So, you decided you want to get your car wrapped. You googled colors and figured out what you want it to look like. Now, you need to choose the best car wrap shop to get it done. Here’s how to do it.
In my 15 years in the wrap industry I have managed 4 different companies in Southern California, designed and taught wrap training courses, and eventually, started my own car wrap company in San Diego. The wrap industry is getting very popular, and very competitive. Here are some things I have learned about other wrap companies through the years. The experience outlined below will help you choose the best wrap shop for you, no matter where you live.
Before you begin the process of choosing the best car wrap company…
Start by deciding what type of wrap you want. Then search for a company that is the most experienced in that category. They are not all the same. Searching for specialty in the type of car wrap that you want will really help narrow down your wrapping shop search.
Color change vinyl wraps
You will find LOTS of options for color change wraps, especially here in San Diego California. That is because anyone can buy a roll of vinyl. In fact, YOU can order a 5’X75′ roll of wrap vinyl in your favorite color, for the same price as the wrap shops get it for. What you are paying the wrap shop for is the skilled labor.
Since ANYONE can buy vinyl, a wrapping shops claiming to specialize in color changes might not be a good thing. MOST wrap companies specializing in color changes are new to the wrap industry. Companies that also do in house design and printing are more invested, and are likely more knowledgable and experienced with wraps in general.
Clear bra / Paint Protection Film wraps
PPF wraps are for protecting your paint job. They are available in matte or gloss finish, and don’t change the look of your car; unless of course you install the matte finish on a gloss paint job.
The paint protection film install process is completely different than that of a vinyl wrap because it is a wet application. Wraps are applied dry like duct tape, clear bra is installed wet and slippery, like window tint.
If you get a low price quote from a wrap shop who specializes in vinyl wraps, but is willing to take on the challenge of a clear bra, you might want to take a look at some of their work first.
Vinyl Racing Stripes
One would think that you could simply buy a straight stripe and apply it in a straight line, the length of your vehicle. That is not usually the case. The curves of your car, especially on bumpers, will curve and warp the stripes. A proper fitting stripe kit will often look warped until it is on the car, then will be straight to the eye. Wrap shops not known for doing stripes tend to have a hard time with them.
When buying a stripe kit online that you plan to install yourself; consider the evidence of the stripe fitment. Are there multiple photos of the product from different angles, or is it simply photoshopped on a photo of a car? If the stripe is photoshopped on a photo of the car, they likely have never installed the stripe. In which case, they are likely guessing on the scale of the car, hoping you will be the Guinea pig.
Custom designed & printed wraps
You will find less companies doing printed car wraps than solid color changes. These require expensive wide format printers, laminators, and the skills to use them. Don’t get caught up on claims of one brand of vinyl, printer, or ink being better than another.
The most important and often overlooked factor is the creativity of the designer at the company you choose. Consider this person a tattoo artist. Someone who learned how to ink in prison will probably charge less than a person who spent 7 years in art school. The tattoo will last just as long, be the same size, but probably won’t have the same impact. Awesome designers that don’t install wraps, might not be awesome wrap designers. People come to me pretty often with a design that their cousin the designer put together for them. Sometimes they look cool, but are not practical for application on a car. Most of the time, I will need to recreate, or modify the design to a print ready format that will work for a wrap. In this case, you are now paying TWO designers.
Lies Wrap Shops Tell
When searching for the best local wrap shop for your car, watch out for these common lies that vehicle wrap shops tell.
It comes with a 5 year warranty
Wrap warranties usually come straight from the vinyl manufacturer, and are very minimal. The reason being, wraps are made to be temporary. The life of your wrap will vary depending on brand, color, finish, what it’s applied to, how it was applied, weather, how much pollution is in the air, amount of sun exposure, how how often you clean it, and other factors. With all that being said, let’s just say you get an average 1 year warranty on material standard. Up to 3 years if it is a flat panel box truck. If a claim of a warranty is a deciding factor in choosing a wrap company, get the warranty in writing before you begin your project. If an installer really do warranty their work, they will have a written warranty to provide to you.
Got the written warranty? Consider how long the wrap company has been in business. If a vinyl wrap shop has only been around for 2 years, and are offering a 5 year warranty, you have something to consider. How do they know it will last 5 years if they haven’t even been around long enough to test it? Will they still be in business in 5 years?
Keep in mind, car wraps are temporary. The more effort you put into maintaining it, the longer it will last. If you are promised a warranty, get it in writing.
10 year outdoor durability
Most customers ask how long their wrap will last. There is no concrete answer for this, and if you are given one, they are just telling you what you want to hear. Like the warranty information, there are tons of factors that will impact how long your wrap will last. Vinyl manufacturers provide an outdoor durability rating of UP TO x amount of years. The durability rating is different on every color and finish, and is a guide based on a best case scenario.
I have been in the vehicle wrap business long enough to experience the evolution of vinyl wrap materials starting from the very first 3M control tac version one, all the way to the latest and greatest from Avery Dennison.
Materials are getting more and more durable every year, but here is an average life span of a daily driver, from my experience:
Gloss wraps: 3 to 5 years.
Satin wraps: 2 to 3 years
Matte wraps: 1 to 2 years
Want more info on making your car wrap last? Check out this article from KI Studios:
5 Tips for Making Your Vinyl Graphics Last
We don’t cut on the paint
Yes, we do. But, if we are experienced, we never touch the paint. I own scissors, but in the last 15 years of installing wraps, I have never used them. An Olfa retractable razor blade is the number one tool of our trade. Using it is a learned skill through years of practice. Every material is different, but if done correctly, vinyl is easily scored with a razor blade, and pulled apart like a zipper, without ever cutting all the way through. I learned this skill by practicing on busses and construction trucks for years before I ever started working on nice cars.
