What to Know Before Getting a Wrap

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When it comes to choosing a cool, eye-catching vinyl wrap for a work vehicle, the amount of options and considerations can be dizzying. To easily break down the process, we spoke with Fitchburg, Wis.-based Sign Edge Owner Jim Hagen about what pool and spa pros should know before deciding on a wrap for their trucks, vans and trailers. Specializing in race car wraps, Hagen has been installing and designing wraps for vehicles for 25 years.


Wraps are made of a vinyl film laminated with a thin layer that stabilizes the vinyl and provides UV protection. They are available in three sheens — matte, gloss and satin — with gloss being the most common, Hagen says.

There are also two main vehicle wrap vinyl materials: cast film or calendared film. Cast is the thinner, premium product, and calendared is the thicker, intermediate product. The thinner the vinyl, the higher the quality, Hagen says, because a thin cast film is more flexible and better able to wrap the complex curves of a vehicle.

Some installers use only the premium cast film for every wrap no matter the vehicle, but Hagen offers clients the less-expensive calendared option for flat box truck installs or other wrap designs that don't need to hug the curvier edges of a vehicle.

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"It's a less expensive vinyl, but it'll grab and it'll last for 10 years," Hagen says of the calendared film, which he says doesn't appear any different on a flat vehicle surface than a cast film. "I just feel like it's the right tool for that job. Otherwise, I feel like you're smashing a peanut with a sledge hammer," he says.


As with most artists, Hagen is not opposed to clients who come in with no direction other than, "Make it cool." But it's also helpful when a customer has a general idea of what he or she is looking for in a wrap, even if it's just a color scheme.

"I'll ask them first if they've seen [a vehicle wrap] they like," he says of clients. "And it doesn't have to be in their industry; it could be a car they saw or a van they saw, or it starts with seeing what their website looks like."

Hagen says he steers clients to what he believes are some of the most effective designs, particularly when it comes to fonts. "Typeface is everything," Hagen says, noting he's developed some unwritten typeface rules during his 25 years in the industry. "I don't like more than two fonts. Or I'll use the same family of font. It just looks more appealing that way."


Seeing what kind of creative value a wrap installer has brought to past clients is an important step in choosing the right installer, Hagen says.

"If you're in a large enough city, you have choices, and cheapest isn't always best," he says.

Here are a few basic things to look for to gauge a wrap installer's skill, according to Hagen:

While he's willing to share his opinion and expertise for wrap designs, it's ultimately the client's choice. "I want to make them happy," Hagen says.

1) Transitions. This is one of the first things Hagen will look for when assessing a design, and it refers to how well a design flows from the fender to the bumper of a vehicle, or from the side to the back. Designing a wrap for a car is much different than designing for a flat surface, as every curve and door handle needs to be factored in. "A lot of times you'll see people wrap and they'll just stop [the design transition]," Hagen says. "If you design it right, you don't have to … If your design is good, it will make it look like it wraps around."

2) Overstretching. This occurs when the installer has underestimated the yield of the wrap being installed and it begins to "ribbon" or "pucker" at the edges of a vehicle Sign Edge installer Dan Parker (left) and Hagen prepare to fit a satin gray vinyl wrap over the front of a vehicle. as the adhesive gives way. "The person installing it may not have had the experience to know that was happening," Hagen says.

3) Bumps/air bubbles. Small bumps from grit, grease or wax can occur on a wrap if the car has not been sufficiently cleaned before wrapping. Hagen and his crew go to great lengths to clean a vehicle off before wrapping, wiping it down multiple times, cleaning the edges with alcohol and blasting it with high-pressure air. Small air bubbles can also occur in a wrap if it hasn't been sufficiently squeegeed by the installer during the installation.

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"Our goal is to make it look like paint," Hagen says of wraps, and if the wrap doesn't meet that goal, he'll start over. For examples of erroneous wrap installations, Hagen recommends the Instagram page "Wrap Police" (@wrappolice), where wraps gone terribly wrong are posted and dissected (and thoroughly roasted) by professionals and enthusiasts. "I've seen some horror stories," Hagen says.


Pricing in the industry is usually determined by the square footage of material, and Hagen typically starts at $15 a square foot. Wraps for a whole vehicle can run anywhere between $3,000–$6,000 depending on the amount of material used and the individual shop.

Hagen says he tends to charge less for wrapping work trucks and vans because the wraps are usually easier to install—and it's also a chance to gain a long-term client.

"I want him to have good value because I want him to come back," Hagen says.

Partial wraps, like the one pictured above, can be just as dynamic as a full wrap and also less expensive, Hagen says.Partial wraps, like the one pictured above, can be just as dynamic as a full wrap and also less expensive, Hagen says.



If cost is a big factor for a client, Hagen will recommend a "partial wrap," which is simply a wrap designed to cover only a part or parts of a vehicle. "That has as much impact sometimes as a whole wrap," Hagen says of well-designed partial wraps (like the one pictured at the top of this page).


In order to extend the wrap into every crevice to make it appear like paint, wrap installers will take out headlights, taillights and even doors, depending on the degree of color Partial wraps, like the one pictured above, can be just as dynamic as a full wrap and also less expensive, Hagen says. change compared with the car's original paint (wrapping a white car in black vinyl, for example). Hagen says wraps can take two to three days to install. Part of that time for Hagen's business is simply keeping the vehicle overnight to make sure no issues arise with the installation before getting it back to the client.

"So I can come in the next morning and look to see if it's lifted," Hagen says of the wrap. "And if it has, we take care of it."


When it comes to caring for the vinyl after installation, Hagen recommends spray wax. The only thing you can't do to a wrapped vehicle is buff it, but that shouldn't even be necessary, Hagen says.

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One of the benefits and draws of a vinyl wrap for many is its impermanence, according to Hagen; the wrap can be easily removed (just grab a corner and pull) and updated without harming the vehicle's original paint.

"In 25 years of putting graphics on a car, I've yet to have a person that has regretted it," Hagen says.


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