Design wows General Motors at automotive trade show

Design Grabs Award at SEMA

For the 2011 SEMA show in Las Vegas, Chevrolet and Rigid Industries paired up to create the “Baja” Silverado truck.

The off-road support vehicle was fitted with parts from BFGoodrich, Method Wheels and Rigid’s LED off-road lights, as well as aftermarket suspension, radio communications and engine modifications.

But such a top-notch vehicle couldn’t go to the world’s top automotive specialty products show with just a regular paint job, so Rigid turned to its longtime partner, Active Grafix of Mesa, Ariz., to design, print and install a custom wrap for the 2011 Silverado 2500 HD 4x4. 

The Chevrolet Silverado before Active Grafix began their work.

Rigid wanted an edgy design, but other than the placement of the companies’ logos, Active Grafix had free rein in designing the wrap, said Active Grafix owner Colin Davis. 

“There were really no limits as to what we could put on it,” Davis said. 

As with any big project involving lots of parts and people, the truck’s delivery was delayed so that Davis and his crew had only two days to measure, print and install the wrap, he said. 

They worked until 2 a.m. and rolled out the truck at 7 a.m. the day of the show, Davis said. 

The delay didn’t hurt, however. The “Baja” Silverado won “Best New Chevrolet Truck” from GM Design at the October show. 

As far as Davis knows, it was the first time a wrapped vehicle won that award.

Davis’ career in printing started in high school, when he started working for a sign shop down the street from his father’s office in San Diego, Calif. When that shopkeeper bought a printer, Davis found he really enjoyed the limitless opportunities it offered, he said. He fell into graphic design in college and, in 2000, started a graphics design firm in California. After he added a printer, he started producing vehicle wraps, Davis said.

Active Grafix prints on a Mutoh ValueJet and uses 3M’s IJ180CV3 contact film, and offers 3M laminating in matte, medium gloss or high gloss finishes. The “Baja” Silverado won “Best New Chevrolet Truck” from GM Design at last year’s SEMA show thanks to Active Grafix’s designs.

Because a major client was in Arizona, Davis moved his printing company to Mesa and merged with a graphics design firm, he said. Last year, the two firms split, and Active Grafix was born, offering large-format printing, offset printing and vehicle wraps.  

Active Grafix does more than print and install the wraps, though. The firm offers graphic design and creates a digital proof of what the vehicle will look like with the wrap, he said. 

Frequently, customers want to over-design a vehicle wrap and include a lot of text, Davis said. Because the wrapped vehicle literally is a moving advertisement, the wrap has to relay its message in 10 seconds. 

“Less is definitely more,” Davis said. The best design gets the point across and generates calls so the investment in the wrap pays off, he said. 

“Most of the time, people listen,” and choose designs that are pleasing and effective, he said. 

Active Grafix prints on a Mutoh ValueJet and uses 3M’s IJ180CV3 contact film, and offers 3M laminating in matte, medium gloss or high gloss finishes, he said. 

Davis is a big believer in the old carpenters’ adage, “Measure twice, cut once,” so he doesn’t have a mistake that requires reprinting a panel, he said. Nevertheless, a reprint is required about once a month, he said. 

Printing a wrap takes two or three hours; the wrap then sits for eight to 10 hours to “outgas” before it is laminated, Davis said.

Like many wrap shop owners, Davis works in the trenches with two full-time installers. 

“It’s a definite craft. Not everybody can pick up a squeegee and start putting on vinyl,” Davis said. 

Davis prepares vehicles he works on with a wash and wax removal. He says denatured alcohol usually does the job. 

Active Grafix changes the wrap for their shop truck often—four times last year, Davis said. 

Many customers return within three or four years because they want to change the design, or they have changed their company’s colors, he said. 

Davis and his employees have wrapped everything from trailers, box trucks and vans to race cars and even radio-controlled cars, he said. 

When asked which vehicle is the hardest to wrap, though, Davis doesn’t hesitate for a second: the Volkswagen Beetle. 

“There is not a flat surface on the whole car,” Davis said. 

This golf cart-turned-RV wrap  features a blue coupe with colorful clowns stuffed in the passenger compartment, climbing on the roof, and coming out of the trunk and engine compartment. Active Grafix donated the materials and the time to wrap the vehicle for the Shriners to use in support of their mission of helping children who need medical care. 

Davis also has wrapped several golf carts, but one in particular stands out, he said. The El Zaribah Shriners in Phoenix converted a golf cart into, of all things, a miniature recreational vehicle—complete with wood paneling and a dashboard—for its clowns to use in parades. 

“It was a small little RV,” Davis said. 

The wrap Davis designed pictures a blue coupe with colorful clowns stuffed in the passenger compartment, climbing on the roof, and coming out of the trunk and engine compartment. 

Active Grafix donated the materials and the time to wrap the vehicle, since the Shriners use it to support their mission of helping children who need medical care, Davis said. 

In December, the mini RV appeared in the Fiesta Bowl parade in Phoenix. 

“The range of what we can do is endless,” he said.