wraps, wrap printers

Maximizing the Machine

​Ryan N. Fugler is a former editor of WRAPS magazine. 
 

This machine has been chugging along for years—steady, sharp and unfazed—serving up a stream of wraps on a regular basis. This machine feeds on the work, taking creative ideas and transforming them into reality. This machine is highly-regarded. This machine is noteworthy. This machine is not actually a machine. He is Troy Downey, founder/owner of APE Wraps in Coronado, California, and he has been doing vehicle wraps since nearly the beginning of the movement.

“It’s all about being trained to do it, trial and error, and doing the homework,” says Downey about the wraps printing process. “I could tell you until we’re both blue in the face.”

He speaks bluntly and energetically about the wraps profession that he loves. He lends much advice to both veterans and beginners alike in the industry. So, when he talks about guidelines to printing wraps, people tend to listen.

“Remember for any project,” he continues, “you must make sure you have accurate coverage, you have provided enough bleed, and have a strong understanding of what the material can and can’t do.”

Matt Richart is the co-owner of Digital EFX Wraps in Louisville, Kentucky. He’s another machine. A partner of Roland DGA, Richart not only wraps everything from automobiles to wave runners but provides two-day wraps training sessions at his headquarters. His advice doesn’t go unheard.

“Always provide test prints before printing for proofing,” he suggests, “and be aware that the biggest errors related to wrap jobs typically involve scaling, resolution, print quality or use of the wrong media profiles.”

For both of these experts, the digital printer is a tool—quite literally a machine—that plays an enormously important role in fulfilling a wrap project. For many of the technicalities that come along with printing a solid wrap job, Downey, Richart, and other wrap veterans leave that task to the manufacturers. And as these manufacturers can attest, there are several options on the market; plus, even more factors per printer that come into play when completing this type of work.

“There are a number of factors print providers should consider when selecting an inkjet printer for wrap applications, including the size of the printer or printer/cutter, the speed, dependability/reliability, and the price and operating costs,” says Daniel Valade, product manager, color products and cutters at Roland DGA.

With that in mind, when purchasing a printer, wrap professionals should prioritize their choice based on production needs, budget and other factors that keep their businesses running successfully. These factors include the printer’s width, speed, dependability and cost.

Width

The wrapping process involves minimizing or completely eliminating the number of seams on a job, so a “64-inch (printer) is ideal for less splicing images together and wider prints,” says Chris Padilla, product manager at Mutoh America Inc.

Of course, it’s possible to print wraps with a machine that is less than 64 inches wide, but even with a 54-inch printer, “most vehicles will require two panels to be printed and seamed, whereas a 64-inch machine will allow for one panel to cover the whole hood which makes it visually more appealing,” offers Padilla.

For those shops that are operating printers at widths less than 64 inches, it does not mean a wrap project cannot be completed professionally and attractively. 

“Different sizes can be utilized,” explains Michael Maxwell, senior manager sales, Mimaki USA Inc., “however most installers can handle a panel that is 48 inches wide, and the 54-inch platform allows for 48-inch wide prints while offering additional space to create overlaps for paneling.”

In any case, there are a number of other important factors to consider when looking at wraps printers.

Speed

The most important thing is that you don’t want to sacrifice quality for speed. “You can’t get great speed without giving up quality,” says Downey. "However, there are industrial large-format printers that are made to perform at high speeds with great resolution and won’t skip a beat.”

It’s true, digital printers are made to function with precise accuracy at higher speeds than ever before, but “for more detailed, higher-end vehicle wrap assignments, or to satisfy the high expectations of demanding customers, the user may need to slow things down to produce the higher-quality graphics required,” says Valade.

However, for some applications, it’s perfectly acceptable to run the printer at high speeds. “For example,” Valade continues, “for fleet vehicle graphics, which are typically less complex jobs, higher-speed modes can get the job done adequately.”

Maxwell states that it’s not always wise to look at the fastest speed on a printer when gauging results.

“Most wrap-centric environments are looking for a printer that can produce saturated graphics fairly quickly,” he says. “A good print speed will come down to ‘sellable quality’ and consistency throughout the entire job, so potential buyers should look at the mid-production speeds of the printer and avoid the draft speeds as a rule of thumb.”

Also, each specific job may determine the speed at which your printer is running.

“Depending on the desired output and quality expectations from the customer, you will want to dial in the printer speed, profile settings and ink saturation levels accordingly to ensure the best possible images with the best production output,” suggests Padilla, adding that working in a controlled environment will help produce optimal results.

Dependability

“Though printer manufacturers don’t put a life expectancy on the printers, print shops should look for a printer partner who stands behind their products,” says Padilla. “Mutoh’s ValueJet line, for example, offers two-year limited on-site warranties on a few of the most popular modes used by installers.”

At Roland, support is provided in “a two-year trouble-free warranty for extra peace of mind,” says Valade.

But it isn’t only about what is under warranty that defines dependability.

“Consistency is the key factor here,” believes Maxwell. “Potential buyers should look at the architecture and the potential for repeat business for years to come.”

Valade shares that some Roland customers have been using their machines for over a decade. All in all, if a shop owner is putting in the care and maintaining the health of the printer, there is no reason to expect it can’t last for several years past the warranty. It’s also wise to make sure a good, quality product is purchased in the first place.

