So, how do you add life to your fleet graphics? I remember meeting a customer in our installation bay that had driven one of his companies’ 53-foot trailers from Tennessee to Plainfield, IN, to have a full wrap removed and replaced. The wrap had only been on the trailer for a couple of years, but it was ripping apart at the rivets. Knott’s Fine Foods Trailer Wrap

Like most tractor-trailers, it had hundreds of rivets. It was a sight. It didn’t reflect well on the business. In this case, improper installation of the adhesive vinyl graphics was the cause. The fleet graphics, which should’ve been a marketing investment, became a cost. Over the years, we’ve had many customers come to us because their fleet graphics were not meeting their expectations. The graphics didn’t last as long as advertised. There are various reasons for this. Here are a few ways to protect your investment. Are you ready to add life to your fleet graphics?

10 Ways to Add Life to Your Fleet Graphics

  1. Proper Preparation

Protecting your investment begins with proper preparation of the surface of the vehicle before installation.

“The biggest mistake is not prepping the surface,” says Jeff Stadelman. “It’s so important to have a clean surface to put the adhesives down on. That’s definitely the number one error.” No matter the substrate,­ glass or paint,­ and no matter the installation method ­wet or dry – if you do not clean the substrate properly then you will end up with a contaminated surface that hinders the performance of the adhesive.” — Preparing the surface.

“Consider all substrate surfaces contaminated and must be cleaned prior to pressure-sensitive material applications. Even freshly painted or recently cleaned surfaces will collect dust and dirt quickly and should be cleaned before film application. Be sure to clean all edges, corners, crevices, and hard to reach areas as well; these are difficult and often overlooked areas. All surfaces should be dry. The trapping of any moisture under graphics can cause premature failure by bubbling, incomplete adhesion, or the creation of an ice layer in extreme cold situations. Inadequate drying, failure to pre-cure some substrates like poly-carbonates, condensation at low temperatures, or high humidity can and will lead to moisture.” — Vehicle Preparation for Installation TKO Graphix Training

Another aspect of preparation is whether the surface of the vehicle is in poor condition. Vinyl graphics will not hide dents, adhere to rust, or turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. If the vehicle substrate is in poor condition, it must be repaired before adhesive vinyl graphics can be applied. You cannot add life to your fleet graphics if your vehicle is on life support. “Older vehicles that have dents, scratches, rust, and other damage may be visible through the wrap. These defects may cause the wrap to look bad. 3M’s warranty only covers vehicles that have an excellent paint to substrate bond. Vehicles with clear coat issues, scratches. and dents will need to be sanded and prepped.”  – All about 3M 1080 Vehicle Wrap Film

  1. Use the Best Material for the Job

“Vinyl begins as Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC), then additives create the vinyl film used to wrap vehicles. Additives include, plasticizers for flexibility, and pigment for color. Next, come UV absorbers and heat stabilizers to create a vinyl that will conform to a vehicle’s shape and withstand the elements. Cast, or “premium vinyl,” is a process similar to making a cake. Ingredients and solvents are 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, the mixed ingredients don’t include solvents. The vinyl is rolled like dough, and then stretched into the desired shape. This material is thicker, and it tends to shrink.” — Are There Different adhesive Vinyl’s?

  1. Over Laminate the Wrap

Over lamination of adhesive vinyl graphics protects the design from harmful UV rays, acid dew, and road debris. Laminating the material is recommended by manufacturers, such as 3M in this Graphics solutions post, “It also provides excellent gloss and clarity of reflection, giving a “wet paint” look. And it is warranted by 3M when used with recommended 3M graphic films, printers, and inks – including its performance on horizontal surfaces, offering your customers peace of mind.”

“Protecting your graphics is an important function of the wrap laminate you choose. Lamination protects against damaging UV rays which can cause fading and deterioration. The laminate also makes your graphics more durable against moisture, road grime, and road debris.” — Let’s Talk Shop: Wrap Lamination

You should also be aware that some colors, such as red, are more prone to fading as are the horizontal surfaces of a vehicle, such as hoods, trunks, and roofs.

  1. Have Your Graphics Professionally Installed

I began this post with a story about a trailer wrap that came apart because of improper installation. It happens too often. “There are many ways a vehicle graphic can go wrong. Poor design, using the wrong material, or not following print guidelines by matching inks and over laminates to the adhesive vinyl. All can ruin a vehicle wrap. But even when design, materials, and print are in order, an untrained, incompetent applicator can tear it all down. We recommend using providers that are certified by PDAA (Professional Decal Application Alliance), which is administered by SGIA (Specialty Graphics Imaging Association), or UASG (United Application Standards Group), through 3M. ” — How Not to Install Vehicle Graphics

Installing adhesive vinyl graphics looks easy when it’s done right, but it’s anything but easy. “Master applicators are developed, not born. It can take years of hard work and dedication to become the top tier of vehicle graphics installers. At TKO Graphix, we’re proud of our teammates with 5, 10, 15, and even twenty years of experience. And we thank them for helping us bring the next generation of installers along. Because using a systemized training procedure has many benefits but one of the greatest is it allows us to identify inexperienced young people of high character, and then train them the job.

