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Rough and Ready Wraps

Andy Stonehouse is a Denver-based freelance writer who has been covering the automotive industry for more than ten years.

If you're a newcomer to the world of wrap films, you might be more familiar with traditional applications like full-body automotive jobs or even work on windows and flat surfaces in a retail setting.

But new and fast-expanding technology allows the same sort of commercial or artistic imagery to be printed and wrapped on a wide range of rough surfaces, including brick and cinder block walls, concrete or even asphalt.

Sound impossible? A variety of manufacturers have expanded and specialized their offerings to include rough surface-ready products; here, a few share their expertise and some specialized advice on application and removal.

Tammy Bui, product manager for Placentia, Calif.-based Arlon Graphics, says her company’s DPF 6700 and 8000 films are specially geared for use on rough, external building material surfaces, with the latter line also providing long-lasting adhesion to concrete, stucco and low-energy plastics such as ABS. Arlon’s 6700 is a cast product, with a film that helps it to conform around deep textures and makes it easy to install.

“We’ve seen the films used for unique applications where adhesion is doubted and, as a result, DPF 8000 has built a brand as a solution to questionable, hard-to-stick surfaces,” she says.

Beau Hommes, technical service engineer with 3M Commercial Solutions, says the Envision non-PVC print wrap films (LX and SV 480mC), now backed with Comply adhesive, are popular choices for textured surfaces, in part due to their pliability.

“They provide excellent handling for installation in extreme temperatures, and offer great tensile strength to resist tearing during application,” he says. “And the switch to Comply offers installers fine-tuned slideability, optimized initial track and non-visible air release that gives the customer a smoother appearance.”

Marcel Medved, business development director with Continental Grafix, offers an innovative solution that doesn’t even require a heat gun for application, quite different than most other rough surface products.

“Our panoRama Walk&Wall avoids the need for a heat gun, as it has a fabric backing and a high-tack, removable adhesive,” he explains. “It can also be used on sidewalks and roads, as its textured surface is both wet-slip and dry-slip certified.”

Printability is key to these products and all can be printed with latex, eco-solvent, solvent or UV-curable inks, though curing and outgassing the inks is definitely recommended to ensure optimal quality and performance. For longer-lasting jobs in areas with high UV or foot-traffic exposure, an overlaminate can also add durability, as well as improving the look with a little extra gloss if so desired. Hommes suggests installers do their homework before installing both as a two-part job, however.

“Before using, be sure to understand the limitations of these laminates with (Envision) before applying to a surface that requires stretch over 150 percent,” Hommes cautions. “Graphics are limited to their smallest stretch factor, be they ink, film or laminate, so don’t exceed this limit or it can lead to premature graphic failure.”

Given the uneven and often dirt-prone nature of hard outdoor surfaces, professionals will also need to take a little extra time for prep work, as that will definitely help with a more thorough and long-lasting installation. A broom and brush may be sufficient, but for areas with lots of dirt and grease, power-washing can also be helpful, Medved says.

Plastic surfaces can be slightly roughened up to better accept the adhesive, and isopropyl alcohol can be used to remove stains or residue before installation. A little extra time on prep will also come in handy if you’re later required to remove the wrap.

“It’s important to prep the surface to avoid any headaches with contaminants, especially moisture leaching out after the product has been installed,” Bui says. “We strongly advise installers to prep the surface with a sealant or paint to ensure that no loose paint, grit, or chalk will be present.”

During the job, installers are recommended to use a squeegee for flat surfaces or a foam roller on textured surfaces, plus a heat gun to post-heat the film (in Arlon’s case, up to 120 degrees F on flat surfaces and between 200 and 230 degrees F to mold it to textured surfaces).

“One method we recommend for walls is tacking the film at the top of the substrate and working or squeegeeing downward and pulling the release liner as you go,” Bui says.

3M products call for much higher heat in their application, Hommes adds.

“We recommend a heat gun set at 1000 degrees F to roll the graphic onto the surface, and to maintain a pace of three inches per second at that temperature,” he says. “This will help ensure that the graphic properly conforms to the surface.”

As for proper alignment, Hommes has an additional tip.

“It’s also important to set three edges of the graphic for registration of the panel before applying 50 percent overlapped strokes to the body of the graphic. This will ensure proper conformability along with minimizing gloss bands.”

Minus the need for high temperatures, Medved says installation of his panoRama Walk&Wall products is much easier, though hands-on still plays a big role.

“We recommend using your fingers or a soft felt squeegee to get the graphic into the cracks and crevices, and then running over the surface with a hard rubber roller to ensure good adhesive contact and make sure the edges are well-adhered,” he says. “The surface needs to be in good condition, dry, clean and above 50 degrees F for a good installation.” 

Longevity of hard surface wraps varies, with unprinted products such as Arlon’s DPF films having an outdoor durability rating of seven years, and between six months and a year on flat surfaces, vertical masonry surfaces or even freeze-and-thaw zones.

Hommes says adding Envision overlaminates can provide an enhanced two-year warranty on horizontal applications, while unprinted Envision has an expected (but unwarranted) performance life of up to 11 years on its own on flat surfaces.

“For vertical surfaces, we say two to three years, and for walking surfaces, one to three months,” Medved says, of Continental Grafix films. “But with our removable adhesive, the graphic comes off in 12- to 48-inch strips, and on rough surfaces, removal is quite easy.”

Removal of other wraps typically involves reapplication of heat, though the wrap film will usually peel away in a single piece. If there’s any adhesive left over due to the extremely high tack of a product such as Arlon’s DPF line, Bui suggests the use of an orange degreaser to remove any residue.