How to Vinyl Wrap Your Car – 8 Steps Used By Professionals (with Infographic)
So you want to make your car pop with a killer vinyl wrap and you’re thinking about doing it yourself. Well my intelligent, ambitious and creative friend, you have come to the right place. With today’s vinyl technology, it’s easier than ever for a DiY like you to make it happen.
You may have visions of bubbles marring the surface of your beautiful new vinyl wrap or a permanently crooked application. Fear not. Today’s vinyl is designed to let air out as you apply and the adhesive doesn’t set right away. You can apply, adjust and eliminate bubbles quickly and easily.
You can do it like the pros. Whether you do it at home or a professional does it at the shop, the basic steps are the same. Here are the seven steps you can use today to make your vehicle look and say whatever you want.
1. Have a Plan:
- Type and Quantity: You need to decide on the type and quantity of vinyl required for the project. There are a lot of different options but some of the best is produced by 3M. Also, do you want graphics, marketing messages or color shifting? As for the quantity, it normally takes a complete roll of 60-inch wide and 25 feet long vinyl to complete a car. Take measurements of your vehicle and see if the standard 60” x 25’ roll will work. Always plan for 10% extra—mistakes happen and all the edges need to be neatly tucked.
- Map Your Surface: Now that your is vinyl selected and ready to roll, it’s time inspect your surface. Before applying a single piece of vinyl, it’s important to know your canvas. Each vehicle has its own potential problem areas. What curves in the body will create extra tension in the vinyl? Are there problems areas in the paint or body that will show through the vinyl? Fix any problems to avoid having them magnified when you apply your material. Make a map of the surface and know before applying where you will have to adjust your application procedure for curves or problem areas.
- Remove Blocking Parts: Anything—anything!—that can block you from applying a clean wrap should be removed. Trim, liners, moldings, handles and anything that will affect your ability to apply the vinyl needs to be removed. When in doubt, remove it. Do this before you cut a single piece of vinyl so you avoid frustration, delay and a poor vinyl application job.
- Right Tool, Right Job: Every job requires the right tools. You will need: heat gun, squeegee, cutting blade, cutting tape, cleaning solution, measuring tape, gloves and infrared thermometer.
2. Prepare and Clean:
- Clean Your Work Area: Sweep your area and ensure there’s no source of dirt and debris before you clean your vehicle’s surface. If you’ve ever dealt with paint, then you know how quickly new dust can settle on clean surfaces. A super clean car doesn’t stay clean long in a dirty garage.
- Clean the Surface: Your quality vinyl application hinges on a clean surface. Just like a paint job, it’s extremely important to have a clean surface that will hold the material and display it smoothly. A degreaser works great to get the initial layer of crud off your vehicle. Next, use 70% isopropyl alcohol to remove any remaining fine particles and dust so your surface is as clean as possible.
- Bodywork: If your vehicle surfaces has chips, deep scratches or any other surface mars, you may want to look into some touch-up body work. Each imperfection will be magnified by the vinyl and no matter how perfect the projects goes, you will always notice the imperfections. Save yourself the grief and make the surface as close to perfect as financially possible.
3. Take Measurements and Cut:
- Measure Plus: When you measure your application area, add 4-6 inches to the measurement. You can always trim as you go but you can’t add material once you’ve cut. Plus, you will need to neatly tuck your corners for a professional looking finish. Measure plus four. Finally, you may need to use more than one piece for oversized surfaces such as hoods, trunks or roofs. Remember, vinyls comes in rolls that are 60 inches wide. If you have a panel close to or larger than that, you will cut two pieces.
- Start Small: Choose a small, flat area to begin your application. If you’re new to this (and I suspect you are if you’re reading this), you’ll want to get comfortable with your application technique. Also, getting a few small wins under your belt before getting into the more complex areas will help your confidence and build momentum.
4. Lay the Wrap:
- Double Check and Peel: You’ve cleaned the surface, but you need to double check your work and make sure no dirt has accumulated. Now that the surface is ready, it’s time to peel the backing off the vinyl wrap. It’s best to have a friend help. The vinyl can get a little unwieldy and you don’t want it sticking to itself. Ensure your hands are clean and get to peeling.
- Start in the Middle (air is the enemy): Start in the middle of your panel. You want to keep the edges lifted and the corners off the surface to avoid air bubbles. Work your way to the outside edges. Take your time and work methodically.
- Squeegee and Heat: Take the squeegee and apply even pressure working in the same pattern when you applied with your hands—from the middle to the outside edges. Once everything appears smooth and you’re happy with your squeegee work, test an area with the heat gun. When you apply the heat gun, bubbles will appear if you have any trapped air. With air release vinyl wrap, you can press the air easily. Don’t cut any excess until you’re positive there are no air bubbles. This will help if you need to lift the vinyl to remove any air you can’t smooth out.
5. Cut the Vinyl Wrap (not the vehicle):
Once the vinyl is smooth, it’s time to remove the excess material. Keep in mind that the vehicle’s paint is lurking under your blade. Take care when cutting the excess vinyl. If you cut the vehicle, you may be forced to remove the wrap and fix the damage. Trim the vinyl so there’s about ¼ of a centimeter of excess around the entire panel. The excess will be enough to tuck the corners.
6. Tuck the Edges:
This step can be the difference between a professional finish and an amateur job. If you have too much tension in the vinyl, it could tear as your wrap it along the curve edge of the panel. You can use the heat gun to release some tension but be sure not to overheat the material—you want just enough heat to soften it up a bit and smooth out any wrinkles.
7. Heat the Wrap and Set:
Once the vehicle panel has been wrapped and tucked, it’s time to apply the heat and set it in place for good. Apply the heat gun evenly across the vinyl which will draw it to the surface of the vehicle. You may encounter some warning signs that there are weaknesses in the material. If the vinyl comes off the surface, you’ll need to reapply. It will not get better under the stresses of sun and rain. When you’re satisfied that it’s strong and set, clean the surface with some alcohol and inspect your work.
It’s been a tedious and detail-oriented job. Once you complete the vehicle you’ll want to celebrate. Sit back, pop a cold one and enjoy your handy work. Remember, vinyl wrap won’t damage the vehicle if you did your job well. Plus, it can protect your vehicle for up to a decade. Celebrate an accomplishment that looks as good as new paint at a fraction of the cost.
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