I come from a “hands-on production” background in the sign industry, which basically means I started out as a cut-vinyl-weeding, trash-dumping grunt who only occasionally got to install some vehicle graphics. Of course with the customer standing over my shoulder wondering, aloud, if I was actually qualified to touch their vehicle or their graphics.
That said, a few years later, when my husband and I started our sign company, we were both qualified in the actual production side of things, but not so much on the organizational side of things. So, needless to say we’ve learned about workflow and organization the hard way—the make-lots-of-mistakes-loose-some-money–impliment-changes-and-do-it-differently-the-next-time way.
This is the second in a two-part series on wrap shop workflow. In the February edition’s article I talked about how to efficiently process paperwork—as it pertains to vehicle wraps—in order to add more to your shop’s bottom line. This month we’re going to discuss the physical aspects of running an organized wrap shop.
It might seem like a no-brainer, but if you’ve ever ruined graphics because drying vinyl wasn’t properly stored, or wasted time because you didn’t have the right tools on hand, then this article is for you. When you execute the same planned steps on each job you create a system. A system creates efficiency that leads to increased profits and consistency that leads to higher-quality results.
One of the simplest ways to improve profits is to be efficient with your time and resources. Organization leads to efficiency. Just like our paperwork runs through a step-by-step process, so does our media. As soon as a design has been approved by the customer, the artwork is sent to production, marked as Output in our tracking software. The computer sits near the printer where our production guys can keep an eye on the prints as they come off the printer.
We keep all of our printable media stored upright and next to the printer—literally, right next to the printer. If we have to carry heavy rolls across the shop the chances of dropping the media or bumping the edge of it into something increase. When a roll of media costs me around $700, I would really like it to make it to the printer in one piece. Also, carrying media more than a few feet is a waste of time. So, the media sits right next to the printer.
Once the prints have gone through the printer and are rolled up on the uptake roll they are transferred to drying racks. Having a set place to store media that is drying is critical. Vinyl should dry for 24 hours before lamination, which means for a full day your printed graphics are vulnerable to being knocked over, scratched or otherwise damaged if they are just set somewhere.
We purchased extra vinyl storage wall racks that we hung over our vinyl cutter. The racks hang above the cutter so they are utilizing open space without impeding access to the cutter. The printed rolls of media are simply slid onto the vinyl racks where they hang up out of the way as long as needed until we transfer them to the laminator.
When we’re printing big jobs, or multiple jobs, the wall racks are also a great way to keep track of prints. We can organize them on the racks by different jobs, different media (for matching up laminate) or tracking how many prints are complete in a multiple print job.
When the prints are fully dry we slide them off the drying racks, turn around and slide them onto the laminator. Our laminator sits at the end of a 12-foot production table, so as the prints run through the laminator they end up on the table where they will be cut.
If we’re laminating a bunch of graphics we may roll up the laminated graphics and stack them on a second production table and cut them all down at one time or cut as we go. Either way is fine. As the graphics are laminated they end up right where they need to be for final trimming.
Just like with the printed media, the rolls of laminate are stored, on end, right next to the laminator for easy access and loading onto the machine. Also, as with our print media, we keep track of the material by placing simple identifying labels inside each roll of laminate. Why? Well, I know what 8548G means when I look at a roll of laminate, because I order the materials. However, my employees may not know that code, but they need to quickly be able to tell whether this is a premium wrap laminate, an optically clear laminate, or a calendared laminate—(8548G is a premium wrap laminate). Simple labeling means quickly knowing which roll to grab with no confusion—and that leads to greater efficiency and fewer mistakes.
The graphics have now been laminated and need to be trimmed down to prepare for installation. We print our graphics with overlaps so we have a little wiggle room when trimming down. It’s important to cut the graphics straight and be sure to trim off the extra white because sloppy cuts become quite obvious during installation and will slow down production.
It may seem odd to have to even mention this, but we’ve received corporate-provided graphics for wrap installs that were cut sloppy, so it’s worth mentioning. If the graphics haven’t been cut nice and straight they look unprofessional. If even thin lines of white unprinted areas are left on they stand out like a sore thumb. So going back and re-trimming these takes time and poses a risk of damage anytime you have to cut on the vehicle.
When you’re preparing graphics for a wrap you have multiple panels for each side. Keeping track of the panels as you’re trimming by rolling and labeling each panel will speed up installation. On some jobs we tape all the panels together on the table and then bring them out to the install area in one big panel. Having the rolls organized still makes it easier to separate out sides before you tape them together.
When we do large box trucks there are minimal obstacles that we have to shift the graphics around. So with careful planning and measuring we simply start with the back panel, apply it and then overlap the next panel moving toward the front of the truck.
Having the multiple rolls of media carefully labeled “D. Side 1” or “P. Side 4" etc., makes it easy to grab and go without trying to figure out what’s hidden on each roll. Keep a few empty long media boxes and stack your rolls in them—one for the passenger side, one for the driver side, etc.
Now that the graphics are ready for installation, we call the customer and schedule the job. When the vehicle is dropped off, the graphics and paperwork are then moved out to the installation area. We typically just take a print out of the proof as well as any noted measurements, leaving the rest of the paperwork in the wall rack in production. The graphics are also taken out and laid out on rolling tables. Whether you have rolling tables, long counters or wall racks, be sure you have a safe place to store and organize your graphics as you prepare to install them.
Besides the graphics and layout paperwork you need to have a stocked install kit. You don’t want to find out as you begin your installation that you’re out of 3M Tape Primer or that all your felt-edged squeegees have seen better days, or that you’re out of tape, or alcohol or, or, or... well, you get the picture.
Keep your kits stocked ahead of time. We have a couple plastic bins that we store a set of cleaners and paper towels in, along with tape, scissors, tape measure, squeegees, Xacto knives and back-up blades. We also have plastic tools for removing emblems, 3M Tape Primer for areas requiring extra adhesion and Knifeless Tape on hand for jobs with tricky trimming.