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How-To: Vinyl pickup body wrap
Bruce Smith | December 11, 2011



Make your truck a rolling advertisement for your business using vinyl body wraps

Most contractors know a sharp-looking truck is good for business. It’s the first thing prospective clients see of you and it speaks well of your success and attention to detail.

In the old days you could go a step further and hire a guy with an airbrush to paint a logo on your truck and trailer, or buy some magnetic signs and slap those on the doors or sides.

But today with the advent of new vinyl film and printer technology you take any design, no matter how wild or complicated, put it into a computer and output in in giant rolls of film that you then adhere to your truck like wallpaper. It instantly turns even vanilla white trucks into attention getters.

For example: In coming up with a look and a theme for our Super Duty project truck we wanted something that looked like it worked in the oilfields.

We had ProPickup’s art director, David Watson, create the mud spattered look with the faded blue to white color scheme you see.

That digital file was then forwarded on to the artisans at Camo-Clad (camoclad.com) in Mounds, Illinois, where they added in our sponsor’s logos, scaled the design to “wrap” our 2011 F-250 Super Duty Crew Cab, and printed it out on sheets of 3M vinyl material deigned for automotive use.

A few days later, UPS arrived with several long boxes that contained the entire full-scale truck wrap.

And it’s not just graphics you can play with. You can incorporate photos into your design as well. If it can be created visually on a computer you can make it into a wrap.

The installation of such wraps is easy for those who specialize in such work as we’ll show you. But there are couple points to discuss first:

Cost: The installed cost of a wrap ranges from about $10 to $12 per square foot. For the average truck today that’s $2,500 to $5,000, according to our installer Richard Trahan, who has been doing this since 1999.

Durability: Most quality wraps are warranted to 7 years and will continue to look good for most of that time, Trahan says. The products he prefers have a clear overlaminate (top layer) over the printed color layer. This overlaminate is 1.5 to 2 mm thick and helps the wrap last longer. You can find wraps without overlaminate, but Trahan says he won’t install them because they don’t last.

Paint: One of the surprising aspects about these wraps is that they don’t affect the underlying vehicle paint at all. You can pull them off after years and the paint will look as good as new.

Color: Wraps normally don’t cover doorjambs, inside fuel doors, the edges of tailgates or between the back of the cab and the bed.

So choose a color scheme for your wrap that doesn’t clash with the color scheme of the truck. A red wrap on a yellow truck will look garish while a white pickup is a fairly safe color since even if it shows it won’t contrast too badly with a different wrap color.

GOOD ADVERTISEMENT

In addition to the creative potential inherent in truck wraps, having a rolling billboard for your business opens up a lot of marketing possibilities.

You can also wrap your tool trailers and park these in front of your business so it is visible to the general public. But you don’t have to pay the taxes and fees normally associated with static outdoor advertising.

To do the work, on our Ford Super Duty we parked the truck in one of the bays at Tuscaloosa’s Truck Supply and Outfitters. During the installation, Trahan, owner of Advanced Signs & Graphics, New Iberia, Louisiana, fielded inquiries from half a dozen TSO customers who had just come in to drop off or pick up their trucks.

The interest was so great that by the time he finished our job he had enough work to come back to Tuscaloosa at a future date. That’s how much contractors like these wraps once they see them in person.

If you are looking for a way for your pickup and company to stand apart from your competitors, turning to a vinyl graphics is a good way to go. A partial or full-body wrap brings a lot of benefits.

Search yellow pages or online for companies that specialize in graphics and printing. Contact manufacturers and find out who their distributors are in your area. Try 3M (http://www.solutions.3M.com) and Avery (http://www.carwraps.net).

If you don’t have computer graphic skills, that’s not a problem; companies that make the wraps have designers on staff and can take your ideas and run with them. The cost for the design work is minimal, a couple hundred dollars at best, when you’re ordering the wrap from them.

HOW TO INSTALL

The process of applying a body wrap to a truck is much like applying aftermarket window tint films. It looks easy, but as the countless bubbly windshields we see out on the highway attest, it takes a deft hand to apply a wrap to make it look like paint – and not everybody has that ability.