“Some printers are less expensive up front, but will only last a few years,” warns Maxwell, “and the replacement models do not always have the ability to replicate prior work. All too often in these situations, colors and print quality will change once the printer is replaced.”

Investment/Cost

This all leads to how much a printer will cost, especially for those shops new to the wraps market.

“If you're just getting into the business, I suggest a budget for a printer at $15,000,” Downey offers. “And for those of you that are taking your business to a whole new level, go with the industrial unit as it will most likely print faster than three of the lesser expensive ones combined.”

With today’s healthy competition among manufacturers and technology ever-advancing, shops can find a reliable, reasonably-priced printer to handle its wrap jobs. 

“A potential buyer,” starts Maxwell, “can expect to spend anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 for a printer capable of doing wraps up to 64 inches. Smaller PSPs who are adding wraps as an additional service can typically expect to spend between $10,000 and $20,000 for their printer. More wrap-focused, or high-volume environments can expect to spend between $15,000 and $30,000 per printer.”

Other printers for wraps, such as Roland’s VG-540 and Mutoh’s VJ1624X, are priced at roughly $18,000 MSRP. And oftentimes, special promotions allow “customers (to) take advantage of rebates or ink bundles that help save them money,” according to Padilla.

As a general rule when considering price, “take into consideration the various features and benefits you’ll be getting with the printer you select,” says Valade. 

Forward Thinking

Troy Downey has seen a thing or two in his day. He’s worked with all kinds of products; he knows what to expect from manufacturers. He’s got technique, and he applies it to his work.

“So much of what many see as a ‘brand-new’ look has already been done by pioneers in the industry but was never perfected,” Downey says. “Therefore, you didn’t see a lot of it and the general populations missed it.”

This includes printing on different materials, using new ink colors, or incorporating non-traditional installation methods. But today, a lot of “new” concepts are reaching mainstream audiences, with emphasis on the flexibility of the products that carry this innovation forward. 

For example, “Mimaki has recently introduced a UV-LED Curable ink platform, the UCJV Series, that has been embraced by Avery Dennison and 3M for vehicle wrap applications,” explains Maxwell. “We believe this technology is a game-changer. Now our customers can utilize UV-LED Curable workflows that remove some of the post processing bottlenecks other ink technologies have and open up new possibilities in the process.”

Richart, who has certainly put in his time in the wraps arena, gives his unique take on innovative processes.

“We haven’t seen many new concepts introduced of late; however, different projects may require a different printing processes that are a little out of the norm,” he says, pointing to work he has output on a Roland TrueVIS VG 640 printer/cutter. “Sometimes we will print a design on satin silver metallic and then apply a gloss overlaminate to achieve a partial wrap on a silver car, making it blend better.”

Richart continues by explaining that embossing is a new style being incorporated into projects, “using cut vinyl below a solid color wrap, as we demonstrate during our vehicle wrap demos.”

Embossing is a technique that Downey also favors these days, citing other “hot” styles as, “3D shapes or characters with printed media vacuum-formed over the shapes. Or printing on specialty films like chrome and reflective materials, new-school camouflage, and break-up patterns.”

There is seemingly an endless amount of work that can be performed using digital printers for wraps. It’s not just limited to traditional vehicles; graphics can be created for items such as helmets, refrigerators or utility boxes. 

Designed for Success

When jumping into the printing process, it’s easy to forget that the printed graphics must first originate from a concept. That’s when shops are thankful for talented designers and dependable software programs. 

“As far as the printer and workflow goes, there’s not much difference between doing a large vehicle wrap or wrapping a smaller object,” says Valade. “The biggest difference would be on the design side. There’s software available with templates for vehicle wraps, but with unconventional objects, the designer will need to be a little more creative. Making sure the graphics conform properly to the unusual shape of the item typically requires more time and effort.”

When working strictly with vehicles, however, designers should adhere to templates that are available for many different automobile makes and models.

“Using vehicle templates from a reputable source will help in the design and making sure you are close on measurements,” Padilla says.

From there, as Padilla suggests, it is critical to plan for where the graphic panels will align on the vehicle as the design is being generated. 

“When designing for vehicle wraps, designers should always measure the vehicle first, and understand where the images are expected to be placed,” Maxwell begins. “Once an outline of placement is determined, designers should work on their design with paneling in mind. The image will need to be split up into pieces that will be able to cover the bulk of the vehicle with a minimal amount of overlaps, if possible.”

Padilla agrees with that sentiment, stating that, “The biggest thing is to be precise and correct on your measurements. Doing this will save you time printing and save money on ink and media costs. Many people overprint to make sure they have enough coverage.”

Finally, when all dimensions and figures have been calculated, it’s time to bring the graphics to life.

Process Complete

When faced with a decision to make a printer purchase, each shop will need to prioritize its requirements and decide what will fit best with its business model.

For Downey, he has an ideal printing process at the top of his mind: use a 64-inch width at minimum, output in RGB, and make your blacks “Black 000” to name a few things. “You can find a new 64-inch printer that is worth plugging in as low as $12,000, and the best large-format (industrial printer) is around $30,000.”

Another shop may prefer something different, based on budget and comfort. It’s all about finding the right formula that will maximize your machine.

Summarizing the printing steps in a wraps project, Richart simply explains, “I would say create your own process that ensures a quality end-product that your client will approve of.”

*This article originally appeared in the 2018 issue of WRAPS magazine