Within an hour or so of our sign and graphics shop are numerous lakes, waterways and even the Pacific Ocean. We realized that there may be graphic opportunities for us to serve the many boat owners who access those waters. Over the years we’ve done quite a few large spot graphics and boat stripes, but only a couple full-fledged boat wraps.
Vehicle wraps are a large part of our business so we thought it made sense for us to expand further into boat wraps. I had the opportunity to talk with a few companies who currently wrap boats to get their thoughts on what this commitment really involves.
If your company already wraps vehicles then making the transition into boats is a natural progression. David Badger with Dream Street Graphics, Inc., out of Indianapolis says that for his company, “boat wraps were the next logical step in the vehicle wrap industry to challenge our designers and installers.”
So if you’re looking for a challenge, boat wraps might be right for your company as well. You already have the basic wrap skills in place and the tools and facility for wrapping are already set up.
In our shop we use a number of films recommended for watercraft wraps, including Orafol Orajet Series 3951 wrapping film with CommandForm technology, and Avery Dennison MPI 1005 Supercast Easy Apply. Check with other manufacturers to see what water craft wrapping options you have. They might recommend the same materials you already stock.
Some installers recommend staying away from materials with the air egress channels because, unless properly sealed, water can get into the channels and end up pulling the graphics off. Whatever your preferred manufacturer is, be sure to check the product spec sheets to see what recommendations each manufacturer makes for your application.
Market the Service
Once you decide to add boat wraps to your list of services, you need to get the word out. Mike Dancy with Trim-Line Metrowest says that his business partner Mark Legere wrapped his boat and it got a lot of inquiries on the water. If you have a boat, this is a good, logical first place to start. It’s also great practice wrapping and you can advertise your business while out on the water.
Shane Marten, an installer for Wrap Academy of Canada, Inc., says that many of their clients are “private owners who want to dress up their own boats.” They also get requests from fishing guides and pro fishermen wanting to match their truck and boat with graphics. You might also consider networking with local boat dealerships. Show them samples of your work or ask if you can post a business card or flyer in their showroom.
This boat wrap project was designed and installed by Indianapolis-based Dream Street Graphics Inc. The 38’ Scarab boat underwent an impressive makeover which included a full wrap on the exterior hull. The interior was also wrapped to match. (Photos courtesy of Dream Street Graphics, Inc.)
How Boats Differ
Dancy describes some of the differences between wrapping boats and wrapping land vehicles. “On vehicles, you can split the wrap where the doors and panels meet. On a boat, it’s usually one piece, which requires more patience and a second pair of hands,” he says.
Badger says you can use some of the same techniques as installing vehicle wraps, but stresses that there are important differences that you should be aware of as well. “For example,” Badger says, “when measuring and designing, many boats have extreme complex curves that don’t just curve left and right, but also curve top to bottom as you move to the front of the boat.” This makes for complex calculations when designing and executing the wrap.
As with any wrap that involves complex curves, be sure to work the graphics with the curves. Squeegee along the flat horizontal plane a few inches and then work the graphics top to bottom along the vertical curve.
These complex curves can make the sides of the boat appear flat; when in reality they curve and flare out dramatically from the bottom of the boat. Stock templates may be handy for sketching ideas and noting measurements, but pro boat wrap experts warn that you shouldn’t rely on them solely to do your layout.
To help with accuracy Marten says he prefers to create a paper template of the boat’s hull to help get the shape correct and improve accuracy, “especially if you have graphics that meet at the nose.”
Badger agrees, stressing that you need to double check between template and actual boat measurements. “Use a paper pen plot to do a test run of your template, and then adjust accordingly,” he says.
Be sure that your design takes into account any accessories that are on the boat. Also, be aware of areas that will experience rubbing from ropes being hauled about the boat.
Mark Legere, partner in Trim-Line Metrowest, wrapped his boat which garnered a lot of inquiries on the water and was a great way to advertise his boat wrapping capabilities. (Photo courtesy of Trim-Line Metrowest)
Tips & Tricks
If you already have some basic wrap skills in place, these extra tips from the pros will help on your next boat wrap. The best place to start wrapping is on your own boat or a on your jet ski. In other words, practice on something that doesn’t belong to a paying customer.
Start with a good surface. “A new boat is preferred,” Dancy says. “Older boats usually require a lot of work on the gel coat before you can apply vinyl and expect good adhesion.”
Be sure to thoroughly clean the boat with a decreasing cleanser to remove any wax residue. Avoid any cleaners that contain oil, wax or lotions that can leave behind a film.
When prepping the boat, “remove all hardware and rub rails before installing and clean the area thoroughly,” Badger says. He also recommends using a primer on all concave areas.
Many installers recommend keeping the graphics above the water line. Some will install larger wraps that extend below the water line, but they don’t warranty the graphics then.
It’s important to create extra adhesion along the edge of the graphics. Badger says to “run a 1/2" strip of laminate over the bottom of the boat, 1/4" on the graphic and a 1/4" on the boat.”
Dancy recommends an inch or two extension of the laminate at the bottom of the graphic. He says that this will “help create a better seal, keeping the water from lifting the film.” Whichever amount of overlap you find works best for your wraps, installers all recommend using some kind of edge seal product.
Keep in mind that the front of the boat will receive the most impact from the water. As Marten points out, “your install needs to hold up not only against speed, but water as well.”
Badger recommends a 6" overlap at the nose of the boat, positioned 3" left or right of the nose center. As with all wraps—and especially boat wraps because of the flow of water against the wrap—be sure that all overlaps are “facing away from the direction the airstream that will hit the graphic.”