If you’re keen on trying it though, we suggest you start small and get a feel for the material and the process.

An easy starter project may be to apply a small wrap on one of your construction trailers, or the hood of your truck, or perhaps just to the doors with a design that includes your company logo.

Full vehicle wraps are done that same way – in sections. Trahan did Project Super Crew that way, applying the 3M vinyl in several separate panels: tailgate, bed sides, upper cab, hood, and front fenders and doors. Here’s how the process unfolds:

 

 

One

 

 

1.  Remove lights, fender flares, badges and other external objects screwed, glued or otherwise attached to the body, and set them aside.

 

 

One

 

 

 

 

One

 

 

 

 

Two

 

 

2.  A lot of emblems and badges today are put on with double-sided industrial tape and will likely leave some residue. DuPont Prep-Sol 3919S dissolves the glue without harming the paint.

 

 

Three

 

 

3.  The tools of this trade are pretty simple: a couple of foam rollers, squeegees, tape and primer.

 

 

Four

 

 

4.  3M “94” primer helps the wrap stick a bit tighter and is applied on edges, high spots, sharp curves, anyplace where the edge of the wrap might be exposed to wear or prone to peel back.

 

 

Five

 

 

5.  Unroll the wrap for the panels to be covered on a clean surface and carefully cut into manageable sections.

 

 

Six

 

 

6.  Drape the wrap over the body area and secure it in place with a few strips of masking tape. Take your time and adjust the position of the wrap making sure the graphics line up with the graphics on any other piece that has been installed. Make sure logos and other elements of the design don’t conflict with window openings or door handles. Where it hangs is where it’s going to stay once you remove the protective backing sheet.

 

 

Seven

 

 

7.  Cut out openings for the mirrors or any other large objects, taking care not to make your opening any bigger than you have to. The goal is to have the wrap hanging smoothly without anything pushing it away from the sheet metal.

 

 

Eight

 

 

8.  Remove the protective sheet to expose the adhesive surface of the wrap.

 

 

Nine

 

 

9.  Squeegee the wrap onto the sheet metal, working from the middle to the edge to work out any air bubbles. 3M’s vinyl allows you to pull up small sections of the wrap and reposition if needed. Pro Tip: If you stretch the film too far, it will lighten in color, but a quick shot of heat from a heat gun will re-shrink the wrap and restore its original shape and color.

 

 

Ten

 

 

10.  Continue to squeegee to the bottom of the panel, working out wrinkles and bubbles as you go.

 

 

Eleven

 

 

11.  When you get to the bottom of the panel, trim the wrap carefully with sharp scalpel. In this case we’re trimming to the intersection where the paint and the All-Pro Liner coated quarter panels meet.

 

 

Twelve

 

 

12.  With the wrap applied to the door panel, trim the opening for the window.

 

 

Thirteen

 

 

13.  To get the wrap to fit around the sharp bends at the windows, Trahan uses a brief – and we mean a half second or less – shot of heat from a propane torch to make the material more malleable. He’s been doing this for years and has the touch. If you’re going to do this yourself you’d probably be better off using a heat gun. If you burn your wrap, there is no salvaging it.

 

 

Fourteen

 

 

14.  Do the final trim around the windows where the sheet metal and the rubber window gasket meet. Take care not to cut the gasket.

 

 

Fifteen

 

 

15.  Carefully smooth the wrap around the edges of the bed and cab. Use fine horizontal slits in the edges to make the wrap fit slight vertical body curves.

 

 

Sixteen

 

 

16.  Tuck the wrap up under window gaskets, door and tailgate latches with the squeegee edge.

 

 

Seventeen

 

 

17.  Trim excess wrap material inside the recess for the light fixture.

 

 

Eighteen

 

 

18.  Use a foam roller to define the edges of the gas tank refill door. Then cut out the door and smooth over the edges.

 

 

Eighteen

 

 

 

 

Nineteen

 

 

19.  Reinstall the lights, fender flares and any other parts you removed at the beginning and you’re done.

 

 

Twenty

 

 

20.  From the concept art created on a computer to the finished product.

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