Many of our teammates, who at one time were inexperienced trainees, have become our best employees. Therefore, we believe you should hire character — train skills.” — Why We Invest Time Training Vehicle Graphics Installers at TKO

  1. Keep Your Fleet Vehicles Clean

A clean vehicle with graphics not only looks better, represents your business well, adds a sense of pride for the driver, but it also helps your vehicle graphics last longer.

“The best thing anyone can do to keep adhesive vinyl vehicle graphics looking bright and new is to keep it clean. Road contaminants, solvents, and dirt can damage the surface of any vehicle, paint or graphics. It’s important to remove these particles soon and often. Don’t allow harsh chemicals like road salt to build up and attack the surface of your vehicle. Wash bird droppings, tree sap, and other stains as soon as possible. The number one key to keeping your new vehicle graphic looking new is to keep it clean.” — Caring for your New Vehicle Graphics

  1. Keep Your Cars and Trucks out of the Car Wash

Stay away from car wash brushes or brushes of any kind. Your best bet is to hand wash your fleet vehicles with graphics, but what if you have hundreds of fleet vehicles and they’re large box trucks or 53-foot trailers? If that’s the case, you can use pressure washes – within limits. In this FAQ, 3M explains how to use a pressure washer, FAQ, Caring for Your Vehicle Graphics

“Although hand washing is the preferred cleaning method, pressure washing may be used under these conditions.

  • Ensure the water pressure is below 200 psi (14 MPa).
  • Keep water temperature below 180 °F (80 °C).
  • Use a spray nozzle with a 40-degree wide-angle spray pattern.
  • Keep the nozzle at least 1 foot (300 mm) away from and perpendicular (at 90 degrees) to the graphic.”
  1. No Wax On wax Off

Should you wax over vinyl graphics? I wouldn’t, but if you decide to, be sure to check the ingredients of the wax, and never use abrasives. It’s best to use spray wax. “Before using any new product on any wrap, be sure to test them in an inconspicuous area of the wrapped vehicle before using it on the entire wrap. Using a spray wax to care for the wrap film is great for protecting the vinyl wrap from being damaged by environmental pollutants or seasonal airborne pollutants. Make sure the wax used does not contain petroleum distillates or abrasive components. Always test the wax in an inconspicuous area prior to waxing the whole wrap. Remove the waxy residue with an all-purpose cleaner.” — Avery Dennison Cleaning and Maintenance of Vehicle Wraps

  1. Pick Where You Park

Parking under trees can lead to exposure to tree sap and organics such as insects and bird droppings that can damage the vinyl graphics. If you do have these contaminates on your vehicle, remove them quickly.  “Soften difficult contaminants such as bug splatter, bird droppings, tree sap, and similar contaminants by soaking them for several minutes with very hot, soapy water. Rinse thoroughly and dry. If further cleaning is needed, test one of these products in an inconspicuous area to ensure no damage to the graphics: Meguiar’s Gold Class™ Bug and Tar Remover or 3M™ Citrus Base Cleaner. Isopropyl alcohol (IPA) (two parts IPA to 1-part water) or denatured alcohol may also help. Spot clean the contaminants. Do not use rough scrubbing or abrasive tools, which will scratch the film. Wash and rinse off all residue immediately.” – FAQ, Caring for Your Vehicle Graphics

  1. Garage Your Fleet

Keeping your stored vehicles inside will protect them and extend the life of the fleet graphics. “Store Indoors or Under Cover Whenever Possible Vinyl graphics (just like paint) are degraded by prolonged exposure to sun and atmospheric pollutants, particularly on the horizontal surfaces such as hood, trunk lid, and roof. Whenever possible, store in a garage or at least in a shaded area during the day. At night protect the car from dew or rain, which may contain acidic pollutants (a common problem in many large metropolitan areas). When a garage is not available, consider using a cloth car cover at night. If your graphics start to discolor or turn brown, immediately remove the graphics from the vehicle to avoid staining the underlying paint.” — Store Indoors or Under Cover Whenever Possible

  1. Drive Safely

One of the best ways to help your vehicle graphics last is to avoid damage. Repairing recently installed vinyl graphics is seldom a problem. However, the longer a graphic has been on a vehicle exposed to sun and weather the more it has faded and may be difficult to match.

“Can damaged graphics be matched? Yes, they can, but there are a few conditions that need to be met. Replacing a damaged section of vehicle graphics can be less time consuming and expensive than replacing an entire wrap. It’s often unnecessary to replace an entire graphic to fix one damaged area. For example, if a vehicle has been involved in an accident and damage was confined to a quarter panel or rear deck, it may be possible to repair and replace only those sections.

If the graphics are 2 to 3 years old or older it will be hard to match the existing graphics due to fading. Weathering a new decal to match a faded one is hard to accomplish, more often than not attempting to match faded graphics will create a “patched” look.” — Can Damaged Vehicle Graphics be Partially Replaced?

Have Your Graphics Been Made to Last?

This post began with a story of a customer coming to us when another provider didn’t use adhesive vinyl application best practices, which lead to the graphics coming apart. We’ve heard this type of story over and over again. Sometimes it’s the installation, other times it’s the materials, or poor maintenance or … My point is we don’t want to meet you because you had a bad experience with another vendor. We want you to get what you paid for. But if you don’t – you know how to reach us,  Contact Us. Are you ready to add life to your fleet graphics?