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Applying vehicle graphics differently
By Denise Nathan

Today, self adhesive vinyl technology offers so many new opportunities for decoration. Applications that were not possible years ago are now becoming the norm thanks to advances in top sheet and adhesive technology.

The biggest challenge remains in the conversion and application of these films. While self adhesive technology makes new applications possible and new adhesive technology such as bubble free adhesives makes things easier what is changing is the knowledge base and application skills required to use these films to their best potential.


Failure to properly stabilise a film post application will cause
the material to lift

It is far more critical these days to have a more in depth understanding of the film being used and of the conversion process. It is also important for sign applicators to develop new skills and techniques to enable them to use newly emerging films. Some of the self adhesive products being launched today are for applications that have never been done before so even the most skilled applicator should take some time to familiarise him/herself with the film, the films properties and the manufacturer’s installation recommendations before using on an actual job.

The more complex the surface the greater the risk of failure which is why vehicle wraps remain the biggest challenge. Bubble free adhesives have been designed to make the installation of graphics easier and faster but they cannot make up for skill or experience. The experienced applicator knows how to stretch the film, when, where and how much.

Heat and pressure are absolutely critical to ensure a successful end result. It is essential that the heating process is done to the manufacturer’s specifications. With fleet films the process is not that dissimilar between reputable brands.  Heating softens the film and the adhesive which makes for better initial bonding to the surface. Once the graphic is installed the final heating sets the adhesive and reduces the tension in the film ensuring the film will not pop out of place. Not only does the film need to be heated, it needs to be heated to a specific temperature to ensure the film remains in place.


 Films must be heated to the correct
temperature before cutting or
excessive shrinkage will occur

Many applicators are initially surprised just how hot the film temperature should be for this final curing process to happen (anywhere from 70 to 90 degrees). Underestimating the temperature will result in the film popping and is the most common cause of vinyl failure on vehicles. Similarly if the vinyl is to be cut in indentations this should be done post heating once the vinyl has cooled down. If it is done too early or when the vinyl has not been correctly heated then excessive shrinkage can occur as tension still exists in the film and the adhesive has not set enough to hold the vinyl in place.

The only way to know if the vinyl is at the correct temperature is to use an infrared thermometer or by experience. Without a thermometer the applicator can only rely on his expertise. He must have a feel for how hot the film should be and how closely and slowly to move the heat gun over any stretched graphic. This is something that takes time and practise.
Understanding the properties of the film is also helpful to determine the application technique.



Is the graphic laminated and with what? One layer of film always conforms better then two and means greater stretching capability without the need to cut the film. If the graphic is laminated ,the thinner the laminate the better. 30 micron high grade laminates are favoured for their conformability and that they create less tension in the overall construction. 50 micron laminates (or thicker) are also used in vehicle decoration and can be suitable but they will need to be cut in areas where a thinner laminate can be conformed in one piece. Graphics that have been laminated with a graffiti guard have typically been laminated with a polyester film. In this case it is important to know that polyester films can only be used on flat surfaces. Under no circumstances can they be stretched in the slightest or this will cause tunnelling and wrinkling of the film.

In today’s market it is becoming increasingly more critical for applicators to familiarise themselves with the film they are using beyond just the knowledge that the right film is being used for the application. As product ranges are becoming more diverse so are the range of applications and therefore  conversion processes and application techniques need to be constantly updated to better utilise new technology and ensure optimal graphic performance.

Denise Nathan is Marketing Manager - MACtac in Oceania
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