Always with a love for vehicles and graphics, Keith Vu, owner of Savage Wraps, a sign and vehicle graphics shop in Milpitas, Calif., has made a career out of his passion. Vu first started in the industry in 1988 as a classic sign painter and air brush artist, he says. As digital technologies took over, Vu stayed current with new applications and further established himself in the market.
“It was an easy transition from the analogue work to digital,” Vu says. “I started graphic design work with pre-press and moved to screen printing, photography and videography and then landed back into sign work.”
After closely listening to the client’s needs, Savage Wraps only went through two rounds of designs before it was finalized. (Photo courtesy of Savage Wraps.)
Eventually, Vu decided to combine his love of cars and graphics in 2005 and formed Savage Wraps. Although Savage Wraps found its humble start in the car port of Vu’s parents, it soon grew and has now expanded into a two-shop operation, Vu says. With Savage Wraps’ increased capabilities, it can handle fleet graphics, 52-foot trailers and other large applications.
To be successful in wraps, Vu finds that you must hold strict quality standards, he says. Even if the vinyl is one-third to one inch off, Vu takes the time to fix the alignment, which is especially important when working with large graphic wraps. A single-color wrap doesn’t have the same alignment issues, but with artwork, the entire image can be easily skewed if placed incorrectly.
“In this field, you have to perfect it as best as possible and be willing to do a lot of troubleshooting,” Vu says. “I’ve seen some sloppy installers; they have no technique and no direction. You can never just settle for good enough. You always have to make it better.”
Vu and his team recently used that dedication to high-quality jobs to create an RV wrap for celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. With only a three-week lead time, Vu faced a tight deadline, but he credits listening to what his client wanted to turning around the project so quickly. In fact, it only took two rounds of design revisions before the final version was approved.
“It can take a whole month to finalize the design, but we really paid attention to our client’s needs and accomplished it quickly,” Vu says. “The design went between at least six managers, and it can be hard to get everyone to jive together and agree on it, but they looked at it and said it looked great. That, for me, was the most rewarding part—to have everyone enchanted.”
To complete this wrap on time, Savage Wraps pulled an all-nighter, which is often the reality in the wraps industry. (Photo courtesy of Savage Wraps.)
The wrap, printed on a Mutoh ValueJet 1324 on Avery Supercast 1005 film with Avery DOL 1060 overlaminate, was scheduled to appear at a Google-sponsored event attended by some posh people of the industry. Given the VIP crowd, the client wanted a presentable vehicle with eye-catching graphics, Vu says. Vu created the graphics from scratch but incorporated some elements from Oliver’s current branding, such as food images, colors and rays, while adding his own artistic features.
“I wanted to make the artwork explode and used almost like a stylized type of ray,” Vu says. “The key is to really listen to what the client wants and deliver it. You can add your own flare to it, but a lot of designers’ biggest mistake is they overelaborate it. You have to make it simple and do what the client wants while bringing in your own creativity.”
When it came time for production, the deadline quickly closed in, which meant pulling extra hours to complete the job, Vu says. The client planned to pick up the vehicle at 6:30 a.m. on the due date, and Savage Wraps worked overnight to make that happen. Although working those late hours can be tough, Vu sees that kind of overtime as a necessity for success in the wrap business.
“Any wrap shop has to be willing to bend, but not a lot of shops are willing to stay late and do jobs like this,” Vu says. “We did almost two overnights in a row to knock it out. There were a lot of details involved.”
In the end, the client was blown away by the wrap, Vu says. Seeing the flat, 2-D graphic transformed into the contoured, 3-D wrap especially impressed the client, which often happens in Vu’s experience. For many clients, it is hard to visualize how a simple graphic can come to life, but when they see the wrap, it’s an exciting part of the artistic experience that is so inspiring to Vu.
“Every project is different, and each car does have its own challenges and different sets of angles to take on,” Vu says. “That’s the beauty of it if you love art. I get into a Zen state when I wrap. Some wrappers think of it as some work they have to do, but I find wrapping relaxing, just like painting or listening to music. I wrap to perfect an art.”