Best practices in wrapping to stay within vinyl film warranties

A Film's Life

Not everything in life lasts forever, which the business world proves time and time again. From outdated technology to everyday product depreciation, we sometimes come up against an expiration date. Perhaps the best way to combat this outcome is to anticipate and prepare for the inevitable so that you are not walking a tightrope without a net.

Customers want to know they can rely on a product when the weight of a buying decision falls on them. Even if a product prematurely fails, they need reassurance that the manufacturer will make good on its offering. Whether someone is purchasing a kitchen appliance or a laptop computer, it’s likely that the topic of “warranties” will arise at some point. And this topic is very important as it provides one way for manufacturers to establish trust with their customers.

With regard to wraps, warranties are especially significant as wrapped surfaces tend to endure more wear and tear than many products or applications on the market. Case in point, if someone is driving his wrapped vehicle 65 miles per hour down the highway, he wants to be particularly sure that the graphics in which he invested remain intact. So this article aims to show wrap professionals what to expect upfront from their wrap films, what practices may prove harmful to vinyl wraps, and how to ultimately maximize the life of installed graphics.

(Photos courtesy Arlon)

Warranty Types

To know what vinyl warranties are available to wrap shops, one must first understand what vinyl film is recommended for wrap projects. Be sure to check out the October edition of Sign & Digital Graphics for a full listing of wrap films on the market and their recommended uses. That said, what exactly does a wrap warranty encompass? Much of the technical information can be found on each film manufacturer’s respective web site, though experts from Arlon, Oracal, 3M and MACtac generously shared many more details for the purposes of this article.

“A wrap warranty is all about covering the total system,” says Holly Curtis, Director of Marketing Communications, Arlon. “That means the media, the ink, and laminate going onto whichever vehicle surface that it is applied to.”

Arlon’s “Print Performance Warranty” applies to all of its high performance films and includes coverage for print quality, processing, installation, durability and removal. A list of approved inks can be found at on the company’s website (www.arlon.com).

Oracal offers the Oralife Component System Warranty (OCS Warranty), allowing customers to go through the warranty application process via the company’s website (www.oracal.com). According to Josh Culverhouse, Senior Product Technical Support Specialist, ORACAL USA, “The ORALIFE Component System warranty includes specially matched media and laminates to fit almost any graphic application where a pressure-sensitive adhesive is needed. Combined with your approved wide-format inkjet printer and corresponding OEM ink sets, the OCS warranty can help you achieve an unrivaled level of performance and guaranteed reliability for your outdoor digital prints.”

The Orajet 3951RA with Oraguard 290 falls under the OCS seven-year warranty, whereas the Orajet 3751RA with Oraguard 290 and the Orajet 3551RA with Oraguard 293 remain within the OCS six-year warranty.

“All of 3M’s graphic products come with a 3M Basic Product Warranty,” explains Nancy Sperling, Marketing and Technical Communications, 3M Commercial Graphics. Sperling points to www.3Mgraphics.com as a site to gain more warranty information and related technical literature. “For specific graphic constructions, 3M also offers the 3M MCS Warranty for finished graphics made using all 3M graphic products and the 3M Performance Guarantee for select 3M inkjet products with qualified OEM inks.”

MACtac’s Open Image Warranty System “covers all aspects of vehicle wraps, including cars, vans, trucks, semi-trailers, and boats,” says Rick Moore, Sr. Director of Marketing Distribution Products, MACtac Graphic Products (www.mactac.com). “The basic warranty is for up to five years vertical and up to two-and-a-half years on horizontal surfaces. There are variations dependent on different areas of the globe and specific applications.”

What To Avoid

Warranties are intended to cover any sort of flaw in the product so that customers receive the quality they expect. However, sometimes there are circumstances that are out of the manufacturer’s control. Wrap film users should be careful not to engage in practices that would compromise the integrity of the product and ultimately void the warranty.

For instance, Oracal “does not recommend the use of adhesive promoters or bonding primers with its wrapping films. The use of this would void any potential warranty claim,” says Culverhouse. In addition, the use of carnauba based wax may dry out vinyl films and cause them to appear faded. Culverhouse adds that “for best results, wrap owners should refrain from taking a wrapped vehicle through an automated car wash that utilizes rotating brushes and abrasive chemicals such as Rain-X, tire cleaner, and spray wax.”

Proper surface cleaning after the graphics are installed is an important element to consider. Curtis warns that “cleaning with harsh chemicals can diminish the quality of a wrap. A wrapped vehicle should always be hand washed with a mix of soap and water. Industrial cleaners or automatic washes are never recommended.”

MACtac states that for full warranty consideration, the specific job must be registered with MACtac. “In addition,” says Moore, “the product must be properly processed. This includes printing, drying (as needed with solvent inks), laminating with MACtac PERMACOLOR RAYZor and, the all-important vehicle preparation, wrap application and finishing.”

Of course, there are many other actions to avoid, as Culverhouse advises. “Textured and matte finish wraps should never be waxed or polished,” he says, “as this could cause an undesired appearance in the film.” Technique is also something to be carefully considered when trying to sidestep mistakes. Curtis says, “There are many bad installation techniques. The worst is overstretching the graphic films rather than properly working the films through complex curves. Post-heating with a torch is another bad one.”

For specific graphic constructions, 3M also offers the 3M MCS Warranty for finished graphics made using all 3M graphic products and the 3M Performance Guarantee for select 3M inkjet products with qualified OEM inks, says 3M’s Nancy Sperling.

