Volume 14, Issue 6 - November/December 2010


Wrap it Up!
Professionals Share Advice on Vehicle Wraps
by Katie Hodge

Part One of a Two-Part Series
The economy has hit small businesses hard and entrepreneurs are looking for additional ways to boost their business. Adding a new service to what a business already offers can help increase revenue and bring in new customers. Tint shop owners must be careful and research add-ons before making any decision to pick up product lines. Car wrapping is one add-on option that has been increasing in popularity among those in the window film industry.

Dave Dorsey, the owner of Aurora Graphics in Wichita, Kan., has worked with wraps since 1980 and has learned a lot about how to be successful. His company produces and publishes graphics for car wraps and Dorsey has seen how the industry has reacted in the last 30 years to the needs and desires of the public.

“[Vehicle wrapping’s] got a lot of growth potential ahead of it. People have always liked to personalize their vehicles—it doesn’t matter if it’s window tint or custom wheels and tires. People have always done it and they will again,” says Dorsey.

Weighing Options
The first step to considering the addition of a new service is to decide if it will provide favorable margins for a company. The answer varies depending on how much a company can invest in wrapping. Two of the biggest factors in determining a company’s success will be accessibility to art/design and possession of equipment.

While the installation of the wrap is very important to the finished look, the artwork of the design is key to giving the vehicle a new look or marketing that business to other drivers. Dorsey, whose company is responsible for thousands of designs, stresses the importance of artwork in the car wrapping process.

“When people are out there buying partials or full wraps, it doesn’t matter if it’s commercial or personal, what they are really buying is the look because it looks cool,” stresses Dorsey. “In other words, what they are buying is the artwork. The vinyl is a means to transfer that artwork to their vehicle. Obviously leading with the very best art that you can is going to be a big benefit. Other people will see the car or truck and someone is going to ask him where he got it done. If you are doing it right it will just snowball from there.”

Artwork becomes the face of a vehicle wrap company and the design can also help market companies who are looking for new ways to advertise their services.

Troy Downey, president of APE?Wraps in Coronado, Calif., adds, “In the beginning I recommend that you work with companies that already have prefabbed art so that you are not re-inventing the wheel and spending all that time when you might not get the client.”

To purchase professionally designed artwork a company would be looking at an investment in the area of $250 for a partial wrap and around $450 for a full wrap, according to Matt Richart, co-owner of Digital EFX in Louisville, Ky. The pricing varies depending on location and company.

Over time, as it becomes more affordable, many companies choose to bring as much of their business in-house as they can. However, there is value in keeping your design and installation separate. For some that means purchasing designs from professionals and for others that means having someone on staff who only designs.

“The best thing I could recommend is to keep an installer and a designer separate. You can have one guy for installs who is very knowledgeable on installs and have one very good design guy,” says Greg Berlatsky, owner of Cutting Edge Graphics in Marion, Ill.

Once a plan is established to provide excellent designs, companies need to begin focusing on how they are going to manufacture their product. This is where printers/cutters become vitally important to making a profit.

“If someone really wanted to be successful in vehicle wrapping they would definitely need to keep everything under one roof and really invest into the equipment and the printers and the facility,” Richart states. “With that said sometimes you can’t afford all that equipment at first. Sometimes you don’t know enough about the industry to invest in that equipment. We’ve had times when we have trained people at our facility and we will offer our design and print services at a wholesale rate. There are other companies that will do this as well. A company can say, ‘I like vehicle wrapping and I just got trained, but let me go out and try and sell some of this for a year. I’ll let someone help me design and let someone help me print so I can generate enough clientele and business and I can hone in on my skills to the point where I can afford a printer, software and computers to do this.’”

Downey agrees.

“There is no reason why you can’t get someone to convert for you initially so you can get your feet wet,” says Downey.

For a new vehicle wrap operation the cost of manufacturing wraps depends on location and amount of business, just as the cost of artwork will vary. According to Richart, the average wrap involves 250-300 square feet of material. A company purchasing printed material would find prices around $8-12 per square foot and the installation cost would fall between $2.50-5 per square foot. Investing in equipment, which would include a printer, laminator, computers, and software, could cost a company anywhere between $55-75,000. However, when printing wraps in house the cost of material drops to $2-2.25 per square foot, significantly less than the $8-12 to purchase printed material.

Waiting too long to purchase equipment could be dangerous for companies. In order to turn a large enough profit they will eventually have to invest in software, computers, and a printer and Richart recommends setting a deadline.

“At the end of the day, they are going to need to set some goals about purchasing a printer by a certain time,” encourages Richart.

“You’ve got to be able to manufacture your own product to make any money,” Dorsey agrees. “If you screw something up you can re-print just that little piece without having to replace the whole side or buy a whole other kit from someone else.”

Finding Your Niche
Finding and promoting the ways that a company stands out can bring in new business and make the company memorable. Having multiple services and skill sets is one way for a company to find its niche.

Richart acknowledges that the skills a tinter has are very similar to the characteristics needed in a good vehicle wrapper.

“If I had to hire someone, and I had a guy who had been in the sign industry, not the wrap business, but the sign industry for three or four years and I had a person out of design school and I had a window tinter who had been tinting for seven or eight years, I would hire that window tinter nine times out of ten,” says Richart. “We have found that window tinters have the patience for it. Secondly, they understand the detail of vehicle wrapping because window tinting is not just slapping window film on. The third thing would be that they are all about quality. They are spending just as much time getting these windows detailed, cleaned and scraped before they even apply a piece of film. Most people don’t have that knack or that niche and window tinters do because they deal with it on a day-to-day basis.”

