Effective communication in a wrap job comes from great design

Let’s Talk Shop: Wrap Design Strategies

Working in the sign industry often means wearing many different hats. One of the most important responsibilities involves learning effective design. This is especially important when it comes to vehicle wraps, when the graphics are often read at a greater distance and for less time.


It takes work to keep up with new media options, new installation techniques and new tools. But one constant in the industry is good design principles. That’s not to say that good design doesn’t require work, it just means that the core principles don’t change and can be learned and built upon. Designing for effectiveness should be the goal with any vehicle wrap design. 

SignWorks of Monterey, Calif., wrapped their company vehicle with a large photo of Big Sur, a local icon of his area, while keeping the text to a minimum, making the overall design effective. (Photo courtesy of SignWorks)

I talked with Tom Carr, owner of SignWorks in Monterey, Calif., about how his company approaches the design process. 

“You want your customer’s wrap to be legible and effective first, cool and flashy second,” Carr says. “Design all your graphics to present the customer and their products as professional and competent.”

For the customer’s wrap to be effective, as a designer, we must learn to properly communicate their message. Good communication can be achieved through content, consistency, color, and by taking into account challenges.


When discussing content, the information to be included on the wrap, with the customer I often use the example of a wrap vs. a postcard. With a postcard the person has an unlimited amount of time to read and process the information. Multiple photos, bullet points, extra contact information and flashier design is more acceptable. On a wrap, the vehicle is often viewed while moving and from a distance.

Who you are, what you do and how to contact you are the three points we start with when establishing content. The easiest way to keep the layout clean is to simplify the amount of information going on the vehicle.

This partial wrap by SignWorks includes a full-color photo and simple text on the side, while incorporating additional information on the rear, keeping the content organized and effective. (Photo courtesy of SignWorks)

If the company name does not clearly spell out what the company sells, be sure that the slogan or a subheading is clear on the product or service being sold. This covers the “Who we are” and “What we do.”

The last part, “How to contact you” should include a website if it is a good representation of the company. I typically recommend a website over a phone number. I greatly discourage the inclusion of multiple phone numbers as this will only confuse the viewer.

Any other content should be considered minor and should not detract from the readability of the main information. Photos and background images or effects are part of this additional content. Be sure they are needed and add to the design, rather than detract from it.


For a new business that does not already have its website, business cards or other signage in place, this is a good opportunity to create the first step toward a consistent business image. For companies that already have a logo or other branding in place, it’s important to carry this design onto their wrap.

As a designer, you should be able to mimic your client’s existing design style, improving upon it when needed. Use the same or similar fonts, incorporate their logo and slogan.

Be sure the style of the design you create matches the type of business they run. Effective communication on a wrap has to be done in a short amount of time. A frilly script and thin type on a wrap for a concrete contractor makes no sense. This is a strong, masculine industry; reinforce the idea with a font selection that is bold, no-nonsense and definitely not frilly. By contrast, a woman’s boutique should be feminine and frilly. It should convey what the customer is selling. In this case a frilly script would be great—as long as it’s readable.

Check out manufacturer products, such as ContraVision’s see-through vinyl, for great ideas on enhancing your designs through media selection.


As with consistency, if the customer has already branded themselves with a few colors, you should incorporate those colors into their vehicle wrap as well. As a designer, it is up to you to use those colors to make the design as effective as possible. For example, if a customer uses blue and yellow for their company, be sure that all important information is in blue and the yellow becomes a secondary accent color, or is outlined or supported by a color that is easier to read from a distance.

You can also suggest additional colors that may better convey the message, while keeping the core colors involved. If the customer is open to changing or establishing their company colors, try to be original with the color selection.

Check out www.Kuler.adobe.com, a free Adobe web application, that features a cool color mixer as well as user submitted color creations. When you visit the site you can see the existing themes; by clicking on the small icon that looks like an equalizer, you can make changes to an existing theme and see its color values.

These color values are listed and can be plugged into your design software to achieve the same color combinations in your design. You can also click on Create, to develop your own custom color palette. Picking from seven different “Rules” you can easily experiment with different color combinations until you find one that fits your design.

This customer was looking for bold, colorful graphics to set the stage for their new company colors and the overall feel of their design. The sides and hood were each wrapped in one piece of vinyl to avoid seams and keep a uniform pattern. To avoid stretching, the logos and text were printed, contour cut and applied separately.


