Vehicle Wraps: Before You Wrap


Sandry Fire Supply utilized images of firefighters using and wearing various products they offer to show its area of expertise.

Identifying the Fleet Branding

Vehicle graphics help identify a fleet’s vehicles, build on a company’s brand, and can even increase the resale value of a company’s fleet while protecting the paint. There are several factors to consider before determining whether vehicle graphics are right for a fleet. Reviewing the value of potential graphics and fleet vehicle types can help identify the best options for the fleet before proceeding, the process has only just begun.

“Keeping it simple,” When a vehicle is on the move, your message needs to be understood quickly. Also, how long you plan to keep the vehicle in a fleet? You may need a removable material versus a five- or a 10-year material. There are many adhesives for different applications and not all brand and materials are equal.

Be sure to maintain the company’s brand and use wording that management and/or marketing approves of, to ensure a standard identity within the whole fleet.

Some fleet managers responsible for the graphic concept then hire a sign person to design and install the graphics. Some mindsets are to just put logos and copy wherever there’s  space available on the vehicle surface. Making sure whatever is installed on a vehicle benefits their fleet in surface protection and that proper steps are taken to ensure warranties of installation and eventual removals. 

Fleet branding can be very beneficial for many reasons to the company that values it; however, before a plan is begun to implement fleet graphics, a company should understand what material manufacturer vinyl media would be a best fit to the project.

3M, Avery, Arlon,and Oracal are the best-known fleet graphic manufacturers available. Some local sign shops may not be the right direction to complete the project, as some sign shops only carry one or two types of media to keep inventory costs down. Many sign shops are not gauged to offer proper fleet graphics because they may only use short-term materials or may not follow proper printing/overlaminating standards or warranty for specified fleet needs.

From vans to trailers to box trucks, graphics can be utilized on a broad array of fleet units as moving billboards.

Try not to cater your graphics too specifically to the details of the vehicle body, but rather let them work across a wide variety of the fleet graphics.

Keep in mind when considering full or partial wraps, items as door handles, will weather faster, or bumpers, which will increase the final graphic cost.

Full vehicle wraps will help increase the resale value of your company fleet vehicles, By being covered in a quality vinyl, the paint will be protected and you can avoid any minor scratches, rock chips, paint fading or ghosting that may occur with contour cut spot graphics.

Installation of Graphics

When you’re looking to install graphics on vehicles for the first time, there are several factors to consider, including the vehicle’s surface, vehicle type, and the audience.

Many fleets that have box or trailer units have either corrugated or flat side/riveted surfaces to display brands/copy on. If chassis-only units are utilized, such as Mercedes/Freightliner Sprinters, vans, pickup trucks, etc., the surface may be smooth, but, the consideration of full-body wraps may be a concern if not spec’ed out correctly.

The main common denominator for choosing any form of fleet branding is the material that is intended to be used, for the project(s).

If surface conditions, longevity concerns, and/or surface adhesion are not considered for the application, a bidding vendor may just use an inexpensive product, leading to short-term expectations and possible damages to the surfaces.

Also, keeping ideas simple is always a good idea.

Jack’s pizza utilizes an image of it’s product, and includes their company tagline.

As with most design, the best rule of thumb is simplify. How much information do you need to have present? How many colors do your graphics need to be? What type of audience are you trying to attract with your commercial graphics?

The location of the graphics installation is also important. You need to be in a temperature controlled environment, clean and free from any dust, dirt, and debris.

Refresh Your Brand

For fleets that already have graphics on their vehicles and are looking to redo, update, or refresh, a few other points must be considered.

Finding a well-established decal producer and installer.

Quality is also key, and, while today’s fleet managers are cost-conscious, the adage “you get what you pay for” rings true.

Try not to shy away from a quality product due to price. When you pay for a quality vinyl installed by a professional, you’re going to wind up with a lasting graphic. It’ll be hard for your customers to take you seriously if they see a faded and cracked decal on your door. Also reflecting badly on the industry.

A new, updated, or refreshed look can bring an old fleet back to life again, especially with old paint jobs that may be covered with new high-gloss graphic wraps. Fleet managers who want a new look should consider working with someone in a graphics company to maintain the company’s brand.

If graphics are removed from an old finish, there may be ghosting of the outlines from the old look. These ghosts may be buffed out of the paint, and a new lettering application can be installed.  

If a total wrap is considered, the ghosting surface will not be an issue as the material would cover the area completely [the method of wrapping is such as wallpapering a vehicle surface with vinyl material]. If a complete wrap project is considered to refresh a fleet look, a fleet manager must make sure that all surfaces are adequate for implementation. Vehicle graphic wraps cannot cover rust, corrosion, or silicone areas. Surface prepping would have to be considered upon graphic installation, and may incur additional costs from the installation company.

