So, what are the top DIY vehicle wrap mistakes? I’ll get to that, but first, I’d like to answer another question: “Should you even try to install vehicle graphics yourself?” It’s complicated. However, unless you’re a certified adhesive vinyl graphic installer, I wouldn’t recommend a “do it yourself” wrap. Could you install decals on your vehicle? Maybe. Should you try to complete a full wrap on your car or truck? Probably not.
If I haven’t convinced you to forget about DIY and hire a professional, then at least avoid these DIY vehicle wrap mistakes that can destroy your vehicle’s appearance.
6 DIY Vehicle Wrap Mistakes to Avoid
Do Not Try to Hide Damage
Applying vinyl graphics to a damaged vehicle won’t fix it. As self-evident as that sounds, people attempt to cover scratches and dents only to learn that the vinyl accentuates the damage. It doesn’t hide it. Covering substrates of any type that are in poor condition not only doesn’t fix the problem but can also lead to adhesive failure. Don’t make this DIY vehicle wrap mistake.
“Ten years ago, when I was brand spanking new to the vehicle graphics industry, an acquaintance sent me to talk to an organization that had imported an old double-decker bus from London. I went to look it over and take photos. It was unique; however, it had seen better days. I took a few photos and sent them to one of the experts at TKO. But he couldn’t tell from the pictures, so he went to inspect it.
While he was there he did a tape test, which is to apply a piece of tape or adhesive vinyl to an out of view spot on the vehicle, let it sit a few minutes, and then pull it off. When he did this on the double-decker bus, paint came off onto the tape. It wouldn’t hold adhesive vinyl graphics, at least not very well or for very long. We advised the owners not to attempt to apply vinyl graphics and politely turned down the installation. It was an example of when vehicle graphics won’t help.” — When Vehicle Graphics Won’t Help Your Car or Truck
Not only doesn’t adhesive vinyl adhere to damaged surfaces, it won’t stick to a surface that isn’t absolutely clean. “Clean and dry the vehicle, removing all grease and film. Clean all hard to reach areas and remember — leaving the smallest amount of dirt and debris may lead to the vinyl not adhering properly.” — DIY: How to Wrap Your Fleet Vehicles
2. Do Not Guess at the Measurements
You’ve heard the old saying measure twice cut once. It may be about carpentry, but it certainly applies to vehicle graphics. Don’t rely only on the stats you find online about your vehicle. Yes, that’s a good place to start, but there are so many variables including, year, model, and aftermarket add-ons, that it’s a good idea to get out the tape measure. Twice. This is one of the most common DIY vehicle wrap mistakes.
Unless you’re designing the wrap yourself, photos from every side of the vehicle along with measurements will help a graphic designer fit the design to your vehicle.
Documents, such as TKO Graphix Trailer Measurement Sheet, can help walk you through the measuring process.
“Don’t guess about your vehicle. Vehicle Graphic designers need the facts about your vehicle. If it’s a pickup truck, they need to know the style. Is it a short bed or a crew cab? Has it been modified? Has add-on equipment been installed? Given the exact information, it becomes possible to design a graphic that fits your vehicle like a glove. Without the correct information—not so much.
How to avoid this mistake. Give the design team the exact information, including modifications. Share the VIN and take straight on photos of every side of the vehicle, weird angle shots don’t help. If possible, bring the vehicle to the graphics shop.” — 5 Things Vehicle Graphic Designers Want You to Know to Make Your Life Easier
3. Do Not Overstretch the Adhesive Vinyl
Not all adhesive vinyl material is the same. Some types of vinyl will stretch to conform to contours such as corners and fenders, while other adhesive vinyl’s are strictly for flat surfaces such as a decal on a door. Not knowing or understanding the difference between adhesive vinyl’s often leads to adhesive vinyl failure. Using the wrong material is one of the biggest DIY vehicle wrap mistakes.
“Vinyl begins as Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC), then additives create the vinyl film used to wrap vehicles. Plasticizers are added for flexibility, pigment is added for color, then UV absorbers and heat stabilizers are added to create a vinyl that will conform to a vehicle’s shape and withstand the elements.
Cast and Calendar
Cast, or “premium vinyl,” is a process similar to making a cake. Ingredients are mixed and solvents are added, then poured into a casting sheet, which is baked, allowing the solvents to evaporate. This process makes a very flexible, thin, shrink-resistant material.
Another manufacturing option is the calendar or economy process. In this method, ingredients are mixed, but solvents aren’t added. Like pizza dough, the vinyl is rolled and stretched into the desired shape. This material is thicker, and having been stretched, it tends to shrink.” — FAQ: Are There Different Vinyl Graphics Materials?
4. Do Not Try to Cover What Can’t Be Covered
Not every component of a vehicle can or should be covered. For example, “Can adhesive vinyl be applied to plastic? That’s an excellent question, and the answer is … maybe. It depends on the type of plastic, the chemical formula. Some plastics take readily to adhesive vinyl graphics application, others don’t, and still, others will work, but only if installed properly.” — FAQ: Can Adhesive Vinyl be Applied to Plastic?
Here’s an excellent post from Sign Industry.Com about what can and cannot be covered, Can I Apply Vinyl to This?
5. Do Not Use a Heat Gun Improperly
Improper use of a heat gun can destroy adhesive vinyl, and in the extreme, it can even damage the surface of the vehicle. Proper use of a heat gun on adhesive vinyl takes practice, but here are the basics.
- Stretch the vinyl over the vehicle to create tension. The vinyl will shrink with heat, but not if it’s loose.
- Before applying heat, pull the vinyl from the ends and corners to reduce wrinkles. Think of it like stretching a bedsheet from the corners and sides to pull out wrinkles.
- Hold the heat gun three to four inches away from the material.
- Begin in the middle and move toward the edges.
- Use a consistent back and forth sweep.
Here’s a video tutorial about using a hear gun, from adhesive vinyl manufacturer 3M, 3M – Cookie’s Tip – Heat Gun Skills Part 1 – Vehicle Wrapping
6. Do Not Cut the Vinyl Before Applying it
Although if you know what you’re doing some applications can be cut before being applied. It’s not a good DIY idea. Precutting the material can leads to a wrap that looks like it’s been patched together.
Should You DIY Your Vehicle Wrap?
My best advice is unless you know what you’re doing – don’t. Applying adhesive vinyl graphics to a vehicle isn’t as easy as the professionals make it look. It takes training, certification, and experience to become a master installer. And that doesn’t happen overnight.
If you’re dead set on installing your vehicle graphics, be sure to heed this post’s advice. Avoid these 6 DIY vehicle wrap mistakes. Don’t try to hide the damage. Measure it and then measure it again. Don’t try to cover parts of the vehicle that the adhesive will not adhere to. Don’t overstretch the material and be very careful with the heat gun.