Don’t cut corners on this important step

Let's Talk Shop: Vehicle Wrap Lamination

Our company laminates every graphic that we print. The cost of laminate is minimal in comparison to the added benefits lamination provides. This is especially true with vehicle wraps.


The three main laminates we use for our vehicle wraps range in price from $.27 to $.92 per square foot. The most commonly used cast laminate for the majority of wraps runs about $.66 per square foot. Of course, this is added cost that needs to be factored into our pricing schedule, but the overall benefits make it a necessary cost.

Even on flat box wraps we use a cast vinyl and laminate for longer outdoor durability and conforming over rivets.

Laminate on vehicle wraps provides protection against abrasion from road grime and rocks, as well as moisture. The UV protection laminate provides will help protect the printed graphics against fading and deterioration.

In addition to protecting the graphics, the laminate also enhances the finish of the graphics. Gloss, matte and luster finishes are just a few options. We use 3M Scotchcal 8518 gloss laminate on most of our wraps, which helps increase the vibrancy of the colors in the print. Some matte or luster materials will help create a glare-free finish.

We do not use a transfer material when installing our wraps unless we’ve contour cut a portion of the graphics to shape. In this case, the transfer material holds the shape of the contour cut graphics, making the installation easier. For unmasked graphics, adding lamination to printed graphics increases the thickness of the media and makes installation easier as well.


There is one exception to the “always laminate wrap graphics” rule with 3M Scotchcal Wrap film, Series 1080. These films do not require printing or lamination and are made with two layers of color for extra durability.

You may have seen cars with center stripes and entire wraps with a smooth, matte finish. This trend is growing in popularity and we’ve had more and more requests for it.

There are four matte colors, two carbon fiber options and five brushed metal colors available, with more variety being introduced periodically. This ready-to-go material adds unique color and textures to full and partial vehicle wraps.

The film is repositionable until firm pressure is applied. Non-visible air release channels also make this film easy to apply without bubbles. I like that the material comes in 60" widths, which means that most parts of the car can be wrapped without seams.

You can find more information on 3M’s website. Sample sheets of the matte color and carbon fiber options can also be requested online and are helpful selling tools when working with customers.

These halfside bus wraps require a combination of calendared vinyl and laminate for the flat areas and a perforated window film and corresponding optically clear overlaminate for the windows.


We do a lot of partial wraps for our city buses that are removed and replaced every few months. For these installations, it makes economic sense to use a calendared wrap film.

For the ads that are applied to flat surfaces we use BUSmark 5800 with an Arlon 3420 gloss calendared overlaminate. If the ads will be conforming over mild curves, rivets or other obstacles, we use Arlon DPF 4560GTX material. 

This calendared vinyl film has the X-scape technology that helps release bubbles. It prints great and is easy to work with. We use the same Arlon 3420 overlaminate for this material as well. 

Aspire also makes a great 3-mil calendared gloss overlaminate that is very economically priced. It makes economic sense to use a calendared laminate with calendared vinyl. Calendared laminates should never be used over cast media.

Cast laminates should be used with a cast vinyl film on all long-term vehicle wraps. Most of the vehicle wraps we do are intended to stay on the vehicle for at least three years.

Our shop has tried many different films over the years. Our installers prefer to use 3M ControlTac IJ-180C vinyl with 3M Scotchcal 8518 gloss overlaminate on most of the vehicles. 

For the Sprinter Vans and H1 Hummers we’ve wrapped, we prefer a material with a little more flexibility. Both 3M ControlTac IJ380 or 380cv3 and Avery’s MPI 1005 Supercast films have made wrapping over extra deep channels and compound curves a lot easier. 

With these specialty wrap films, it’s essential to use the right overlaminate. 3M Scotchcal 8580 is a gloss overlaminate with extra lifting resistance and conformability properties. Avery’s DOL 1000 series overlaminate provides flexibility and protection to the Supercast films.


