Graphics Printing for Automotive Car Wrapping Stickers and DecalsFebruary 15, 2021
Large Format Printing for Vinyl Banners and GraphicFebruary 17, 2021
Vehicle-borne advertising has come a long way since the days of simple, self-adhesive picture decals. Modern printing and adhesive techniques allow advertisers and graphics shops the freedom to design over the entire vehicle, incorporating the vehicles size and shape into the advertisement. This creates eye-catching, functional, instantly memorable images in the minds of commuters and pedestrians.
These new advertising picture decals are collectively referred to as vehicle wraps. The wraps are printed on large, thin, slightly stretchable sheets of vinyl and applied over the entire vehicle, occasionally including the windows. In many cases, since the wrap graphic is specially designed for the form of the car, it requires customized design from the ground up.
Vinyl Picture Decals vs. Wrapping
Normal, adhesive vinyl decals are still a booming business. Among other demographics, the custom car market has contributed to the popularity of picture decals, as drivers often wish to customize the look of their cars beyond simply the paint job. Small businesses and fleets also use vinyl decals liberally, as they offer a cost-effective and straightforward alternative to wrapping.
For larger applications, however, and large-scale advertising campaigns, vehicle wrapping is quickly becoming one of the most popular forms of outdoor advertising. One of the strengths of the technology is that it can be applied to any vehicle, from the small Volkswagen Beetle (popular with hip companies) to city buses and even light rail. Wrapping reaches a much larger audience that other comparable forms of advertising, such as billboards, and also enables the vehicles to promote brand awareness during specific promotions such as coupon or sample distribution.
Like many automotive decals, modern motorcycle decals are often made of self-adhesive, one-color vinyl. This type of vinyl is the easiest vinyl to work with–graphics shops like it because they don’t have to print on the vinyl, and customers like it because it creates bright, fresh graphics that stand out on the bike. Also, because the only labor involved is separating the graphic from the scrap vinyl, the graphic can be produced very rapidly.
Most motorcycle decals shops have their vinyl presses connected to an image-processing computer. They can load any pattern, logo, or graphic into the software, and then cut just enough vinyl to produce the desired number of decals. Once cut, the scrap vinyl is removed, transfer paper is applied, and the individual decals are cut and sold.
Applying motorcycle decals is simply a matter of aligning the graphic on the bike, and securing it with a masking tape “hinge.” Though there are many ways to complete this process, many sources recommend spraying lightly soapy water on the surface of the vehicle to reduce the vinyl’s initial tackiness, which allows for slight adjustments if necessary. Once the backing paper is removed, the vinyl will begin to stick to the surface of the bike, and by applying even, firm pressure with a squeegee, you can make sure the decal adheres with no air bubbles and no crinkles.
Motorcycle Decals in the Past
Automotive detailing wasn’t always so simple, however. Even after the invention of vinyl, most adhesives required the use of hazardous chemicals or high heat. It’s only in the last 10-15 years that advancements in vinyl and adhesives have allowed non-professionals the comfort and option of installing custom graphics by themselves.
In the last 20 years or so, car decals have almost replaced custom painted graphics as the car detailing method of choice. Currently, the trend is towards bright, easy-to-install vinyl decals and stickers. Many of the cars with custom paint jobs are classic models and vintage hotrods, as paint adds to the authenticity of their recreation.
The kind of car decals that are popular with racing enthusiasts now tend towards flashy graphics that accentuate the lines of the hood or the side of the car. Many are custom jobs that require complex installation, but some are relatively simple graphics that owner can do on his/ her own. Currently, many drivers choose to proudly display a roll call of the logos of performance accessory companies whose products are hard at work within the car.
Installing Car Decals
Most car decals are printed on thin sheets of self-adhesive vinyl. The vinyl is cut with the aid of a computer, and the scrap vinyl is then manually removed from the sheets. After scrap is removed, a thin film called transfer paper is applied to the top of the decal. The transfer paper will stick to the vinyl, but only enough to aid the installer in placing the graphic on the vehicle.
Many new kinds of vinyl are designed to be applied as easily as possible, including vinyl that reduces the possibility of air bubbles and vinyl that contains a pressure-sensitive adhesive, allowing even more give during installation. Once affixed, the decal requires relatively little maintenance. Most will handle normal wear-and-tear for as long as three years, and can be removed with little residue from either the adhesive or the vinyl.
Auto decals have emerged as the successor to custom paint jobs and, to some extent, have assumed even more popularity than their predecessor. Many racers, drivers of custom cars, and truckers use decals to brand, customize, and enhance their vehicles. Though many auto decals are just large enough to act as identification on a vehicle, some (particularly with race cars and government vehicles) are large enough that they cover the entire side of the car.
Installing Auto Decals
Most auto decals are cut from self-adhesive vinyl. The vinyl is sticky on one side, and backed with a protective film during preparation. After the vinyl is cut to the desired size and shape, it is covered with transfer paper. The transfer paper allows the graphic to stay whole (particularly useful with graphic lettering) while the backing paper is removed.
Once complete, the installation technician must align the auto decal on the side of the vehicle, and attach the decal with a hinge of masking tape along the top edge. Though there are many different installation techniques, most people recommend spraying the surface of the vehicle with soapy water before removing the backing paper to reduce the initial tackiness of the vinyl. This may not be a problem with pressure sensitive adhesives of newer adhesives that allow some adjustments to be made before final adhesion.
In the past, installation was a much more complicated process. The adhesives often contained some kind of chemical agent, or were reactive to heat, necessitating heat guns or propane torches to install a simple vinyl graphic. Part of the popularity boom of vinyl decals can no doubt be attributed to modern graphics’ ease of installation.
One nearly ubiquitous force on America’s highways is truck decals. Often graphic and highly colorful, decals are a way that truckers declare their personality on the road. Recently, the technology behind truck decals has changed in a way that allows truckers to install their own graphics and lettering quicker, with less hassle, and also allows them to change it as often as they wish.
In the past, hand painted graphics were common on many trucks and trailers. But the drawbacks of paintings (installation time, highly varying durability, and cost) have allowed vinyl decals to emerge as the most common material in truck graphics. Vinyl decals can usually be installed quickly, and will last a number of years, depending on the climate in which the truck is operating.
Recent advances in vinyl technology allow truckers (and advertisers) even more freedom in producing graphics. Some current kinds of vinyl are designed specifically for truck installation and go a long way towards solving problems such as air bubbles, wrinkles, and creases that used to plague self-adhesive vinyl. New installation tools are also available to help truckers, including one that aids in the seamless installation of even large vinyl decals on the side of the truck.
Protective Truck Decals
Other kinds of vinyl serve protective purposes. Truckers can install self-adhesive vinyl decals on some of the chrome or other fragile surfaces of the truck. Protective vinyl truck decals reduce the danger of scratches and scrapes without leaving any nasty reside behind after removal.