With all the attention begin given to printed wraps, you could be forgiven for assuming there’s no demand for vinyl vehicle graphics anymore. That would be a costly assumption because there’s a growing market for vehicle graphics created from good old adhesive backed vinyl. Perhaps because of the ubiquity of wrapped commercial vehicles, there’s growing demand for customizing personal vehicles. These customizations are profitable and easy to install without a major equipment investment. Let’s look at a few of these new markets in light of the required materials and some tips for connecting with these customers.

New Car Customization
Vehicle Graphics Focus Tribal Graphics
These tribal graphics on the Ford Focus are made from the same vinyl you use everyday.

The “retro” design theme that has driven car sales in the last few years has revived the appeal of racing stripes and decals. New Mustang GTs and Dodge Challengers come with optional flat black vinyl graphics on the fenders. The Camaro SS “Bumblebee” package, modeled after the stunt car used in the popular Transformers movies, is decorated with broad black racing stripes. You might think these are OEM paint treatments. Not so. They’re made from the same vinyl products you use everyday. These can be easily installed using the innovative Knifeless Tape films that cut the vinyl on the vehicle. This keeps you from having to plotter cut it, then apply it without over-stretching or distorting the cut graphic. See our recent article for more details on knifeless tape.

ORACAL 951 is widely used to add racing stripes to new Ford Mustangs. So you already have access to the OEM vinyl required. Just remember that vinyl installations on auto hoods take a beating from direct sunlight and engine heat. So don’t warrant these according to the maximum outdoor rating of the vinyl. You’ll find more details about outdoor life and warranties in our post: Definitions of Vinyl Outdoor Durability.

Obviously the proliferation of striped and stickered muscle cars builds demand for your product. But not all the action is in retro racing stripes. A visit to your local Ford dealer may include something like the Ford Focus in a DFW area showroom that had a tribal custom vinyl graphic on it. (Fig. 1) This was an appropriate design for that segment. Buyers of “pocket rockets” like the Focus, Honda Civic, and VW GTi are more interested in tribal graphics than racing stripes. It had been installed by a local sign maker working with the dealership. To capitalize on the desire for new cars with custom graphics, you’ll need to forge a partnership with your local car dealers.

Due to increased internet shopping and Consumer Reports and other buyer services, dealers’ margins on new car sales are being squeezed. Adding option packages like stripes and tribal graphics puts money back on the bottom line. You represent a service they need to restore profitability to new car sales departments.

Speaking of profit, you’ll probably have lower margins on these sales than you would if you sold directly to the vehicle owner. Be prepared to negotiate. Car dealers rarely buy off a published price list, so build some wiggle room into your quote. You can make up for smaller margins by negotiating with the dealership for showroom signage that builds your name recognition and generates leads for more profitable direct sales. It’s new business and good marketing.

Carbon Fiber Vinyl Accents
ORACAL 975 Carbon Fiber FIlm F430
Why pay for real carbon fiber when you can just apply ORACAL 975 or EnduraGLOSS 780 Carbon Fiber FIlm?

On the opposite end of the automotive spectrum, a different kind of customization has become popular. Porsches, Aston Martins and other exotic European sports cars are being completely wrapped in paint replacement films including matte black and now chrome and carbon fiber. As racing fans know, carbon fiber is a light weight composite that is stronger than steel. Carbon fiber hoods and body panels are often used to reduce weight in race cars without sacrificing driver safety.

To strengthen the connection between their motorsports programs and their passenger vehicles, manufacturers have begun adding carbon fiber accents. Due to the high cost of the material, it’s usually added in small doses: on mirrors, shift knobs etc. But why pay for real carbon fiber when you can just apply carbon fiber vinyl? To fill the demand for an exotic high performance look without the Formula One price, vinyl manufacturers have brought carbon fiber wrapping films to market. These cast films have not only the look of carbon fiber, but the feel of it as well. They make stunning wrap films, especially on sleek machines like the Ferrari F430 in Fig 2.

ORACAL 975 is one such product and makes an excellent choice for making any fast car look faster and more exotic. A less costly option is our new EnduraGloss 780 Carbon Fiber. Like the ORACAL 970ra and 975 films, it comes with an air egress liner for easy installation of bubble-free panels. If a full wrap is out of your customer’s budget, use it for accent graphics on hoods, spoilers, mirrors, or the ever popular racing stripe. A Related trend is the advent of conformable chrome. Avery's Conform Chrome can be used to accent mirrors and gas tanks or to wrap an entire vehicle to create a stunning wrap that outshines everything else on the road. The hood of the Ford Mustang shown below has been wrapped in Conform Chrome. A quick click on the link above will reveal that it's not cheap. Full wraps will have to be reserved for very well-heeled - and extroverted - customers. Be advised though, that some governing bodies frown on covering passenger vehicles in highly reflective material. Check with your state or local DMV to find out if there are any legal restrictions on chrome wraps.

Paint Replacement
Avery Paint Replacement Mustang
A local sign shop can wrap the vehicle in special vinyl that simulates paint and protects the original finish.

Another European import is a new trend called paint replacement. It’s an application that’s very popular on the Continent and is supported there by the availability of specially formulated vinyls from 3M, Avery, and others. One of the nice things about paint replacement is its broad appeal throughout the automotive spectrum. It’s used to make luxury cars even more exotic by finishing them in the popular matte black, matte white or pearlescent “paint”.

And it’s popular for the average new car buyer. Well, actually, the new car lessee. Lessee now, how does that work? Because lease payments are generally lower than standard car payments, automotive leasing is an increasingly popular way to get more car for your money. The downside is having to give it back. And, when you return a leased vehicle at the end of the term, you may be hit with surcharges for things like paint damage. That’s where paint replacement vinyl comes in. European lessees take their newly acquired Audis and Astons, Bimmers and Benzes to a local sign installer who wraps it in a special solid color vinyl that simulates paint and protects the OEM finish. Then, when the lease term is over, they have it removed, return the vehicle with its showroom finish intact, and avoid those nasty surcharges.

In addition to the economic benefit of avoiding fees, the paint replacement relieves the customer of having to find the car they want in the right color because the color will be supplied by the wrap installer. You want your new New Beetle in matte black or Cherry Metallic? No problem. Just wrap it. I mentioned specially formulated vinyls. To serve as paint replacement, a vinyl needs three essential qualities; conformability, ease of installation, and clear coat. Avery’s Supreme Wrapping Film and ORACAL 970RA have all of these and then some. They're both made from very conformable cast face films and include air egress liners for easy bubble-free installation of large panels. Avery's EZ RS is perhaps the more forgiving of the two, with a very low initial tack that allows repeated repositioning. ORACAL's adhesive has a higher tack , but it builds slowly, allowing plenty of time for installation without hair-pulling.

Finally, to give the vinyl film the deep color and abrasion resistance of automotive paint, both films are laminated with a 1.2 mil layer of clear coat. This saves a step for the designers and installers. Just cut and apply. Supreme Wrapping Film comes in 80 different colors and finishes. To satisfy the growing demand for custom colors and textures, ORACAL has leapfrogged the field by offering 96 colors, plus an additional assortment of textured "structure cast" films in the 975 product line. These include the aforementioned carbon fiber in nine colors, plus exotic films like crocodile, honeycomb, brushed metal, and Cocoon.

All of these trends in vehicle graphics can be used to grow business for sign and graphics installers. And with these applications, you can do so without investing in $20,000 worth of new equipment—not that there’s anything wrong with that. But for this market, all you need is good installation skills and an eye for new business. You may find that every driver in your area is a potential customer for professionally installed vehicle graphics.