Using Template Software

No shop uses vehicle templates in quite the same way. Most use templates as a foundation that they then customize and build on. Whether they use pre-made vehicle templates, available from a number of suppliers, or create their own, the template is an integral part of the vehicle wraps process.

Very few if any shops simply plug the design into the template. There’s always a fudge factor involved since almost every vehicle is unique in one way or another. Kenny Calman, graphic designer and installer for Geek Wraps Inc., in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., estimates that most of the templates end up about two to three inches or 10 percent from reality.


“I’d hate to have to create the templates myself, so I’m very thankful to have them. They give us an excellent baseline to work from. We start with the template, then physically measure the vehicle with our Power Slam Tape measure, which has our Power Slam magnets on each end. We can now relate that to the template and make the proper adjustments,” says Calman. “We take a digital photo of the vehicle to see exactly where the crack lines on the doors, the emblems and the door handles fall horizontally and vertically. Then we go back into the template and compare the measurements. We import the template into Flexi and move and stretch some of the nodes to match the measurements. We save this as our new template for that particular make and model, and it’s then brought into Photoshop as a smart object and converted to a masked layer.”

When Geek Wraps receives files from designers across the country to replicate in a wrap, Calman says that most designers place the design in the template ahead of time. “They already filled the template, masking the artwork into it, and expect us to print the template with all the curves. When we print, we print a big square, line it up on the car and use the templates to line it up. We get artwork from some of the best people in the country, but I keep telling them not to design into the template itself; just use it as a guide. So, when you get work from a designer, ask for bleed all the way around and past the template,” explains Calman.

Geek Wraps also uses templates to estimate its projects. All of the template measurements have been converted into square footage for each vehicle and placed into a spreadsheet, providing Geek Wraps with its own custom quoting package.

Calman reports that business has been booming for Geek Wraps. About two years ago, Calman and his wife, Kathy, opened a retail wraps-only business on a main thoroughfare in south Florida. The combination of an expedited workflow, an emphasis on top-quality, high-resolution artwork and attention to installation detail has kept their new angle on the graphics business hopping.

“I don’t cut corners, even though there may be other shops quoting half as much. But when our wraps go out the doors, they look like paint jobs and people keep coming back. We use no canned artwork. We make everything from scratch, whether it’s total 3-D or any other background: diamond plate, fire and flames. Everything is created by us unless someone supplies it to us. There will not be another wrap like theirs on the street,” says Calman.


Similarly, In Sight Sign Company in Chicago is awash in repeat business thanks to its emphasis on detail and quality—and its creative use of template software. Chris Zwirn, president of In Sight Sign Company, says he prefers the Bad Wrap templates from Fellers since the templates provide a three-dimensional template as opposed to a flat outline.

“I have the vehicle directory printed out and on my desk for reference. You have to see what you’re dealing with and design based on the shape of the vehicle. The Bad Wrap photorealistic templates let you visualize in a real-world environment, allowing you to create quickly and freely,” explains Zwirn. “I find the template, open it into Photoshop, and start dropping in photos or creating background graphics. For all text and logos we drag-and-drop from Illustrator right into Photoshop.

“I use a template for every wrap,” adds Zwirn. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, Bad Wrap templates are right on the mark within half an inch. You have to keep in mind the parts of the vehicle that protrude. When we’re designing we try to keep the important information away from the wheel wells and door handles. You have to plan ahead and leave the installers some wiggle room. There’s a lot of control with the templates, but you have to use common sense when you design,” adds Zwirn.

That’s why some shops prefer to use templates as a guide or build their own. Charity Jackson, co-owner of Visual Horizons Custom Signs in Modesto, Calif., uses vehicle templates to sketch out design ideas and mark problem areas on the vehicle—such as rust spots, dings and scratches—prior to wrapping it.

“Vehicles have so many aftermarket parts, existing stripes and other obstacles that I don’t feel comfortable relying on the template when laying out my wrap designs for installation,” says Jackson. “For years now, the method that has worked best for us is to stand back from the vehicle, positioned at about the midpoint of the side, front or back, crouch level and take a straight-on photo. We then take the photo into Photoshop and make sure it’s straight. I put one copy of the vehicle photo on the background layer, then a second copy on top.”

Using Photoshop’s Lasso tool, Jackson zooms in and selects the areas of the vehicle that will be covered and “clears” them. She leaves behind the door handles, rubber window trim and any other obstacles that won’t be covered in the wraps. The windows are usually placed on a separate layer to help distinguish the placement of any graphics across the windows.

Since the vehicles are curved it’s also important to keep plenty of space on all sides of the photo to allow for the extra graphics needed to wrap from top to bottom, she says, and all of this can be done without sizing the vehicle, as long as you design at a high resolution from the beginning.

“To size the vehicle, I copy the background photo, paste it into a new window, flatten it and save it as a lower-resolution .jpg or .bmp. Then I take this photo into my SAi's FlexiSIGN-PRO program, and—using the measurements I took of the customer’s vehicle—I size the photo in Flexi. Once I’ve found the overall size the photo needs to be to show the vehicle at its actual size, I change the file size in Photoshop. When I change the image size, I just lower the resolution until the file stays the same size I was working with,” Jackson adds.


Dale Dunnihoo, owner of Intelligent Design Studio in Mobile, Ala., goes a step further. First, though he has templates and will refer to them, he doesn’t use them for presentations or to lay out the vehicle for production and installation.

“The presentation is not designed until after the customer commits to the wrap, and that’s usually payment in full. If a business owner comes in and wants a wrap he’ll know in the first few minutes after looking at our displays and talking to me that they’ve come to the right place. I tell them that I design based on budget. The customer’s job is to help me understand what their brand message is and my job is to create an identity based on their brand; that’s the story I want to tell in their wrap,” says Dunnihoo. “Once I have a contract, I photograph their vehicle, bring it into Photoshop and manipulate it so that the vehicle is correctly sized and then work with it at 100 ppi at full size.”

For Dunnihoo, the presentation comes after the commitment. Though the job has been sold, a top-notch presentation in Dunnihoo’s studio establishes the professionalism of his work and helps the customer feel good about their investment.

“Presentation is one of the most important parts of the process because wraps are expensive. If the presentation knocks their socks off, you’ve got them on your team. It establishes in their mind that I am working with them as an outside expert, and that they are part of the creative process. When the job’s done it looks just like the presentation, because we use the same digital files,” explains Dunnihoo. “If they have custom wheels or anything that makes their vehicle unique, that’s what they’re seeing in the presentation in a real-world environment. For the presentation, I won’t work full-size because they are huge files, so I normally work with something that’s about quarter size. I have a 50" LCD screen in the sales area of my studio connected to my design computer so they can see the design process and presentation on-screen. I’ll keep all the elements on different layers—logos, Web site, graphics and whatnot—so that I can easily show the customer alternatives if they want elements moved around. Just this morning a lady came in who’s been in business 27 years and has never had a sign on her vehicles. When she saw the presentation and it looked like the wrap was already completed, she said she was ready to buy another van just to get it wrapped as well.”