Once the content and colors have been chosen, the wrap needs to then be designed to the specific vehicle and its inherent challenges. Again, readability is key. The challenges on the vehicle should be worked around so this is not compromised.

Depending on the vehicle, a full wrap isn’t always the best option. Consider the challenges of the wrap, as well as the customer’s budget, when designing. Will creating a full wrap add to the effectiveness of the overall advertising?

Be sure text and numbers do not fall across door handles or hinges. Plastic bumpers and rubber window moldings should be avoided for long term durability. If the vehicle is curvy, consider angling your lines of text to avoid a distorted effect.

Think about how your graphics will wrap from the sides to the back or front. If the customer would like consistent flow around the vehicle, be sure the background is a solid color or you utilize a large image that can be wrapped around easier.

If the graphics are wrapping across fenders and around mirrors and other obstacles, consider printing and contour cutting the lettering separate if possible. This will allow you to apply the background, stretching or forming when necessary, without distorting lines of text.


Designing for vehicle wraps is very labor intensive. Be sure that before you start any design work, that you’ve quoted the vehicle wrap, including your time for design, and have received a deposit.

When talking with Tom Carr at SignWorks, he was emphatic on this point. 

To make a clean transition from the sides to the back of this wrap, we chose to simply wrap the corner panels in black, which blends with the bumpers and doesn’t take away from the design.

“Do your best to estimate your hours and submit your proposal including all the time you need to complete the job,” Carr says. “If your customer is reluctant to place a deposit on the entire job, ask for a $200 preliminary sketch deposit, which will be deducted from their final invoice. If your customer will not put down $200, they’re not serious about the job.”

For most vehicle wraps, we have a flat starting rate of $340 for the design time. We found that for our shop overhead and average set-up time, layout of the design and fitting it to the vehicle, this rate covers us. 

More than once we have customers willing to pay this non-refundable deposit to start the design process. Every time the customer has gone on to place the order for a wrap. Sometimes they just need to see something first and if they are serious about a wrap, and through the design can see you are a serious designer, then they feel comfortable moving forward.

On some occasions we charge more or less depending on the vehicle and the artwork available. If the customer is providing the artwork from their own designer, we still charge a small design fee to fit that artwork to their vehicle. Inevitably we will still need to spend some time making sure the provided artwork fits the vehicle, does not hit any obstacles and is properly sized for printing.

When you have staff designing for the wraps, be sure to oversee the time they spend on the project. Getting a good idea from the customer about what they are wanting when starting the job will help focus the design process.

 “As an owner, I monitor designer’s hours to ensure we’re not getting ‘romantic’ with a project,” Carr says. “It’s a business, not an affair. Do an excellent job, but do it efficiently and accurately from the start.”


Learning good design principles should be a fun process. There are great resources out there to improve your design work. Some very basic, simple rules can make a great difference in the quality and effectiveness of your overall design.

Raymond Chapman, owner of Chapman Sign Studio in Texas, is a regular contributor to Sign & Digital Graphics magazine and also teaches at The NBM Shows. His articles and classes cover design principles, techniques and typography. Take a look at his articles and consider attending his classes to further expand your design knowledge.

Another good source for design information is Dan Antonelli, who has written two books: “Logo Design for Small Business” and “Logo Design for Small Business 2.” The core design principles he discusses, coupled with full-color photos are very helpful. 

We purchased Mike Stevens’ book “Mastering Layout” years ago and it is a great resource to revisit. In this book, Stevens teaches you how to create visually appealing layouts, including before and after illustrations. He talks about weak designs and teaches how to strengthen these layouts through a simple checklist.


When designing your wraps, you can also go beyond the design itself and consider complimenting the layout with your print media. For example, matte, gloss and luster laminates each offer a different look and feel. 

Consider combining specialty vinyl with a printed vehicle wrap. Specialty vinyls come in matte, metallic and carbon fiber in multiple colors. Used as a stripe, accent or partial wrap, there are many creative options.

Contra Vision, a major UK-based manufacturer of see-through window graphics, has a fascinating number of variations of see-through vinyl films that can be employed in many ways to help you meet your design challenges. Check out their website, www.contravision.com or contact your distributor for more information on these kinds of films and how the different options can be used on the windows of your next wrap design.