Starting from Scratch

In this industry there is always the underlying urgency for quick turnaround on a vehicle wrap, not only for customer satisfaction, but also for the sake of business profitability. That’s the nature of almost any business. I believe that a lot of times this expectation leads to complacency in providing just enough to get the job done and nothing more. This prompts me to ask the question: Are you providing the best vehicle wrap for your client?

The quality of design put into a vehicle wrap can make or break its effectiveness. Consumers are beginning to suffer from advertising exhaustion as vehicle wraps are becoming more common and are seen everyday on the roads. It’s only natural that the original curiosity we had from seeing one for the first time is diminishing. That is where a creative and well-designed wrap can make all the difference. The “wow” factor is what grabs the viewers’ attention and compels them to remember your company or product. You only have so much time to make an impression, so it’s vitally important that your wrap does its job.

Quality over quantity will bring a greater measure of success and help provide your client with the best product. As a client, you would hope that your vehicle wrap was creatively and carefully designed. But on the other hand, as an owner or manager of a sign business, you have to weigh the time spent on any particular job against its profitability. Because of this, I believe a lot of these jobs are just hurled through a cookie-cutter mold and end up joining the ranks of the “common wrap.”

Obviously, you can’t spend two weeks designing a single wrap, but putting in the extra time to make the wrap work will bring far greater returns. Two things will happen: Your client will reap the benefits of an eye-catching mobile advertisement; and your sign business will reap the benefits of the question, “Who did your vehicle wrap?”

One of the most important tools that we now have in providing the best wrap is the vehicle template. Without it, we would be tremendously limited. I remember having to create my own templates from scratch for every wrap I designed. It gets old fast and cuts productivity in half. Thankfully, the industry has caught on to this demand and now there are several options for pre-built templates available.

However, there are still those occasions when you need to design a wrap for a vehicle that, for whatever reason, has no template. If you’ve been designing for any length of time, you’ve more than likely run into this situation. I’m going to share my experience in creating templates from scratch for those of you who are unsure of the process or have found it easier to avoid it altogether.

In order to provide the best wrap for your client, your template must be accurate. How many times have you designed with a template, but for some reason, a line of text gets cut off by a door handle or tail light? It’s pretty frustrating not to mention a waste of time and material. The functionality aspects of a vehicle such as door handles, hinges on a trailer, etc. may seem insignificant to the overall layout, but they are important obstacles that need to be carefully considered. While you can’t avoid these issues 100 percent of the time, you can definitely work around them with accurate vehicle templates.

When creating a template from scratch, one of the most important steps is getting precise dimensions from the actual vehicle. In a lot of cases, you only have access to that vehicle for a short period of time, so when measuring for your template, it’s always better to have more than enough data with which to work.

The easiest way to measure, I’ve found, is to go by vehicle panels like doors, windows, fenders, and other easy-to-scale features. It is good to be within 1/4" accuracy if possible. A lot of times I will print out the photos I’ve taken of each side of the vehicle at 25 percent opacity and draw out my measurements right onto the print-outs. When I don’t have that option, I will sketch out a rough version of it on paper instead. Either way, you need to somehow visually record and display all of your values and how they relate to one another.

One problem that can occur when translating a three-dimensional object such as a vehicle into a two-dimensional template is the “curve factor.” Instead of measuring with a rigid measuring tape, it is more accurate to follow the contours of the surface as if your measuring device were the vinyl that will eventually be laid over it. Valuable inches can be lost if you don't follow this process. A seamstress tape works better for this than a standard measuring tape, but either can be used.

This curve factor also affects the way your design will conform to the shape of the vehicle. The hoods and rear windows (especially on cars which are much curvier than trucks and vans) are the areas that are most affected by this. You may have noticed that text on the rear window of a car will have a tendency to curve upward like a smile while text too low on the hood will tend to curve downward like a frown. This is all related to the curve factor and should be accounted for when gathering measurements for your template.

Another important step in creating a template from scratch is taking good photographs. Essentially, the photos you take will become your template. When taking pictures of the vehicle, make sure the camera is parallel to each side as much as possible to avoid dimensional distortion. For example, if you were not centered to the vehicle, and were too high or too low when you took the photograph, the angle of the shot would not match up with the measurements you collected.

You will also want to take separate photos of the hood, trunk and roof, if applicable, from a higher angle (directly above, if possible) to get an accurate representation for your template.

When all of this data is assembled, the next step is to bring it into your design software and scale the photos to full-size using the measurements you took to cross-reference each panel or portion of the vehicle. If the photograph doesn’t match the measurements in a particular area, you need to modify the photo by stretching and pulling the areas into correct proportion. This may cause the vehicle to appear slightly different than it normally looks, but if your measurements are accurate, you’re in good shape.

Depending on how much time you want to spend making the template more user-friendly and presentable, you can either use it as a toggle layer to continually refer back to or go the extra mile and cut out the background and other elements from the vehicle photo to create a multi-layered and highly-functional version. The great thing is that once you have created a particular template, it can be used over and over again.

Having an accurate template is the first step in any vehicle wrap design project. Now that you are able to create a template for any type of vehicle, it’s time to put it to the test. With this tool at hand, you can focus on providing the best wrap for your client in any situation.