations.” These capabilities are key when working on vehicle wraps.

3M Scotchcal Gloss Overlaminate 8518 or Luster Overlaminate 8519 are the recommended laminate. These are cast overlaminates that add protective qualities without decreasing reflective properties.

Oracal also has a printable reflective vinyl with a long exterior life expectancy. According to Josh Culverhouse, Oracal senior product technical support specialist, their Oralite Series 5600 Fleet Engineering Grade reflective film is durable, conformable and removable. The top clear cast layer provides the conformability and stability needed to incorporate into vehicle wraps. This product is compatible with latex, solvent and eco-solvent printers. 

To extend the life of the product, Oracal recommend Oraguard Series 293 laminating film. The Oraguard 293 is an ultra-flexible, 1 mil, cast overlaminate.

These reflective graphics offer maximum safety for nighttime visibility. (Photos courtesy of The KMP Group)

Also according to Culverhouse, the Series 5600 is a reflective film that is easy to remove. While most reflective films are extremely challenging to remove, the Series 5600 film peels easily with a little heat, leaving behind minimal adhesive residue.

Culverhouse recommends designing in an “opaque outline around text or other key elements in the design. Using opaque outlines helps to define these elements and make them more legible when illuminated at night. Without this, text may appear washed out and less legible.” He also cautions against layering black and white reflective films as black reflective tends to reflect back white when illuminated at night.

Avery Dennison’s MPI 6200 Premium reflective film is another product to consider. This film can be digitally printed with Solvent and UV-curable and Latex inks.

The film has a long exterior life; up to 7 years when unprinted. Avery Dennison recommends using DOL 1000 series or DOL 1560 optically clear laminates. This premium grade film is conformable and its permanent adhesive allow for applications over rivets and simple curves.

I spoke with Cheryl Besl, marketing director for Avery Dennison, and she also mentioned HV 1200 film, a high visibility, screen-printable reflective film. She mentioned that Road Rage Designs, out of Spring Grove, Ill., has completed several partial ambulance wraps for A-TEC using this film with the DOL 1360 gloss overlaminate.

For flatter applications and spot graphics I am also fond of Arlon’s DPF 2400 reflective film. This printable reflective film is also flexible and features a permanent pressure sensitive adhesive. Couple this with a cast Series 3200 overlaminate for best results.

Windows should not be neglected when adding printable reflective graphics to your vehicle wraps. The ability to wrap right over windows while still maintaining visibility maximizes your options. Clear Focus offers ReflectVue, a printable perforated window film that is also reflective. It has approximately a one year outdoor life. Lamination with an optically clear laminate helps protect the vinyl and keeps the holes from filling with water, but may also slightly reduce the reflectance of the film.


We do many, many vehicle wraps that have a great advertising impact as they drive around during the day. A printable reflective film can extend this advertising impact into the night. Increasing the exposure of any wrap is the ultimate goal and one of the many benefits of incorporating reflective graphics.

While this goes hand-in-hand with night time advertising, incorporating reflective is often just a matter of adding in a “cool” effect. You often see the sports car on the side of the van or the motorcycle illuminated on a plain vehicle. These graphics look great during the day, but have that huge “wow factor” at night too.

Safety is another concern and a great opportunity to add-in reflective films. Emergency vehicles, tow trucks, delivery vehicles and semi-trucks are often on the roads in the evenings, many making stops on the side of the road. Reflective graphics stand out when illuminated by the headlights of oncoming vehicles, alerting them to the presence of the other vehicle.

Using reflective window perf you can carry a reflective wrap across the windows to create a uniform look for maximum nighttime advertising. (Photos courtesy of Graphic Impressions and Clear Focus)


There is definitely a difference when working with reflective films. Even the highly conformable films are thicker and a little harder to work with. Too much stretching can leave a mark in the film and conforming to deep concave areas or over curves can be a bit tricky.

I talked with Keith Kelly, president of The KPM Group, in Burleson, Texas. His company provides graphics for several hundred emergency vehicle providers in six different states. Kelly said that in working with a vinyl film they were not able to get the adhesion they needed on vehicles with heavy contours.

The KPM Group was able to solve this problem by working hand-in-hand with 3M to come up with a custom version of the IJ680CR film that offered extra adhesion that as 3M says was an “extreme application.” 

As 3M explains, the reflective film “has a distinctive construction that allows light to reflect back to the viewer, making the film somewhat thicker than many wrap films and giving it an inherent tendency to rebound when stretched in more than one direction.”
3M does caution that, “Extreme stresses on the film may also reduce the reflectivity in those areas.” 

If adhesion seems to be a problem, 3M also recommends looking at similar products that may have a permanent adhesive as opposed to a removable one. In The KMP Group’s case they had a unique need and 3M was able to reconfigure the components of an existing product to meet that unique need.

As far as the actual application goes, Kelly recommends a 3M Scotchcal 8518 gloss, cast overlaminate, 3M Primer 94 to promote adhesion and a propane torch for the contours. If it is a full wrap using panels you should start at the back of the vehicle overlapping your panels as you move forward. 

Culverhouse, with Oracal, also had some important tips for installing reflective film. 

“It’s important not to overwork reflective films during installation. If a reflective film is flexed at steep angles, you could potentially damage the glass bead layer of the film. If this occurs, dark spots appear when the graphic is illuminated.”

Reflective stripes and full reflective wraps can be achieved with Oracal’s reflective products. (Photos courtesy of Oracal)

Because reflective films are less forgiving than regular wrap vinyls, Culverhouse recommends having an extra set of hands available when applying long stripes or wraps. As Culverhouse states, “Reflective materials have limited, if any, repositioning characteristics.”
Another helpful tip Culverhouse provided had to do with the trimming of reflective films. 

“It’s also a good idea to wrap around door edges instead of trimming them flush. Reflective films are much stiffer and more rigid than a traditional wrapping film or cast plotter film. Therefore, the reflective film is more prone to edge lifting when trimmed flush with the edge of a door, gas cap, etc.” 

If a full reflective wrap is not in your customer’s budget, consider a partial wrap, spot graphics or reflective stripes to increase visibility. The increased cost is minimal in comparison to the advertising impact. Work with your customer to see how reflective vinyls will enhance their wrap and be creative in how you use it.