Ultimately, if the vinyl is damaged and the warranty is voided, it becomes a lose-lose situation for the wrap shop because “once film is weakened or compromised,” says Sperling. “It’s likely that dirt and other contaminants have gotten between the film and vehicle. Contaminated adhesive makes a satisfactory repair unlikely. Loosening the edges allows contaminants to be introduced that prevent re-adhesion of the graphic.” 

Curtis offers a good rule of thumb: “The best guideline is to only wrap where you know you can warranty it. To warranty something, you must know that it is clean, it sticks, it is going to be cared for and know that you will be able to squeegee to properly install. This means that wrapping under wheel wells, on odd plastics, or in tight spots where you can’t get to are all opportunities for failure.”

What To Embrace

Care is a word that readily arises when speaking of wraps. Treating a wrapped project like it is an investment in your business and in your customer base will help build you toward success.

“It’s important to take proper care of a wrapped vehicle,” says Culverhouse. “A combination of sediments etching into and breaking open the surface of the vinyl film and the constant UV exposure hitting these areas of a wrapped vehicle, may cause the material to break down at a faster rate than the vertical portions of the wrap.”

Sterling agrees, stating that vehicle owners should “store the vehicle out of the sun and severe weather when possible. And clean off bird droppings, tree sap and similar contaminants as soon as possible, followed immediately by a regular wash.”

Even before the graphics are installed, steps can be taken to ensure a better quality wrap job. Appropriate surface preparation is a must. “It’s important to utilize proper surface preparation recommendations by the vinyl manufacturer prior to installing a vehicle wrap,” says Culverhouse. “Not all wrap films are created equal, so make sure you’re utilizing the proper recommended materials for the type of wrap you’re doing.”

And make sure these points are followed to the letter, as Curtis emphasizes.

“The two most widely made mistakes when using wrap films are not cleaning the surface to be wrapped,” she confirms, “and not allowing time for out gassing of the print before further processing. Each of these mistakes can cause complete failure. It doesn’t matter how well you print it, or how great the install is, those two mistakes will stop a wrap from being successful.”

When it comes to extending the life of a wrap and getting the most out of your graphics, Moore says “the real quality of a vehicle wrap is not only the application process but proper finishing is also the key to a professional job and the durability of the wrap. Simple, yet often overlooked details, such as working with a good sharp knife for clean cuts and proper post-heating of the stretched or overlapped edges, make a huge difference in how well the wrap will stand up to the challenges of exterior exposures.”

As a quick reference, Moore also recommends that shops compile a “How to Care for Your Wrap” guide to distribute to customers. And Curtis adds that a scheduled “check up” from a wrap shop to customers will ensure good quality and allow for a potential up-sell opportunity.

Of course when strictly addressing product, overlaminates often provide the best protection for wraps when they are used properly by the manufacturer’s instructions. Curtis says, “The best way to extend the life of a wrap is to use a recommended overlaminate. After that, proper care and maintenance will be the best practices to extend the wrap life.”

Extended Warranties

In some cases, wrap shops will offer a longer warranty on the wrap that goes beyond what the manufacturer will extend. Normally, wrap shops are careful about staying within the manufacturer’s warranty and most shops are very in-tune with what types of warranties are being included.

Rod Voegele, President, Gator Wraps says, “3M has a great new product, ScotchCal gloss 8528 laminate that offers a two-year warranty on horizontal surfaces. We do offer that product on our extended warranty upgrade. I believe that people are more familiar with wraps, the life expectancy and warranties than a couple years ago, so it is the perfect time to start offering it.”

Of course, all films perform differently depending on the application and type of vinyl. “For example,” Curtis explains, “window perf and horizontal surfaces will not last as long as the other parts of a vehicle wrap. It is the best practice to help your customers understand this and create a plan to address it.”
Culverhouse notices that “vinyl manufacturers typically will only warrant the material and not the installation. So, it’s important for a shop to realize that mistakes may happen during the installation of a wrap, so they should provide their customer with wrap repair services.”

Taking Precautions

In every instance, wrap shops should be doing all they can to provide the best quality wrap with the film they feel most comfortable using. Simple practices such as keeping wraps out of direct light for extended periods of time or avoiding the risk of scratches from long tree branches or harmful objects in a parking lot will help extend the life of a wrap.

The best guideline is to only wrap where you know you can warranty it. To warranty something, you must know that it is clean, it sticks, it is going to be cared for and know that you will be able to squeegee to properly install. This means that wrapping under wheel wells, on odd plastics, or in tight spots where you can’t get to are all opportunities for failure, says Arlon’s Holly Curtis.

Being able to keep good and constant adhesion of the film is also imperative. Says Curtis: “Any type of lifting from the surface or breaks in the surface of the laminate could lead to a possible failure. It is a good practice to check all top and bottom edges for adhesion. These areas are where most failures start.”

Minor touch-ups are not out of the question. Culverhouse suggest that “if edges are lifting, they can typically be repaired with some clear edge sealing tape or laminate strips. Typically lifting occurs by repeated abuse from high pressure sprayers or automatic car washes utilizing rotating brushes.”

Moore outlines the problem areas where graphics are likely to weaken first. He says, “Typically edges, wheel wells, corners and areas where the films have been overly stretched or not properly post-heated are the first to start showing wear.”

Going back to the actual warranty, it usually just takes some education and awareness for wrap shops to realize what is covered and what is not. Culverhouse says, “There are several things that should be understood when researching and understanding warranty information. Always review technical information and other recommendations put forward by the manufacturer of the vinyl graphic films being used. Customers should also notify their clients about proper care and maintenance of a vehicle wrap.”

If the proper steps are being taken in caring for the wrap from preparation, to installation, to customer follow-up, then wrap shops will not have to worry about nullifying the existing warranty while also being able to extend the highest amount of service to customers.