What is the DURABILITY OF VINYL VEHICLE WRAPS AND SIGN GRAPHICS?
Durability of vehicle graphics is often a grey area. Some seem to last forever, others deteriorate quickly. Clients spending big money on a vehicle wrap are often concerned about this issue. The big question always is, how tough are your vehicle graphics? What is the warranty?
There are four factors that determine the durability of vehicle graphics:
• The quality of the mounting surface.
• The quality of the graphic products used.
• The installation methods used.
• Maintenance of the graphic during its lifetime.
The type of surface that the graphics will be mounted to has a major, but often overlooked, role when it comes to the long-term durability of vehicle graphics. For example, if the vehicle no longer has its factory paintjob, the quality of the repaint has a major effect on the adhesion of the graphics. The graphics might stick well to the paint, but if the paint doesn't stick to the vehicle, all is lost. Some unpainted vehicle surfaces, such as aluminum truck boxes, stainless steel tanker bodies or fiberglass box walls, may interfere with proper adhesion as well. Some graphic films specifically void any warranties on such substrates, others recommend various surface preparation techniques before application. Check with the manufacturer and proceed with caution. Preparation of the mounting surface prior to installation can have a huge effect on any graphic's durability. Not only must the vehicle's surface be squeaky clean, but all surface waxes and/or remnants of polish compounds should be removed as well. This can be done using a clean soft cloth and rubbing alcohol. A poorly prepared mounting surface will virtually guarantee early failure of an otherwise perfect wrap.
WHAT'S ON TOP?
The single largest factor in graphic durability has to be the graphic itself. This is a complex mix of print media, ink and overlaminate. All three items have to be carefully matched for maximum compatibility. Fortunately, manufacturers and sign professionals usually offer recommendations on which combinations work the best for their products and installations. Those with warranties only offer the maximum guarantees on specific tried and tested product combinations. Warranties on products range from one to seven years depending on the inks and overlaminates that are used. Recommended products are Avery Denninson, 3M, MACtac, Oracal and Arlon. All products offer different warranties so make sure you ask your Sign Professional what products they use.
WHO'S BEHIND THE SQUEEGEE?
Installation techniques are another critical aspect that effect long-term durability. Manufacturers' directions for each type of graphic material give specific instructions for installation that should be carefully followed. Special care must be taken when conforming the graphic film around complex surface shapes. These are the most likely areas to fail later. The more complex the surface, the more chances there are for tenting. The more cuts that have to be made in the graphic panel in order to make it fit the shapes, the more chances of edge failure. The more stretching that has to be done over convex shapes, the more chance of film cracking in the future. Anyway, you get the idea. Anything that you have to do to the graphic to alter its factory shape will affect long-term durability.
WHAT'S THE PLAN?
Maintenance after installation is the most overlooked aspect of durability for vehicle graphics. The client who might never consider missing an oil change might not help his wrap continue looking its best simply because they don't understand how to keep it safe. Keeping the vehicle clean and free from dirt, grease, salt, acid and drew build-up will help tremendously to extend the life of the wrap. The non-vertical or horizontal areas of a vehicle graphic can be the most challenging areas in which to maintain durability.
Here are some post-installation precautions that can improve long-term performance:
• Cleaning the vehicle should be done with a liquid, nonabrasive cleaner that has a ph value between 3 and 11 and no strong solvents in it.
• If using a pressure washer, make sure it has less than 2,000 psi of pressure; and hold the nozzle more than 12" from the graphic surface.
• Special care has to be taken around exposed graphic edges as well. Wash the vehicle with a soft cloth or sponge, not a hard brush, and avoid excessive scrubbing.
• Checking the graphic regularly can also help to prolong its life. Loose edges should be promptly repaired using an edge seal product.
THE LONG HAUL
Vehicle graphics can last a long time, or a short time. Either option may be required on any particular project. The short-term graphic is easy, but the long-term graphic requires planning, expertise and maintenance. It involves a delicate partnership between manufacturer, producer and client, but can produce amazing results when all of the stars are aligned.
Key to success:
- Prior to installation, not only must the vehicle's surface be squeaky clean, but all surface waxes and/or remnants of polish compounds should be removed as well.
- Maintaining a wrap's good looks involves some effort from the client, such as using non-abrasive cleaners, avoiding stiff-bristle cleaning brushes, and checking frequently for loose edges.
- The quality of the installation will also affect a graphic's chances at long term durability. Careful attention to detail, making sure not to over-stretch the vinyl over curved surfaces and using a minimum of cuts and pinholes all add up to a more durable graphic.
- Failures generally happen first along areas where the vinyl was stretched to conform to dramatic surface features.