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A Basic Guide to Vehicle Wraps

There’s just no question about it: if you want to quickly and completely change the look of your ride there’s no better way to do it than with a complete vehicle wrap. Not only do vinyl wraps give you an incredible selection of colors but they provide colors and styles you just can’t get from paints alone. And, when you compare costs, it’s clear that wraps are the way to go.

What’s in a Wrap: A Quick Primer

what is a vehicle wrap

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s take a look at what wraps really are. You see, vinyl film has come a long way since your parents were applying bumper stickers to their Chevy Nova. It used to be that painting was the only way to change the color of a car, truck or SUV. Vinyl was really only good for making decals and signs.

But, in the last 15 years or so, the industry has made huge strides. Cast films become cheaper and available in a wider variety of colors. And the addition of air-egress liners has been a game-changer.

With sign vinyl, it used to be nearly impossible to wrap compound curves without bubbles and fingers in the film. But, air-release wraps make it easy. And, the good part is, that the technology is getting better every day which means that you don’t have to be a pro to wrap your vehicle.

Vehicle Wraps for a Unique Look

Who doesn’t love the look of Hexis Gloss Super Chrome Turquoise on a Lamborghini Aventador? Or Mossy Oak Camo wrapped rocker panels on an F150? Custom vehicle wrapping films are available in an almost mind-numbing variety of colors and styles. They can be had from a wide range of trusted brands. We’ve listed some of the most popular and interesting styles of vinyl wrap films below:

  • Carbon Fiber: The most popular of all specialty wrap films, these wraps have a three-dimensional texture and are great for hiding blemishes. Available in a variety of colors from brands like 3M, Avery, ORAFOL, APA, HEXIS and more.
  • Chrome: Mirror chrome vinyl films are the most expensive of all wraps but anyone who wants a true iced-out look is willing to pay. There aren’t too many quality contenders in this field, and Hexis and Avery Conform Series perform amazingly well!
  • Brushed: When you want to transform the look of your fenders, hood and mirrors what better way than with brushed metallics. 3M 1080 Series seems to be the leader in the field in terms of color palette and styles but every day new companies are coming onto the scene so keep an eye out.
  • Shade Shifter: These films are made by all of the major brands in gloss, satin and matte varieties and use names like Flip, Flow, Shift Effect and Chameleon. This type of vehicle wrap encompasses so many colors that it doesn’t even make sense to try to write about them. In this case, the saying “A picture’s worth a thousand words” couldn’t be more true.

Complete and Partial Car Wraps

Probably the best thing about wraps, and the thing that makes them so affordable, is the fact that they can easily be used to change the look of an entire vehicle or just parts of it. Not many of us are going to have the budget, time or patience to wrap a full car or truck.

However, some people do have a free hour or two on the weekend to wrap a hood or spoiler. Not only that, but partial wrapping is a great way to hone your skills if you ever want to wrap a complete vehicle. Here are a few great ideas for partial wraps:

  • Rocker Panels
  • Hoods
  • Fenders
  • Mirrors
  • Roof
  • Rims
  • Pillars

In addition to the trim and panels that we listed above you can also wrap the vehicle’s interior. However, it is significantly harder due to the low-energy plastics auto manufacturers use to prevent stains.

How to Wrap A Car

Now that you know what to wrap on your ride you need to know how to do it. But, before you go out and buy a roll of 1080 Carbon Fiber you’re going to want to take the time to prepare your car and clean the installation area. What this means is you shouldn’t be attempting a vehicle wrap if you don’t have an enclosed area in which to do it as the wind tends to blow all manner of dirt, dust, and detritus around.

There’s simply nothing worse for a wrap’s adhesives than particulates. Don’t say we didn’t warn you, your results will only be as good as your preparations. Below, you’ll want to gather these supplies:

car wrapping supplies
  • Heat Gun
  • Squeegee
  • Razor and Cutting Tape
  • Degreaser
  • Cleaning Solution
  • Measuring Tape
  • Gloves
  • Rubbing Alcohol

Step 1: Sweep and Mop Your Installation Area

It may seem reasonable to sweep your installation are but why are we asking you to mop? Simply because your wraps generate static electricity when they’re removed from the liner. This static electricity then attracts minute particles of dust and dirt which remain if you were only to sweep the area. Moping removes the dust and ensures a great result.

Step 2: Remove Hardware

Not only does dirt and grime love to hide under molding and handles, but you will also need to remove all of the hardware in the area you intended to wrap to give the most seamless look possible. Even if you don’t intend to do a complete vehicle wrap, you want to remove anything that might limit your range of motion or contaminate your surface.

Step 3: Wash Your Car and Wait

Take your car through a car wash or hand wash it and then allow 24 hours to pass. When you wash your ride be sure to degrease around the wheels and in the wheel wells. Clean the undercarriage as well (if possible). The most important areas to clean with degreaser are the fenders, rocker panels, and side skirts. Clean anywhere else grease may be splattered on the body of the car from the wheels.

Once you’ve degreased the vehicle, use a solution of at least 70% Isopropyl Alcohol and reclean all of the areas of the car on which you used degreaser. Sweep and mop one more time. Next, get a clean white glove and run your gloved finger over its surface. If you notice any imperfections like dents, scratches or paint chips you will need to fill those in as most wrap vinyl will show the imperfections.

Step 4: Measure and Cut Your Wrap

cutting vinyl foils

Once you’ve decided on a complete or partial wrap you will need to measure the area you’ll be wrapping and cut your vinyl to size. Always start with the smallest area first, especially if this is your first time wrapping.

Step 5: Applying the Vinyl Wrap to Your Car

applying the vinyl wrap

The first thing to do before you lift the vinyl off the liner is to double-check that your car’s surface is still free of dirt. We always recommend having at least one other person to help during this stage of the application, especially if you’re using standard wrap film sizes which are sixty inches in width by however long you decided to use.

using squeegee to straighten vinyl

Lift up a portion of the vinyl from the liner and tack it down to the surface. Doing this will ensure that dust doesn’t get onto the sticky side of the vinyl. Use a squeegee and apply even pressure as your partner pulls out the paper liner. You may lift and re-smooth the film to get all of the air bubbles out with your squeegee.

Step 6: Apply Heat

apply heat by car wrapper

When you believe you’ve got all the air out from under the vinyl and your wrap is flat you’ll want to test your job by using the heat gun. Heating will help to mold the film into contours. And if any air is trapped, bubbles will become apparent allowing you to squeegee the air out.

Step 7: Cut Away Excess and Tuck Edges

cut away excess wrap vinyl

Let’s start with a warning: if you’re overzealous with your razor blade you’ll cut into the car’s paint itself. Be careful and proceed with caution trimming the wrap film so that there’s roughly an 8th of an inch overhang around all of the surfaces you want to wrap. This extra film should give you enough vinyl to wrap around edges and tuck under bezels and into crevices.

Step 8: Post-Heat Your Wrap

The final step to get professional quality results is to post-heat your wrap. Post-heating the vinyl ensures that film isn’t over-tensioned. If it is, the vinyl will curl or pop up and you’ll need to redo that section. As bad as that sounds, think about it: any imperfections related to over-stretching now, will only get worse with time and exposure to the elements.

If you followed these eight, simple steps you can be sure of getting pro-quality results in time at all.


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