Applying graphics over the windows of vehicles has become fairly standard on most of our wraps. In fact, if the customer is on a tight budget, we will often wrap just the rear windows of a vehicle along with a tailgate wrap or spot graphics. This gives the customer effective advertising, decent coverage and lower costs than a full wrap.

With few exceptions, our customers prefer to see out of the windows we are wrapping, so we use a perforated window film. Back to our rule of always laminating printed graphics: We always laminate perforated window film.

Some companies prefer to not laminate their view-through graphics thinking that it adds unnecessary cost to a short term (usually about a year) graphic or that it makes it harder to see.

As with other wrap films, optically clear overlaminate on perforated window film adds too many benefits to justify not using it. While optically clear overlaminate is typically the most expensive laminate used on the vehicle, the windows are smaller and add less total square footage and minimal cost to the wrap project as a whole.

Perforated window film is approximately 50 percent holes and 50 percent media. Without an overlaminate protecting the graphic and creating a smooth, glossy finish, half of the print is made up of holes that trap dirt and moisture. This will make the graphics look dingy, causes the media to deteriorate faster and takes away from the overall finish of the graphics.

When the proper optically clear overlaminate is used, it also will improve visibility, not decrease it. Trapped dirt or water on the glass between the holes will make it more difficult to see out of the window. 

Perforated films and laminates are intended for shorter-term coverage and a separate warranty should be explained to your customer. These films should also be used on flat or simple curves. For extra durability, seal the edges of the window graphics with 3M Edge Sealer 3950, a liquid sealer or ½" strips of optically clear overlaminate applied around the edge of the graphic on the window.

Over the years, we’ve had great results with Clear Focus’ CurvaLam optically clear overlaminate. We use this over their ClassicVue film.

Another option with a 50 percent perforation pattern is 3M’s Scotchcal IJ8171 gloss film. 3M’s optically clear 8914 overlaminate should be used with this material.


When it comes to lamination, there are a few tricks that will help streamline the process and will improve results.

Experiment with different laminate brands and finishes to find one that works best for your shop.

Utilize product technical bulletins available online from most manufacturers to check material durability, product compatibility and performance characteristics.

Create easy to understand labels and apply to the inside of the core of rolls of laminate when they are delivered. Titles may include Calendared, Cast, Optically Clear and Floor Graphic overlaminate.

Handle both laminate and media rolls with lint free cotton gloves to avoid fingerprints. These gloves are also helpful to lightly dust off printed media as it’s running through the laminate to remove specs of lint or dust that may have settled on the media while drying.

Allow 24 hours between printing and lamination for the printed graphics to fully dry. Wall mounted vinyl roll holders work great for holding drying graphics. Simply remove the take-up roll of printed graphics from the printer and stick it on the holders. This keeps the materials off the ground and out of the way.

Try to create a clean dust-free environment for laminating printed graphics.

We store our most commonly used laminate on the laminator with our other rolls of laminate stored off the ground on a rolling cart nearby.

To start longer runs of laminating it’s important to get even tension across the laminate from the start. We use 3” strips of cardboard (cut from media boxes) by the full width of our laminate. We start these through the laminator first, check that the laminate is feeding through straight and then we start the roll of media through.

Use foam squeegees when applying unmasked laminated graphics to avoid scratching the finish of the film.

Pausing the laminator while running media through may cause a pressure line on the laminated graphic. Once the graphic is fully laminated you can run it back through the laminator to try to eliminate this line.

When laminating a large run of graphics, we always mount the roll of media on the laminator. For smaller graphics or to utilize scraps of material, we will often lay a scrap of laminate over the printed media and apply the laminate using a taped hinge. The hinge is taped to excess media, which we start into the laminator first. We then peel the liner from the laminate back and run the graphic and laminate through the laminator. 

Even on flat box wraps we use a cast vinyl and laminate for longer outdoor durability and conforming over rivets.

These halfside bus wraps require a combination of calendared vinyl and laminate for the flat areas and a perforated window film and corresponding optically clear overlaminate for the windows.