Keep it Real and Keep it Simple

Adding graphic elements to a vehicle, or installing a complete vehicle wrap, is a relatively simple process. However, some factors should never be overlooked.

As noted previously, simplicity is key. You should not overlook the simplicity of the message (verbiage, graphics, and photos) and contrast in color.

Large trailers provide a lot of room for graphics, such as the image above of food truck trailer.

Another piece of advice revolves around planning.

Company branding should be taken into consideration, as well. While a new campaign might lend itself to some great graphics, the longevity of the campaign should be reviewed. Price varies depending on how long graphics must last.

Many fleet managers must consider whether the branding or lettering vehicle graphic program is short- or long-term. We have seen many projects specified for long-term graphics, which may have only been needed for short-term campaigns/needs. The material that was specified was for a more expensive, long-term product. 3M and many other manufacturers have one-, three-, five-, and seven-year materials, and the customer must know the technical data in creating specifications for each project.

The final laminate of the graphics should also be reviewed. We have lost many bids due to the winning bidder not using a mandatory UV clear overlaminate material, to protect the print material [from sun damage]. Many customers are not aware that if they specify a project, there must be UV overlaminate on any prints.

Even when specified in bids, many people cannot detect whether the prints have a laminate or not, for the glossy finish is the same on a bare print as it would be if laminated.

It is very hard to detect and manufacturers get away with it all the time to save almost 50% of the gross costs to produce the project. As a certified company, we must laminate everything to maintain integrity of the product and to fulfill warranty standards.

‘It’s All in the Details’

Depending on the type of graphics (full or partial wraps, logos only, etc.) and the vehicle type (sedan, pickup trucks, or semi trailers), different challenges may come to light. Simply applying the graphics to a vehicle can be challenging in itself.

There are many challenges to applying fleet graphics. All experienced installers must use proper trimming, heating, and installation techniques every day. Corrugated trailer units have many peaks and valleys, and there is a difficulty maintaining that no distortions happen to prints due to the surface conditions.

In addition to corrugated materials, highly riveted surfaces need strict attention to material adhesion as well. If a graphic is not installed correctly within each nook of every corrugation or rivet, air or moisture may eventually create graphic material failure.

Seither & Cherry of the Quad Cities utilizes an image of it’s crane, and includes their website.

On the quality end, many graphic companies that have no proper installation training processes may patch many problem areas that only a trained professional would not overlook. Fleets have mirrors, door handles, windows, vents, grills, etc., and many companies, while trimming around these parts, may cut into the paint or may not know how to trim correctly to make the product look as if it were painted.

Cutting into paint is a big issue. If the installer does not know what he or she is doing during a trimming, they may cut too deep into the material past the clear coat and into the metal surface of the fleet unit. When this happens, body rust develops quickly within those cut areas, leading to failure.

Hale Printing agrees that it is in the details.

When we’re looking at semi cabs, there are a number of details that come into play when deciding how the graphics will reside. Obstacles, such as rivets, peep windows (the little window on the lower portion of one or both doors), mirrors, and emblems are the most common we see.

Graphics Misconceptions

As there are always tons of myths and misconceptions in any industry, here are some common myths and misconceptions within the graphics industry.

Dot’s show how to keep graphics simple, and still convey the necessary information.

  • Graphics last forever. How long will my wrap last for? With welds and rivets, no matter how good and perfect the installation is, the vinyl will eventually want to lift. Paradoxically, the vinyl will stay better when cut along a weld or around a rivet and then sealed.
  • More info is better. Some people may think more info is better so they can get more for their money. Vehicle wraps can often just become cluttered and cannot be read quickly. But wraps are very effective if done right.
  • Graphics cause more harm than good. Many people believe that vehicle graphics are a possible harm to painted or unpainted surfaces. The thought that a graphic may be damaging to a fleet surface is a very big myth. For a majority of all manufacturers, vinyl graphic protect surface paints or exposed metals. If a vehicle is wrapped the day it is purchased, the finish is sealed and protected as if it was brand-new the day it is traded in. Also, the graphics, if laminated with a proper clear overlaminate, will protect many surfaces from most scratches, dings, or similar instances that may be evident over time, due to the outdoor elements.
  • Anyone can remove graphics. One concern you need to address is that the installations and/or removals should be done by a qualified installation company. Manufacturers of graphic material have organizations of certified professionals they rely on to install and/or remove their products. Trained professionals must know the materials they intend on working with and must adhere to strict hands-on procedures to maintain surface prepping, and proper techniques in trimming, heating, and applying difficult projects.


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