The more time I spend training as a TKO installer, the more I appreciate the abilities of the guys around me. Vinyl is a fickle material that somehow manages to be both fragile and robust, requiring substantial abuse to be installed appropriately (heating, cutting, jostling, brushing, etc.). There are times when I fear the harsh treatment will destroy the graphic I’m working with, but somehow doesn’t, and there are times when the most innocuous touches wreak havoc.
At TKO, the experienced installers seem to have an innate understanding of heat, as temperature is one of the more important variables for adhering graphics properly. Like any skill, the application of heat calls for balance. If vinyl is too cold, it becomes prone to tearing and bubbles. Too hot, and it’s toast! Believe me, neither result looks good on an automobile.
Our installers’ tool belts carry a variety of razor thin blades and sharp, pointed, poking tools. During my first week on the job, even the simplest cuts seemed strangely impossible. Vinyl has a way of stretching and shrinking (another heat issue), and if blades aren’t correctly positioned or held at the right angle, ugly seams emerge along cut lines. So far, I’ve been most impressed with guys who take on the irregular and advanced cuts along parting lines and small components, like door handles and hood emblems. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that a surgeon’s precision is required.
As training has progressed these past few weeks, my confidence has grown, but there’s still much to be learned — and once learned — practiced. One thing’s for certain: the skills of the veteran TKO installers are impressive and hard-earned.