Vehicle Wrapping Guide. how To Prep/Clean Vehicle Before Wrapping

NFS Customs Staff / 20 April 2016

Before You Apply Vinyl Wrap
The first step to applying any vinyl wrap is to clean your substrate. To ensure that the vinyl adhere properly, without the risk of failure, we must thoroughly clean the vehicle. Proper cleaning of the surfaces of a vehicle for vinyl application is a critical step in the application process. Please note that most material manufacturers have technical bulletins available on their web site or through their technical support department that provide detailed information on how to prepare a variety of substrates for vinyl application. While these instructions will serve as a good guide on how to clean your vehicle before applying vinyl, it is always a good idea to check with the material manufacturer to make sure you are following their recommendations.

The first step to cleaning is to remove all of the dirt and grime with a commercial detergent and water.  Take it to the car wash to get as much of the dirt, salt and road grime off of the car. Note: If you take the vehicle to the car wash, it is important to make sure the vehicle is completely dry before applying the vinyl wrap. This may mean allowing the vehicle to dry indoors overnight before applying.


Preparation, Preparation, Preparation…
After cleaning, preparation is the next most important step in applying vehicle wraps. It is always a good idea to plan your install before starting. Which piece goes where and which one you are going to start with. Remember you really have only one chance to get it right after you take off the backing paper (liner). Today's material does give you some degree of repositionability, however this is generally intended so the installer can "snap up" a small area for repositioning not remove an entire panel to start over.

Before I apply my first piece I like to lay out the vinyl and position it on the vehicle with tape. This enables me to check that I have all the VINYL and allows me to check the positioning of the vinyl and make necessary adjustments (or plan on adjustments) before actually applying the vinyl.

Once the vinyl is positioned and you have your plan on where to start it is time to begin applying the vinyl WRAP

Tools of the Trade
Temperature plays an important roll in how well a vinyl sticks to a substrate. Vinyl manufacturers generally recommend the temps be in the range of 50-90F with 70-80F being the optimum range. Whenever possible, try to apply vinyl indoors in a controlled environment. Not only will this help you control the temperature, it will also reduce the amount of wind, dust and other contaminants you have to deal with. It is important to monitor both the ambient and surface temperature as both can have an affect on your application. Higher temperatures will make the film soft and more pliable (which can be nice if you are an experienced installer). However, the high temperature also makes the adhesive more aggressive which can lead to pre-tack (this is where the film adheres to the substrate prematurely) and increased stretching if you try to reposition the film. Lower temperatures, on the other hand, will make the film more rigid and reduce the tack of the adhesive.

There are a few basic tools you will need to apply vinyl wrap. They are:

·        a tape measure - for positioning
an air release tool - for removing air bubbles
masking tape - for positioning
a squeegee - for applying the vinyl
a razor-knife (preferably one with break-off blades) - for trimming away excess vinyl
a heat gun - for heating the vinyl on complicated applications

It is much easier if you have a second set of hands to help with positioning the film during the application process. Our first piece for this wrap will be the hood. We started out by positioning the vinyl and taping it into place. Since the hood isn't perfectly flat we can't follow the standard process of starting at the top and working our way down. In this case it will be easiest for us to start near the center and work our way up then go back and work down. I have also found that keeping the squeegee at a lower angle and taking my time helps me avoid wrinkles.

As I apply into curved areas we may begin to see some small wrinkles that look like "crows feet". Keeping the squeegee at a sharp angle will help here. Don't chop at the material this will only make the wrinkles worse. If the wrinkles get too bad, use heat to relax the film and get rid of the wrinkles. Be sure to let the film cool down before starting to squeegee again (this will prevent excess stretching). Keep working applying in small strips at a time until it is finished.

Once the hood vinyl is applied the film must be trimmed before going on to the next piece. When trimming out vinyl you must take care not to cut the paint. For this piece we trim the material flush with the edge of the hood. It is not recommended to leave excess film and wrap it around the edge of the hood as this will be a potential point of failure in the future.

The next piece we will apply is the side panel. Here we opted to do one long horizontal panel, which helps us eliminate seams in our vinyl. This is possible on this particular vehicle because the 60" material is taller than the vehicle itself. This is also possible since we are applying indoors in a controlled environment. You may not want to use this method on hot day because we are removing all of the liner and will need to continually reposition the material during the application process. If the temperature is too high we are at risk of pre-tack and stretching the film.

Again, it is possible to apply  vinyl of this size with just one person, but it is definitely easier with two. Once we position we will remove the liner and lightly tack the film to the car. We will then position the film to distribute it evenly on the surface. Next we will place our first squeegee stoke along the length of the car. We first apply the lower half of the panel then work on the upper portion of the panel.

When I reach the wheel well area, I like to trim out the excess material this helps to relieve excess tension on the material and it makes the vinyl easier to handle. I follow a similar step as I am working on the upper panel in the hood and trunk areas where there is excess film.

As we near the front and rear bumpers it is necessary to take additional time and work the film to avoid wrinkles.  It will be necessary to use heat to relax the film and continue to work the film into the contour of the vehicle. Remember the trick here is to take your time and not overheat or over-stretch the film.

The final step in the vehicle application process is to go back and trim the material around the moldings and door panels. Even though the film looks good in these areas at the time of installation, it is possible that some excessive stretching may have occurred and trimming the vinyl in these areas will prevent any tenting. It is also a good idea to go back and look for any air bubbles you may have missed while squeegeeing the material into place.