When it comes to clear bra, Xpel installers have super accurate computer software that cuts the kits out using a vinyl plotter. In that case, it is true. We don’t cut on the car; unless you want extended edges that wrap around the edges of the hood and doors, etc, in that case, there is usually some trimming required, where an installer will test their skill on your paint job.
Knifeless tape is a cool new invention that has a thin sharp string inside of a roll of tape. This allows us to lay a tape line, wrap over it, and make a clean cut by pulling up the string. It works, but has limitations, it is expensive, and is not practical for every edge of an entire wrap. If an installer says they only use scissors and knifeless tape, they are lying.
That will go away in the sun
This is probably the most common fib in the wrap industry. Blame your flaws on the weather. If you have a self healing clear bra like Xpel Ultimate, you will be amazed at what a little sun exposure can do for healing scratches, or drying moisture left over from installation. On a vinyl wrap however, the “that will go away in the sun” excuse is usually wishful thinking.
Vinyl expands and contracts (mostly shrinks) a little bit over time as it heats and cools. Wet applications with trapped moisture and small bubbles will clear up in the sun over the span of a day or two. Distortion, stretch marks, debris under the film, adhesive shift, and even peeling edges are often passed off as normal by dishonest or inexperienced installers.
My advice, wait another day, and let it sit in the sun at the wrap shop. Pick up the car when it is DONE.
Everything is done in house
As I talked about with the shops that specialize in color changes, anyone can buy a roll of vinyl and call them selves a color change wrap shop. A lot of these new shops are using mobile installers / sub contractors for pretty much everything else. They will sell the job first, then worry about finding someone to do the work later. The problem with this is, you don’t know who is doing the work. Mobile installers usually don’t even have a shop, and work for cheap to get experience. They might not even be in business anymore when you go to remove your wrap, if you can even track them down.
Not all sub contractors are bad, as long as you know who is actually doing the work, and can contact them yourself. If a shop is open and says for example, we use Dent Time for dent repair, they likely get a wholesale price and pass the work along at the same retail price you would get from them directly.
My advise is to see it for yourself first. Meet the installers, and ask to see an installation in progress before committing.
Questions to ask
How long have you been in business?
If a wrap installer estimates a 4 year life span on your wrap, but has only been in business for 3 years, they haven’t been around long enough to remove a wrap they have done. Rookie installers can leave all sorts of surprises under the wrap, like razor blade cuts, scratches, broken body clips, added adhesives, and more. If they have been in business 10 years or more and still have good reviews, chances are, your car is in safe hands. A car wrap shop can do well for the first few years, then go under after customers start coming back to get wraps removed, and find damages done.
How long has your installer worked here?
Just because the business has been around for a while, might not mean the current installer has experience. Make sure you ask about the person performing the work. Often times, the owners of the business don’t actually know how to install a wrap. I’m always a fan of a business owner that performs his own stunts. In fact, the best car wraps shops are usually those where the owner cares enough to know how to do the work and actually does a lot of it himself.
Can you provide a copy of your garage keepers insurance?
Property managers will require a business to carry liability insurance. This covers the business equipment, the building, and often if an employee gets hurt. General liability insurance does NOT protect your vehicle. A business will need an added “Garage keepers” insurance on their policy. This protects your car up to the specified amount from possible damages while in possession of the business. Any company that has insurance, will have a copy of their policy on hand, that they can provide to customers. The garage keepers policy must cover the total value of all the customers cars in the shop at the time – not just one. Do not hesitate to ask for a copy. You can’t be the best wrap shop around if you don’t even have your insurance paperwork in order or if you are simply underinsured.
Do you use adhesive promoter / primer?
Adhesive promoters or “primers” such as 3M’s Primer 94 is an additional adhesive that can be applied to edges to prevent peeling. An experienced wrap installer using the right techniques will not use any primer. I do not allow it at my shop, and should never be used on a car with a nice paint job. If an installer needs to primer the edges to keep a wrap from lifting, they are doing a poor installation job, and overstitching the vinyl. New installers tend to use a lot of primer because they have not been around long enough to see the damage to a car after removing the wrap.
Primer should only be used on rough or oxidized surfaces such as textured walls, or aged paint on the side of a box truck.
Will my car need to be dismantled, if so, who is doing the work?
Wrap installers tend to be pretty handy, and can learn to dismantle a wide range of car models after doing it enough times. Do you want someone to learn on your car though?
Dismantling a car before installation can result in a cleaner looking wrap, with less seams, and makes the wrap installers job a lot easier. Dismantling however, is not always necessary. In fact, many installers use the fact that they dismantle a car as their claim to fame. They don’t mention all the broken clips and lost screws in the process. If this is a concern for you, ask your wrap installer if they have the option of bringing in a technician certified in that brand, to dismantle the car. This will of course be an additional cost, but is well worth it for expensive cars to ensure it wont be devalued by something breaking that could have been prevented.
How much will removal cost?
Keep this in mind when pricing a wrap. Get it in writing, you will often get a cheaper removal quote up front when they want your business than you will when you come back. This question is especially important for color change wraps, since cars are often dismantled in order to wrap around edges. Remember, your car will need to be dismantled again to remove the wrap, and will be an added expense.
If you have read this far, you are probably getting the idea. Vehicle wrap design and installation are skilled trades. More often than not, a low price tag is there for a reason. When searching for the best car wrap shop, ask the right questions up front, and enjoy your new look in confidence that your car is protected, and as good as new underneath.