Downey agrees that there is cross-over potential.

“[Tinters] already have an understanding of materials and the ins and outs of the installation aspect,” says Downey. “Some of the experience that they have with window films will carry over to the wrapping of a vehicle. The only difference is that we are working with a lot of concave and compound surfaces that they don’t necessarily see everyday or have ever had to lay material on, like a fender or a bumper. Those are the [challenging aspects to vehicle wrapping] that give you that uneasy feeling and that cold sweat in the middle of the night.”

Having the advantage of prior experience with film, window tinters will need to grow their skills in order to take on the vehicle wrapping industry. Not only is it possible and feasible to bring vehicle wraps in as an added value, there are also lots of tools to help new wrappers develop into seasoned and skilled professionals.

Information Mecca
Tinters who are ready to learn to wrap have many learning opportunities available to them. Training is available in different formats, including trade show educational opportunities.

“Let’s assume a guy doesn’t know anything about this business. He’s a window tint guy and he wants to do it. My suggestion would be to go to a trade show,” says Dorsey. “Here is what a guy will be exposed to at a show. Every printer manufacturer is going to be there. All of the ink companies, including the aftermarket ink companies, will be there. All of the vinyl companies will be there. There will be demonstrations going on all over the place.”

At these shows tinters would have the opportunity to have conversations and ask questions, all in one building. The chance to talk with experts and long-time members of the wrap industry can prove valuable for a newcomer.

More in-depth trainings are also available to those who are new to vehicle wrapping. For example, various companies across the country offer training, led by their best vehicle wrappers, over a period of days. One such training program is the brain-child of Richart and, company co-owner, Dallas Fowler. At Digital EFX they say they have successfully trained hundreds of wrappers on technique and skill.

“We would train anybody in the United States no matter what,” says Richart. “If we had a window tinter in Sacramento, Calif., who wanted to pay to learn how to get into the wrap business we would be more than happy to train that person.”

Berlatsky says he walked away from his training with tons of information.

“I don’t know that I would have tried [wrapping] without training,” says Berlatsky. “In three days I learned what it would take me a year to learn otherwise. I got out a lot of the mistakes that I would have made.”

While Berlatsky participated in a comprehensive, three-day training there are other options available. The length of training is really up to the students and how much time they feel they need and can afford.

“People ask all the time how long it will take for them to get trained. Whether you are building a car, building a house or applying window film it’s not how long it takes, but how many you do,” Richart says. “There is a decent scale of a learning curve, but I tell our students all the time that we’re not splitting an atom here. It’s not like we are doing something really in-depth. At the end of the day it is a sticker on a car.”

In addition, many manufacturers also provide training using their products or equipment. Arthur Meeker, managing member of Xtreme Grafx in Albany, Ore., has attended trainings from manufacturers and says he took a lot of information home.

“I would recommend going to a training. Everybody has them now. If your local warehouse or wherever you buy your vinyl offers a one-day class you should definitely take it. That will teach you the basic fundamentals of how to [wrap] and then you will be able to go back to your shop to practice the best way to do it.”

Wrappers at these workshops can pick up tricks and different techniques to working with vehicle wraps. Taking the skills learned in training and applying them is the key to improving performance.

Practice Perfects
Armed with an introduction to wrapping and perhaps an advanced class or two, the real challenge for new wrappers begins in the shop. Taking the knowledge gained at trainings and applying it is a key component to a new wrapper’s skills development.

“Education is going to be everything. It will initially give you enough confidence to go practice,” says Downey. “Whether that’s practicing on the old refrigerator in the garage or wrapping the trash can or the file cabinet at the shop, all of those things help because you don’t have someone watching over you and you can make mistake after mistake until you start to feel some level of, ‘oh, I don’t want to repeat that problem again.’”

Wrapping, like tinting, is a trade that requires constant learning and correction even after years of installing. Berlatsky comments, “I don’t think the learning curve ever really goes away. I think every time you touch the materials you learn something.”

In addition to constant practice, wrappers have to have a keen understanding of what a finished project will look like.
“The key is to have in your DNA some level and some exposure to the seeking of perfection,” says Downey. “If you don’t know what ‘finish’ is then you need to go get some education somewhere at what ‘finish’ looks like. There are so many
people that don’t know what ‘finish’ is. They have never been to completion.”

All Wrapped Up
With a combination of education, tools and careful planning the vehicle wrap industry can prove profitable for a window tinter. There is unquestionable value in learning the trade.

Many companies have found wrapping their company vehicles to be an effective tool in marketing and selling a business.

“Hands down, there is no other means of advertising that will outdo a vehicle wrap. You pay for it one time and it will work for you 24/7,” adds Meeker.

By incorporating vehicle wraps into their businesses, window tinters also open up the opportunity to expand their customer base for window tinting as well. The cross-over opportunity is vast and the pay-off could be huge, if done right.

Katie Hodge is an assistant editor for Window Film magazine.


“…I tell our students all the time that we’re not splitting an atom here. It’s not like we are doing something really in-depth. At the end of the day it is a sticker on a car.”
—Matt Richart, co-owner, Digital EFX


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