In the past 14 or so years, Mark Johnson has wrapped trucks, vans, buses and trailers of all shapes and sizes. The company he founded in 1990, Husky Signs and Graphics, was one of the first in Boulder, Colo., to start wrapping vehicles, he said.
And he loves to support programs that promote kids being active and healthy.
So when Michael Murray, a volunteer and coach with Rocky Mountain Hit Club, approached him about wrapping a recreation vehicle to promote that youth baseball program and its partner, Slammers Baseball and Softball, Johnson was interested.
“It’s obviously about the kids; it’s obviously about the baseball,” Johnson said. Rocky Mountain Hit Club fields more than 50 teams a year across several age groups.
John Malkin—a former professional baseball player and the owner of Slammers Baseball and Softball and a director for Rocky Mountain Hit Club—had purchased the RV to accompany the travel teams to games, Murray said. Murray approached Malkin with the idea of using the RV to promote the baseball teams.
Eli Bates works out the design.
“When I can, (I like to) help out and put two and two together,” Murray said.
Johnson agreed to contribute labor if Murray could acquire the wrap material necessary to complete the job. Johnson put just one condition on his involvement: 3M’s support because that’s all he uses at his shop.
“In my opinion, 3M is the leading manufacturer of media,” Johnson said. “They are constantly on that cutting edge. They’re always reinventing their materials.” What makes 3M materials stand out, he said, is the ability to stretch around bumpers and other curves, and stay down once it’s applied.
Murray was able to get 3M to come through for the project.
“I had everyone’s full support,” Murray said, noting that the donation was worth between $10,000 and $11,000. Slammers Baseball paid about $2,000 toward labor, he said.
Generally, recreational vehicles are easy to wrap because they have large flat surfaces. Typical challenges include obstacles on the sides, such as windows and storage panels, Johnson says. “When the RV first came to us, we did a survey of the RV… everything looked wonderful,” Johnson says.
The survey involved photographing and measuring the entire vehicle before the wrap design was created. Slammers provided some art, but it was up to Husky Signs’ designers to place the sponsorship logos and create the design: a blue background at the front with the silhouette of a baseball player next to a chain-link white Slammers Baseball logo on a black background at the back of the RV.
“We absolutely pushed the Hit Club and Slammers brand,” Johnson said.
The wraps are applied like wallpaper; about 50 panels are needed to cover an RV.
The key to a successful wrap design is keeping it simple, Johnson said.
“When these wraps are designed correctly, the return on investment in phenomenal,” he says.
Husky’s staff uses the Adobe Create Suite to design the wraps. The company then employs Caldera for its rip software.
Both for vehicle wraps and banners, Johnson relies on Seiko ColorPainter H-745 wide-format printers. One printer is dedicated to vehicle wraps, while the other is used on banner and other media, he said.
The wraps are printed in 8-inch-wide panels, with a 1-inch overlap of each panel, Johnson said. The wraps are applied like wallpaper; about 50 panels are needed to cover an RV, he said.
Just as Johnson is adamant about using 3M materials, he only uses OEM solvent inks, he said. Although moving to more “green” inks is the industry trend, his experience has been hit and miss, he said.
“I’ve seen reds, in less than a year and a half, turn pink,” Johnson said, proudly claiming that his reds are still red five years later.
But Malkin’s RV presented an unusual problem, particularly for a signs and graphics company in landlocked Colorado. The front and rear of the vehicle were finished with gel coat that, while it looked stable, had started to degrade. Gel coat is a high-quality polyester resin often applied to boats and planes.
“On a microscopic level, the gel coat was already starting to deteriorate due to excessive years of UV exposure,” Johnson said. Every time a Husky signs staffer wiped the surface, a layer of fine dust came off. The surface then looked fine, but the wrap vinyl would pull off another layer of dust instead of sticking to the surface, he said.
“This was a curve ball that knocked us flat on our face,” Johnson said. “We were constantly picking up a little bit of dust.”
Wisely, Johnson used scrap vinyl pieces as he tested the affected areas of the RV.
“Fortunately, we did not waste any of the previous printed panels,” Johnson said.
Johnson reached out to Donny Helbich, a boat dealer in New Bern, N.C.
“He immediately knew what the problem was and gave me the worst-case-possible solution,” Johnson said.
After working for two days to install the panels on the sides of the RV, Johnson had to send it to Denver to have the gel coat sanded down, and have the areas primed and painted, he said.
In total, he said, it took his three-man crew a total of 14 hours to wrap the Slammers Baseball RV.
Murray, who came up with the idea of wrapping the RV, is thrilled with the results.
“The motor home is just a driving billboard,” Murray said. “It’s a bit over the top, and it’s really neat.”